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CLT UPDATE
Thursday, September 28, 2017

Still not taxed enough?


Frustrated by the condition of public transportation infrastructure around the state, residents from Boston to the Berkshires who were engaged by state senators expressed interest in expanded rail and bus service and a willingness to pay for it, according to a new report.

The MassMoves report, which was put together by a group of senators who spent part of this year traveling around Massachusetts to discuss priorities with voters, is intended, according to Senate leaders, to spark a new dialogue over how to improve transportation.

The exercise, the authors said, aimed to develop a core set of values held by residents whether they live on the North Shore or in Franklin Country. In the report, senators did not propose specific projects, funding sources or a blueprint for what to do next.

"I hope this isn't the end of it. I think there still needs to be more public engagement and flushing out more," Senate President Stanley Rosenberg told reporters during a presentation of the report in his office....

The Amherst Democrat said he wasn't sure if or when the work done by senators would lead to new legislation, but noted that 16 senators had sent the survey on Tuesday to their social media lists to solicit additional public responses....

"Clearly people get the connection between mobility and the economy and access to jobs, which is both important for the economy and important for equity. They believe in a system funded by everybody," said Jim Aloisi, the former state transportation secretary who helped facilitate the regional roundtables....

Rosenberg and McGee said if voters next November approve a 4 percent surtax on income in excess of $1 million and President Trump and Congress can agree on a transportation stimulus package then Massachusetts may be well on its way to its revenue goal. Both items would be added to the money earmarked in a 2013 transportation financing bill that McGee said has generated about $400 million a year in new money for infrastructure.

When the 2013 law was approved, its supporters said it solved the longstanding financial problems within the state’s transportation system and would guarantee $805 million in new resources for transportation system by fiscal 2018, including $500 million in new tax revenue. At the time, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he was "confident that we now have the resources to fund a healthy transportation system and build our economy."

While senators say the public favors new transportation resources, voters in 2014 repealed a major aspect of the 2013 law, a provision indexing the gas tax to inflation....

Transportation for Massachusetts Director Chris Dempsey attended all but one workshop - the session for Greater Boston - and believes the report is an important reminder that transportation issues need to be kept at the forefront of Beacon Hill's policy agenda....

Dempsey said he hopes the conversation started by the Senate will gain momentum, and in the meantime the Legislature will give attention to bills (H 1640/S 1551) filed by Rep. Chris Walsh and Sen. Eric Lesser that would allow cities and towns to band together and use regional ballot questions to finance local infrastructure projects.

State House News Service
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Senate report asserts public dissatisfied with Mass. transportation


Taxes in Massachusetts aren’t high. Compared with the rest of the country, they’re pretty average. And among New England states, only New Hampshire has a lower overall tax rate....

To be clear, years ago Massachusetts really was a high-tax state. Over time, however, limits on property taxes and the big income tax reductions of 1998 through 2002 completely changed Massachusetts’ tax profile....

Focusing on income taxes is too narrow a vantage, though, making it impossible to see the state and local tax system as a whole. Yes, Massachusetts has a relatively high income tax rate but it’s offset by low sales taxes....

To give a sense of just how far Massachusetts’ taxes have fallen, consider what would happen if voters decide to pass the so-called millionaire’s tax. That’s a major tax measure, designed to raise roughly $2 billion per year. But it would increase the overall tax rate only to around 10.8 percent — still second-lowest in New England, and 15th among US states.

In the end, though, this “how high are our taxes” question is of secondary concern. More important is whether we have found the right balance between the money we raise with taxes and the programs we’ve decided to run via state and municipal governments.

Here, the answer is a pretty emphatic no. A decade of budget deficits suggests there’s a real and persistent mismatch between tax revenues and spending commitments.

How we decide to fix this imbalance — with tax increases or spending cuts — may be one of the most consequential political debates in the Commonwealth.

The Boston Globe
Monday, September 25, 2017
The data debunk the Taxachusetts myth
By Evan Horowitz


The state’s top retailer lobbying group has decided to move forward with a ballot proposal that would cut the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent and reserve one weekend a year for tax-free sales in Massachusetts.

The Retailers Association of Massachusetts had previously indicated that it would pursue putting a proposal on the November 2018 ballot, but was not yet sure whether it wanted to aim for a new sales tax of 5 percent or 4.5 percent.

The group said in a statement Thursday that it had decided on 5 percent, which had been the rate until 2009. “There certainly was support to go lower, but there also was a strong sentiment that a return to the previous rate of 5 percent, where we’d been for decades… would be the right approach to take and would ring true with voters,” RAM Vice President Bill Rennie said....

The group now must collect more than 64,000 signatures in order for its proposal to appear on the ballot next year. One of the 2018 Republican challengers to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, state Rep. Geoff Diehl, has pledged to help RAM collect the signatures....

Raise Up Massachusetts, the coalition of labor, religious and community groups that is pushing the other three ballot proposals, has also yet to take an official position on the RAM measure, though its leaders have told the Business Journal they’re concerned about the drop in tax revenue it would cause.

Boston Business Journal
Thursday, September 21, 2017
Retailers to push for 5% sales tax, permanent tax holiday


State House News Service
Thursday, September 21, 2017

House Session

After a 12-minute session on Monday, the House met for 11 minutes Thursday before gaveling out for the weekend. The only bills on the move Thursday pertained to local affairs in the towns of Harvard, Milford and Barnstable and the boat excise tax in Chatham. After the session, House Speaker Pro Tem. Patricia Haddad told the News Service that next week's House plans would likely be discussed during a House leadership meeting on Monday.


State House News Service
Monday, September 25, 2017

House Session

During a 10-minute session Monday morning, the House amended and passed a home-rule bill to increase the Boston Public Library board of trustees from nine members to 15. The bill was filed by Rep. Byron Rushing, himself a BPL trustee. The House also gave initial approval to bills affecting affordable housing in East Boston and the South End, and agreed to specifying a new alcohol license for Junction Variety in the town of Palmer. The House chaplain, Father Rick Walsh, prayed for the maintenance of Fenway Park on the anniversary of its 1911 groundbreaking.

Adjourned until Wednesday.


State House News Service
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

House Session

With 58 votes in under two and a half hours, the House restored $9.3 million in spending to this year's budget. The House overrode 50 of Gov. Charlie Baker's line-item vetoes and eight vetoes of outside sections. The outside sections dealt with a childhood vision commission, a child welfare reporting tax force and driver school licenses. Before the votes, Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez led the chamber in observing a moment of silence for residents of Puerto Rico dealing with the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria. Local bills affecting Palmer, Lakeville and Cambridge were enacted.


Two weeks after voting to reverse $275 million in budget vetoes issued by Gov. Charlie Baker, the House appears primed for another round.

“(Wednesday) we’re going to be considering more gubernatorial budget overrides, all of which are for essential services or desirable services,” Rep. Jay Kaufman said at a revenue committee hearing yesterday, the State House News Service reported.

Taxpayers know, of course, that there is a big difference between “essential” services and “desirable” services....

Well, at least give Kaufman credit for candor, appearing to acknowledge that some overrides are happening simply because lawmakers find it “desirable.” ...

The Senate has yet to weigh in on the overrides the House approved earlier this month. The revenue picture hasn’t changed; tax collections through the first two months of the fiscal year are still slightly behind expectations.

This matters little to lawmakers who get to dash off hometown press releases trumpeting their success in securing state funds for this project or that, while leaving it to the governor to deal with the mid-year fallout.

A Boston Herald editorial
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
No spending slowdown


House Democrats Wednesday voted to restore $9.3 million in spending to this year's budget, whipping through 58 overrides of Gov. Charlie Baker's budget vetoes in just a couple hours in their second session since returning from summer recess.

The overrides would pack money back into 50 accounts dealing with environmental protections, education, homelessness assistance and other areas, and cleared the House with minimal discussion a week after its members restored $275 million in spending to the budget over Baker's objections.

With Wednesday's votes, the House has now overturned 112 of Baker's vetoes to line items -- restoring a total $284 million of the $320 million he slashed from the nearly $40 billion budget -- and eight of his nine policy vetoes....

The Senate has not yet taken up any budget vetoes, though senators could vote on overrides when they meet Thursday for their first formal session in two months. The overrides must pass both branches in order for the funds to be put back into the budget.

State House News Service
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Another day, another $9M voted to be restored by House to state budget


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

On Wednesday The Boston Globe ran the State House News Service report ("Senate report asserts public dissatisfied with Mass. transportation") with this headline:  "Mass. residents — statewide — say they’d pay for better transit."

[Transportation for Massachusetts Director Chris] "Dempsey said he hopes the conversation started by the Senate will gain momentum, and in the meantime the Legislature will give attention to bills (H 1640/S 1551) filed by Rep. Chris Walsh and Sen. Eric Lesser that would allow cities and towns to band together and use regional ballot questions to finance local infrastructure projects."

What is Transportation for Massachusetts?  You won't be surprised to discover it's another "progressive" group larded with the usual cadre of special interest tax-borrow-and-spend suspects.

The State House News Service reported:

"Clearly people get the connection between mobility and the economy and access to jobs, which is both important for the economy and important for equity. They believe in a system funded by everybody," said Jim Aloisi, the former state transportation secretary who helped facilitate the regional roundtables....

Aloisi said he was surprised to find that workshop participants "slightly favored" broad-based taxes as a means of financing transportation improvement over user fees, such as tolls. Participants in the survey also supported allowing cities and towns to raise local revenues for transportation projects of their choosing.

Rosenberg and McGee said if voters next November approve a 4 percent surtax on income in excess of $1 million and President Trump and Congress can agree on a transportation stimulus package then Massachusetts may be well on its way to its revenue goal. Both items would be added to the money earmarked in a 2013 transportation financing bill that McGee said has generated about $400 million a year in new money for infrastructure.

When the 2013 law was approved, its supporters said it solved the longstanding financial problems within the state’s transportation system and would guarantee $805 million in new resources for transportation system by fiscal 2018, including $500 million in new tax revenue. At the time, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he was "confident that we now have the resources to fund a healthy transportation system and build our economy."

While senators say the public favors new transportation resources, voters in 2014 repealed a major aspect of the 2013 law, a provision indexing the gas tax to inflation.

It's interesting that allegedly "workshop participants" whoever they may be "slightly favored" broad-based taxes (that everyone pays) over user fees (that users of the service pay).  More interesting, I find, is that when an ever-increasing automatic "broad-based" tax was imposed — specifically for transportation — a majority of actual voters recently rejected and repealed the automatic gas tax hike.

As always in Massachusetts, the state does not have a revenue problem — it has a spending problem.  When it comes to transportation infrastructure, Massachusetts has an astounding spending problem.

According to a comprehensive report issued last September by the Reason Foundation ("22nd Annual Highway Report"), this state spends 320 percent more than the national average for every mile of state road infrastructure built or maintained.  That puts this state at the 48th most expensive — spending less per state-controlled mile than only Florida and New Jersey.

Capital and Bridges Disbursements per State-Controlled Mile

Massachusetts $290,854
National Average $84,494

Maintenance Disbursements per State-Controlled Mile

Massachusetts $78,313
National Average $25,996

Administrative Disbursements per State-Controlled Mile

Massachusetts $74,924
National Average $10,051
Total Disbursements (including bond principal and interest, etc.) per State-Controlled Mile
Massachusetts $675,939
National Average $160,997

Source:  Reason Foundation Policy Study No. 448, September 2016, "22nd Annual Highway Report — The Performance of State Highway Systems" [PDF]

As we know, More Is Never Enough (MINE) and never will be until they've taken it all from us.  If they can't take it all out of one of our pockets, then they'll try to nickel and dime us from other directions:

Dempsey said he hopes the conversation started by the Senate will gain momentum, and in the meantime the Legislature will give attention to bills (H 1640/S 1551) filed by Rep. Chris Walsh and Sen. Eric Lesser that would allow cities and towns to band together and use regional ballot questions to finance local infrastructure projects.

Rep. Walsh and Sen. Lesser in their bills propose: "Upon passage of this Act, a city or town shall have authority to impose any tax surcharge within its city or town on a single subject of taxation including a payroll, sales, property, fuel, or vehicle excise tax."

Do we taxpayers really need another level of taxing authority?  If passed and adopted this would return us to pre-Proposition 2½ days — only worseMuch worse.  This isn't the first time this idea has been proposed:

"Authorizing municipalities to levy a tax on income would be precedent-setting in Massachusetts and open a Pandora's Box of complexities and further precedents." — Chip Ford, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, on a Senate-approved proposal giving cities and towns an option to levy a local payroll, sales, property or vehicle excise tax to pay for local transportation improvement costs including maintaining, repairing and building roads, bridges and bikeways.

Beacon Hill Roll Call
Sunday, July 17, 2016
Quotes of Note

We also adamantly oppose an amendment to the municipal government reform bill filed by Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) which would give communities an option to levy a local tax to pay for local transportation costs.

CLT Memo to the Legislature
Friday, July 29, 2016
No New Taxes!


I'd be remiss if I didn't comment on another pro-Graduated Income Tax column by Evan Horowitz in the Boston Globe.  Where do I start?

He wrote:

To be clear, years ago Massachusetts really was a high-tax state. Over time, however, limits on property taxes and the big income tax reductions of 1998 through 2002 completely changed Massachusetts’ tax profile....

"Over time"?  They only happened because Citizens for Limited Taxation put Proposition 2½ on the ballot in 1980, and the income tax rollback on the ballot in 2000 — and a vast majority of voters agreed with us both times that we were being taxed too much.  It had nothing to do with state government reining itself in.  We took our money back, period.

He wrote:

Focusing on income taxes is too narrow a vantage, though, making it impossible to see the state and local tax system as a whole. Yes, Massachusetts has a relatively high income tax rate but it’s offset by low sales taxes.

Massachusetts also has both a sales tax and an income tax and every other tax mankind has ever conceived.  The sales tax was jacked up by 25 percent to 6.25% in 2009.  The income tax rate in 2009 stood at 5.3 percent but that still wasn't enough.  Only our rollback ballot question has gotten it down to 5.1 percent after an additional 15 years of waiting.

Why waste any more of our time on rebuttals of such foolishness?


Since returning from their extended summer vacation, the House over the past week has been in session for some three whole hours most of it spent overriding the governor's budget vetoes and the Legislature continues with its long weekends, easing back slowly into a work routine.  The Senate hasn't held a formal session since July and remains M.I.A. but the senators will be back eventually to do their share of veto overriding.  They sure are proving themselves to be, without doubt, "The Best Legislature Money Can Buy."

The first order of business this time for those legislators who have returned was at least not another obscene pay grab but overrides of Gov. Baker's budget vetoes.

I explained how this budget process and subsequent overrides work in Massachusetts last year in the CLT Update of August 30, 2016 ("Budget gap" has "easy fixes" for those honestly seeking them).  Every year it's the same dog-and-pony-show with the same results.  You can read my full commentary there, but here's the most relevant truth from it:

This is how budgeting works in the Legislature with a Republican governor. The Legislature passes a bloated budget that everyone recognizes is not affordable. The governor vetoes as much of the over-spending as he thinks he can get away with, only to have his vetoes overridden by the Democrat Legislature. Legislators run back to their districts to crow about what a wonderful job they did bringing home the bacon. They know they've overspent when they send out their self-congratulatory press releases, but most constituents won't until too late, if at all. When and if the voters realize the budget had to be cut, the Beacon Hill big-spenders will blame the "heartless" governor.


Stay tuned.  In the next day or two we'll provide more information about the Retailers Association of Massachusetts' signature drive for its sales tax cut ballot question, that would also establish a date certain sales tax holiday weekend.  We'll tell you how you can participate, can get a copy of the petition you'll be able to print out, sign and circulate for more signatures.

Chip Ford
Executive Director


 
State House News Service
Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Senate report asserts public dissatisfied with Mass. transportation
By Matt Murphy


Frustrated by the condition of public transportation infrastructure around the state, residents from Boston to the Berkshires who were engaged by state senators expressed interest in expanded rail and bus service and a willingness to pay for it, according to a new report.

The MassMoves report, which was put together by a group of senators who spent part of this year traveling around Massachusetts to discuss priorities with voters, is intended, according to Senate leaders, to spark a new dialogue over how to improve transportation.

The exercise, the authors said, aimed to develop a core set of values held by residents whether they live on the North Shore or in Franklin Country. In the report, senators did not propose specific projects, funding sources or a blueprint for what to do next.

"I hope this isn't the end of it. I think there still needs to be more public engagement and flushing out more," Senate President Stanley Rosenberg told reporters during a presentation of the report in his office. "There's plenty of room for people to continue to participate in this process and I hope that it will continue and that we will come to grips with a plan and a way of funding transportation to maintain and grow our robust economy, helping people get to where they need to go for all of the purposes people leave their houses."

As the MBTA grapples with persistent service problems, Massachusetts officials are slowly moving forward with projects to extend the Green Line to Somerville and Medford and bring commuter rail service from Boston to Fall River and New Bedford. Activists have pitched many other projects, including an expansion of South Station in Boston, a tunnel linking trains between North and South stations and trains connecting Springfield to Boston.

The Amherst Democrat said he wasn't sure if or when the work done by senators would lead to new legislation, but noted that 16 senators had sent the survey on Tuesday to their social media lists to solicit additional public responses.

"Not clear yet," Rosenberg said. "This is about gathering the pubic opinion and visions and trying to carry it forward and we don't have the complete vision at this point. We don't have the projects."

More than 80 percent of people who participated in nine Senate workshops around the state indicated they believe the transportation system in Massachusetts is not in good shape, according to the report, which surveyed 715 participants.

The participants broadly believed transportation should be a higher priority for legislators on Beacon Hill, and not only maintaining, but expanding regional rail and bus service was seen by those surveyed as the best option to more easily move people.

"Clearly people get the connection between mobility and the economy and access to jobs, which is both important for the economy and important for equity. They believe in a system funded by everybody," said Jim Aloisi, the former state transportation secretary who helped facilitate the regional roundtables.

Sen. Thomas McGee, the co-chair of the Transportation Committee, said he believes the need could be as much as $1 billion a year in needed new investment.

"The investment we need to make is not happening," said the Lynn Democrat, who is running for mayor of that North Shore city and has been a proponent of expanded ferry service and an extension of the MBTA's Blue Line to Lynn.

Aloisi said he was surprised to find that workshop participants "slightly favored" broad-based taxes as a means of financing transportation improvement over user fees, such as tolls. Participants in the survey also supported allowing cities and towns to raise local revenues for transportation projects of their choosing.

Rosenberg and McGee said if voters next November approve a 4 percent surtax on income in excess of $1 million and President Trump and Congress can agree on a transportation stimulus package then Massachusetts may be well on its way to its revenue goal. Both items would be added to the money earmarked in a 2013 transportation financing bill that McGee said has generated about $400 million a year in new money for infrastructure.

When the 2013 law was approved, its supporters said it solved the longstanding financial problems within the state’s transportation system and would guarantee $805 million in new resources for transportation system by fiscal 2018, including $500 million in new tax revenue. At the time, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he was "confident that we now have the resources to fund a healthy transportation system and build our economy."

While senators say the public favors new transportation resources, voters in 2014 repealed a major aspect of the 2013 law, a provision indexing the gas tax to inflation.

The Senate report was published hours after the release a Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation report that also found significant problems in the state's transportation system and called for the formation of an independent commission to conduct a full review.

Ninety-four percent of Senate workshop participants said transportation needs to be a higher priority for elected officials, and Rosenberg said that legislators ought to pay attention to that statistic despite the ongoing work he sees happening at the State House around transportation.

"There's plenty of room for people to continue to participate in this process and I hope that it will continue and that we will come to grips with a plan and a way of funding transportation to maintain and grow our robust economy, helping get people to where they need to go for all of he purposes people leave their houses," he said.

The conservative-leaning Pioneer Institute also put out a study recommending expanded MBTA ferry service as a cost-effective option to move people in and out of Boston without adding congestion on already crowded highways.

Rosenberg said he was happy to see the business community engaging on the issue, and did not rule out a third-party review that would be reminiscent of the 2007 Transportation Financing Commission.

"I certainly don't object to the idea, I just think we need to get everybody around the same table so we're not wasting resources and duplicating effort and I think we need to have a really focused process and discussion to complete the work and it has to be honest and we have to reckon with the costs and say how we're going to pay for it, not just talk about what we're going to build," he said.

The Legislature has a House-dominated Joint Committee on Transportation, whose members are charged with considering "all matters concerning the development, operation, regulation and control of all means of transportation in the air, on land or in the water, the imposition of tolls on tunnels or bridges and such other matters as may be referred."

Transportation for Massachusetts Director Chris Dempsey attended all but one workshop - the session for Greater Boston - and believes the report is an important reminder that transportation issues need to be kept at the forefront of Beacon Hill's policy agenda.

"One of the best reminders here is that U.S. News and World Report ranked us the number one state overall, but forty-fifth for transportion. We have the healthiest, best educated workforce in the country and we make that workforce sit in traffic. That's no way to run an economy," Dempsey said.

Dempsey said he hopes the conversation started by the Senate will gain momentum, and in the meantime the Legislature will give attention to bills (H 1640/S 1551) filed by Rep. Chris Walsh and Sen. Eric Lesser that would allow cities and towns to band together and use regional ballot questions to finance local infrastructure projects.

Rosenberg said the idea for the report came out of a gathering of Senate presidents in Utah over a year ago were he learned about the transportation planning process that state went through to grapple with its growing population.

Utah engaged half a million residents about their preferences for infrastructure, he said, which led to legislation and a ballot question to enact the plan.
 

The Boston Globe
Monday, September 25, 2017

The data debunk the Taxachusetts myth
By Evan Horowitz


Taxes in Massachusetts aren’t high. Compared with the rest of the country, they’re pretty average. And among New England states, only New Hampshire has a lower overall tax rate.

Says who? The Census Bureau, which regularly releases details on taxes collected by state and local governments. The latest batch covers 2015, slightly stale but still largely accurate, given that Massachusetts hasn’t pursued any recent tax changes.

For every dollar people earned in Massachusetts, about 10.4 cents went to state and local taxes — in line with the national average of 10.3 cents. There are 18 states with higher overall tax rates, and 31 with lower rates.

To be clear, years ago Massachusetts really was a high-tax state. Over time, however, limits on property taxes and the big income tax reductions of 1998 through 2002 completely changed Massachusetts’ tax profile. Taxachusetts has now been supplanted by Taxawii and Tax York.

Why does the old stereotype stick? Partly it’s about the inertia of ideas. Outdated notions often stay locked in our heads, long after they’ve been disproved or debunked. (Anyone else still think twice before swimming after a big meal?)

There's another reason we can’t shake the Taxachusetts slur. Overall, taxes aren’t high — when you include things like property and sales tax — but our income tax rate is. Sometimes, that becomes the focus.

Focusing on income taxes is too narrow a vantage, though, making it impossible to see the state and local tax system as a whole. Yes, Massachusetts has a relatively high income tax rate but it’s offset by low sales taxes.

Elsewhere, you find the opposite. Nevada residents have no income tax yet sales taxes are so high that people end up paying about 10 cents of every dollar — just like here.

To give a sense of just how far Massachusetts’ taxes have fallen, consider what would happen if voters decide to pass the so-called millionaire’s tax. That’s a major tax measure, designed to raise roughly $2 billion per year. But it would increase the overall tax rate only to around 10.8 percent — still second-lowest in New England, and 15th among US states.

In the end, though, this “how high are our taxes” question is of secondary concern. More important is whether we have found the right balance between the money we raise with taxes and the programs we’ve decided to run via state and municipal governments.

Here, the answer is a pretty emphatic no. A decade of budget deficits suggests there’s a real and persistent mismatch between tax revenues and spending commitments.

How we decide to fix this imbalance — with tax increases or spending cuts — may be one of the most consequential political debates in the Commonwealth.

And it matters, for this debate, whether we start from the assumption that we are already living in Taxachusetts or trust the census data, which say our state and local taxes are barely above average.


Boston Business Journal
Thursday, September 21, 2017

Retailers to push for 5% sales tax, permanent tax holiday
By Greg Ryan


The state’s top retailer lobbying group has decided to move forward with a ballot proposal that would cut the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent and reserve one weekend a year for tax-free sales in Massachusetts.

The Retailers Association of Massachusetts had previously indicated that it would pursue putting a proposal on the November 2018 ballot, but was not yet sure whether it wanted to aim for a new sales tax of 5 percent or 4.5 percent.

The group said in a statement Thursday that it had decided on 5 percent, which had been the rate until 2009. “There certainly was support to go lower, but there also was a strong sentiment that a return to the previous rate of 5 percent, where we’d been for decades… would be the right approach to take and would ring true with voters,” RAM Vice President Bill Rennie said.

RAM had also been undecided about whether to include a sales tax holiday requirement in the ballot question. The group has argued for years that the tax-free weekend is a big help to Massachusetts brick-and-mortar retailers battling online sales and year-round tax-free shopping across the border in New Hampshire.

Its members elected to include the sales tax holiday, RAM said. The proposal will direct the state Department of Revenue to designate a sales tax holiday weekend in August every year.

The group now must collect more than 64,000 signatures in order for its proposal to appear on the ballot next year. One of the 2018 Republican challengers to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, state Rep. Geoff Diehl, has pledged to help RAM collect the signatures.

Three other potential ballot proposals for 2018 are opposed by many of the state’s major business groups, including RAM: a surtax on million-dollar earners, an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and a requirement that employers offer workers paid medical and family leave.

Other business groups have yet to take a stance on RAM’s proposed sales tax cut, including the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, seen by many as the most powerful lobbying group on Beacon Hill.

AIM spokesman Chris Geehern has called it an “interesting concept,” adding: “I think a reduction in the sales tax is an interesting counterbalance to the progressive questions that may well end up on the ballot.”

Raise Up Massachusetts, the coalition of labor, religious and community groups that is pushing the other three ballot proposals, has also yet to take an official position on the RAM measure, though its leaders have told the Business Journal they’re concerned about the drop in tax revenue it would cause.


The Boston Herald
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Boston Herald editorial
No spending slowdown


Two weeks after voting to reverse $275 million in budget vetoes issued by Gov. Charlie Baker, the House appears primed for another round.

“(Wednesday) we’re going to be considering more gubernatorial budget overrides, all of which are for essential services or desirable services,” Rep. Jay Kaufman said at a revenue committee hearing yesterday, the State House News Service reported.

Taxpayers know, of course, that there is a big difference between “essential” services and “desirable” services.

Preserving the former is much easier to justify when revenues are trailing expectations, as they were through the first two months of the current fiscal year.

The latter?

Well, at least give Kaufman credit for candor, appearing to acknowledge that some overrides are happening simply because lawmakers find it “desirable.”

That’s likely to include hundreds of earmarks in the state’s tourism budget — the truest definition of pork. We’re quite sure, for example, that the two boxing programs in Haverhill that are in line for $35,000 each in taxpayer funds are just terrific. But how exactly do they qualify as “tourism” programs worthy of guaranteed state funding?

In fact, as we note every year, millions of dollars are earmarked under the tourism banner for municipal public works projects, local festivals, gazebos and other frippery that fits no one’s definition of “essential” state services. But the House and Senate are expected to easily override Baker’s veto of $6.8 million in tourism spending.

The Senate has yet to weigh in on the overrides the House approved earlier this month. The revenue picture hasn’t changed; tax collections through the first two months of the fiscal year are still slightly behind expectations.

This matters little to lawmakers who get to dash off hometown press releases trumpeting their success in securing state funds for this project or that, while leaving it to the governor to deal with the mid-year fallout.


State House News Service
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Another day, another $9M voted to be restored by House to state budget
By Katie Lannan


House Democrats Wednesday voted to restore $9.3 million in spending to this year's budget, whipping through 58 overrides of Gov. Charlie Baker's budget vetoes in just a couple hours in their second session since returning from summer recess.

The overrides would pack money back into 50 accounts dealing with environmental protections, education, homelessness assistance and other areas, and cleared the House with minimal discussion a week after its members restored $275 million in spending to the budget over Baker's objections.

With Wednesday's votes, the House has now overturned 112 of Baker's vetoes to line items -- restoring a total $284 million of the $320 million he slashed from the nearly $40 billion budget -- and eight of his nine policy vetoes.

Rep. Brad Hill, an Ipswich Republican, was the only lawmaker to rise to speak after the votes began. About halfway through, he posed two questions that went unanswered by the chamber's Democratic supermajority: How much money they had restored so far, and where do state revenue collections stand nearly three months into fiscal 2018?

"The first two months of this year, we were reminded two weeks ago, we came in under benchmark by quite a lot, and we have yet to see the numbers for September," Hill said.

State tax revenues have fallen short of expectations in recent years, leading to mid-year budget cuts and constraints on spending plans. July and August tax collections left the state $11 million below benchmark at this point in the fiscal year.

Halfway through September, the Department of Revenue reported that tax collections were up $181 million, or 13.9 percent from the same period last year, but mid-month revenues are often an inacurrate predictor of a full month's returns.

House Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez struck an optimistic note about the state's revenue picture before the override votes began.

He called July and August "small months in terms of tax collections" and said the mid-month revenue report for September "shows the potential for above-benchmark collections."

"At the same time we are cautious and we must be mindful not to over-value mid-month reporting, I'd like to acknowledge that this is an indication that it is positive and Massachusetts continues to have a strong and growing economy," Sanchez said.

The Senate has not yet taken up any budget vetoes, though senators could vote on overrides when they meet Thursday for their first formal session in two months. The overrides must pass both branches in order for the funds to be put back into the budget.

Sanchez said the House was considering restoring spending for programs with "overarching impacts" before "more targeted initiatives." He highlighted recovery schools, emergency food assistance and adult basic education -- all programs where vetoes were succesfully overridden Wednesday -- as programs that affect people's lives.

"It's important to remind everyone that these aren't just dollar amounts to be considered in the abstract," the Jamaica Plain Democrat said. "These programs and services make a real impact in all of our constituents' and communities' life on a daily basis."

Wednesday's overrides ranged in size from the $10,000 for Inspector General Glenn Cunha's office to $1.1 million for the state's recovery high schools, according to numbers from Sanchez's office. Eighteen of the votes restored sums of less than $100,000.

The overrides with the most support -- each passing with 146 in favor and eight Republicans voting against -- were $35,000 for the National Guard and $50,000 for the Municipal Police Training Committee.

The policy sections House lawmakers signed off on returning to the budget dealt with driver's education licenses, a Child Welfare Data Reporting Task Force, and a Childhood Vision and Eye Health Commission.

 

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