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CLT UPDATE
Sunday, February 9, 2020

State Tax Revenue Continues Breaking Records

Jump directly to CLT's Commentary on the News


Tax revenues poured into state coffers in January, totaling nearly $3 billion and representing a 6.2 percent increase over January 2019 collections.

Tax receipts over the first seven months of fiscal 2020 are up 4.9 percent, or $794 million over the same period in fiscal 2019, a year that produced a more than $1 billion budget surplus....

January collections of $2.959 billion missed the monthly benchmark by $35 million, but were $172 million higher than in January 2019, with withholding tax collections rising $119 million over last January.

"On a fiscal year-to-date basis, we continue to see steady, moderate growth above both prior year and benchmark," Acting Revenue Commissioner Kevin Brown said in a statement....

With five months left in fiscal 2020, the state could be trending toward another surplus, although state finance officials say there's a 1 percent variance between spending and revenues - Baker administration officials have declined to say whether the variance is to the positive or negative.

State House News Service
Wednesday, February 5, 2020
January Tax Collections Shoot Up 6.2 Percent


Housing advocates want to carve out a new source of money to help cities and towns cover the cost of new affordable units, but fiscal watchdogs say the move will add to the burden on property owners.

A proposal by Rep. Jay Livingstone, D-Boston, and Sen. William Brownsberger, D-Belmont [HD.4850 / SD.2785], would allow communities to add a transfer fee up to 2% onto property tax bills.

Local governing boards would have to approve the new fee by a two-thirds vote and also get approval from a majority of the community’s voters in a local referendum.

Livingstone said a dearth of federal and state funding means many cities and towns don't have the money for affordable housing projects.

"This bill would provide municipalities with another source of potential funding to help pay for initiatives such as building new housing or expanding rental vouchers," he said....

But fiscal watchdogs say the proposal creates more taxes that would unfairly burden property owners.

"They just can't keep adding to the taxpayers' burden," said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. "The Legislature has got to stop scheming for ways to take more money from productive taxpayers, or they're going to see an exodus of people leaving the state. It's the law of diminishing returns."

The Salem News
Wednesday, February 5, 2020
New 2% fee may fund affordable housing
Fiscal watchdogs say the proposal creates more taxes


PAY FINE FOR NOT VOTING (H 653) – Requires eligible voters to cast a ballot in every November General Election or face a fine of $15 that would be added to the non-voter’s state tax liability for each election missed. The measure also clarifies that the voter does not have to actually vote for anyone and is allowed to leave the ballot blank.

"This proposed further imposition by Rep. Fernandes would require 'all eligible voters in the commonwealth . . . to cast a ballot' under threat of legal penalty," said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.  "The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, which includes freedom from participating in speech.  Voting is a right of citizenship, exercised — or not — freely.  This bill exemplifies Massachusetts' political penchant for encroaching political overreach, where everything not prohibited by law must be made mandatory."

Beacon Hill Roll Call
Volume 45 - Report No. 6
Week of February 3-7, 2020
By Bob Katzen
H.653: An Act making voting obligatory and increasing turnout in elections


In a business-like fashion, the Senate passed a sweeping package of climate change legislation on Thursday night that sets a net-zero target for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, creates an independent commission to watchdog that effort, and requires the MBTA to start buying all-electric buses by 2028 and go all-electric by 2040.

Even though the issue of climate change is full of political minefields, there were few serious policy disputes over the course of the day. More than 150 amendments were filed to the three bills, but many of them were withdrawn by members who went along with appeals from leadership to stay focused on the task at hand. Votes were lopsided, with the three bills passing by votes of 36-2, 35-2, and 35-2.

“There was a very high harmony quotient with that debate,” said the architect of the package, Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington.

Commonwealth Magazine
Friday, January 31, 2020
7 takes on Senate climate change debate
Lots of harmony, plus some political intrigue


On Thursday, radical Senate Democrats scrambled to pass extreme and authoritarian climate legislation that seeks to drastically change how hard-working Massachusetts taxpayers live, work, and commute.

Here’s what’s in store if this trio of bills is approved by the House: California-style regulations will become the norm, meaning mandatory low-flow showerheads, in addition to slapping new taxes and fees on any and all uses of natural gas and oil.

Per Democratic Lexington Sen. Michael Barrett:

“We follow California.”

Meanwhile, Californians are fleeing their home state at record numbers.

MassGOP
Monday, February 3, 2020
News Release
Radical Democrats' newest obsession? Turning Massachusetts into California


We’ve stated previously the gas-tax increase that’s part of the regional emissions reduction compact backed by Gov. Charlie Baker appears nothing more than a vehicle to raise funds for the state’s many transportation needs.

Recently the governor seemed to agree with that assessment — if that hike isn’t bundled with incentives for automakers and fuel suppliers to invest in clean vehicles, charging stations and alternative fuels. Otherwise, this tax increase will just be passed on to consumers.

The 11-state Transportation Climate Initiative could cause gas prices to rise by 5 to 17 cents per gallon....

The gas-tax proposal already has created some cracks in the TCI; New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said his state won’t support it.

Meanwhile, our state Legislature, particularly the House, has been weighing the possibility of inserting a gasoline-tax increase in its transportation revenue bill.

According to the State House News Service, some lawmakers likely feel uncomfortable about raising the gas tax during an election year, while governors of those TCI states have reservations about its impact on gas prices.

Whether on an intrastate or interstate level, a gas-tax increase alone has become an increasingly harder sell.

A Boston Herald editorial
Friday, February 7, 2020
Hard to find fans of gas-tax increase


The MassInc Polling Group's survey of 2,318 Massachusetts residents was conducted between Oct. 10 and Nov. 8, 2019 and released Monday, four days after the state Senate passed climate legislation that included deadlines for the state to impose carbon-pricing mechanisms in the transportation sector, homes and commercial buildings.

Seventy-nine percent of respondents said climate change will be a serious problem for Massachusetts if it is left unaddressed, and 56 percent said officials here should act ahead of other states to address it. Another 22 percent said Massachusetts should act at the same time as other states, while 4 percent favored waiting for others to go first and 12 percent said the state should take no action.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Katie Theoharides said local and state officials are "stepping up" in response to residents' desire for climate leadership.

"I think where the rubber hits the road in terms of when this becomes to get more challenging is what the solutions are and how do we deploy them, and also the sense that probably on climate change, none of the things that we're going to do are going to be free," Theoharides said at an event MassINC hosted Monday morning at the UMass Club in downtown Boston.

Theoharides pitched Gov. Charlie Baker's bill (S 10) that would raise the state's real estate transfer tax to help cities and towns cope with climate change impacts. She said the tax increase would provide a "sustained and ongoing" revenue source for these efforts....

MassINC's poll was conducted before the coalition announced their cost estimates, and it did not ask respondents questions about paying for any policy changes. It was also conducted before Baker, Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo all said they want the state to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and before the details of the Senate's climate legislation had been made public.

State House News Service
Monday, February 3, 2020
Poll Tested Public Opinion on Climate Change
Survey Conducted Before Wave of Recent Action


On Beacon Hill, it'll feel like it arrives a lot faster.

That's what Gov. Charlie Baker suggested in an address before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, snapping his fingers to indicate how quickly time will pass between now and the last day of formal legislative business for the two-year term.

"It's going to go by like this, and a lot of distractions are going to be there, with the national scene and all the rest, but here at home we have a whole bunch of really important things to get done," he said.

Baker used his speech to highlight the priorities he wants to see lawmakers act on over the next nearly six months, singling out his health care, housing and transportation legislation....

"One of the things that usually happens with a lot of the big, complicated bond bills is they don't get passed until the very end of session," he said. "Sometimes they get passed 15 minutes after the end of session, which is always interesting. It would be really great if that could get passed sooner, so that we could actually start using some of the tools and the resources that are available under that bond bill for this construction season, which starts in the spring." ...

Baker didn't touch on the potential for a gas tax increase in his speech. Separately from whatever transportation investment plan lawmakers might take up, Baker is also working with other states in hopes of creating a regional cap-and-invest program for carbon emissions from transportation, which could ultimately increase gas prices between 5 and 17 cents per gallon at the pump.

The Boston Chamber supports a 15-cent gas tax increase over three years.

[James Rooney, president and CEO of the Greater Boston of Chamber of Commerce] said he views gas tax increases and the transportation climate initiative as separate issues, in part because it will be at least a few years before TCI generates any revenue.

"So we separate it and say, the now moment is the gas tax," Rooney said. "That can be done Monday, and it's very easy to implement, and we need funds for our transportation systems and we need to incent behavior of drivers."

State House News Service
Tuesday, February 4, 2020
Transpo Challenges Testing Baker’s Patience
Rooney: "The Now Moment is The Gas Tax"


Ten days after a House chairman signaled he was ready to advance Gov. Charlie Baker's $18 billion transportation bond bill, his Senate counterpart called it his "number one priority" -- but it appears a vote has still not been scheduled.

"I have every intention in moving it too," Senate Transportation Committee Co-chairman Joseph Boncore told the News Service on Monday after presiding over the Senate's session....

Joint committees over the years have moved away from holding public executive sessions to cast votes on bills and toward the use of polls, which do not come with any public notice and the results of which are often not publicized by committees. Under the rules of the committee, the two chairs must be in agreement before an executive session can be scheduled.

Joint committees on Beacon Hill face a Wednesday deadline to make decisions on bills reviewed during 2019.

State House News Service
Monday, February 3, 2020
Method May be Holding up Vote on $18 Bil Transpo Bond Bill


A wave of extension orders adopted this week is cutting into the intended impact of a rules reform adopted in early 2017 that was designed to improve the flow of bills ahead of the busy stretch run of formal sessions in election years.

On one big topic after another, House and Senate lawmakers this week agreed that rather than make a decision ahead of Wednesday's biennial bill-reporting deadline, they'll give themselves more time to review bills by folding them into orders that feature new deadlines in March, April, May and even June.

Legislation addressing some of the most high-profile topics on Beacon Hill, from abortion to drug use to immigration enforcement, largely received extension orders by Wednesday's deadline rather than recommendations that those bills should or should not advance.

One notable exception was in the Transportation Committee where an $18 billion long-term infrastructure borrowing bill (H 4002) and a bill (S 2061) to make driver's licenses available to undocumented immigrants were reported out favorably ahead of the deadline.

With less than six months for formal sessions remaining this year, extensions shrink the window for bill supporters to try to steer their proposals through the Beacon Hill legislative maze, which still features any number of trap doors where bills can slip off the public agenda.

A rule change that the House and Senate agreed to in 2017 moved up the biennial bill-reporting deadline for joint committees from mid-March to early February. The change was pushed by the Senate, where legislators complained that too many key bills were being held up for too long by House-controlled committees.

State House News Service
Wednesday, February 5, 2020
On Deadline Day, Committees Put Off Many of the Biggest Decisions


Joint Rule 10 was made to be broken, or at least danced around.

The biennial deadline for almost all legislative committees to make recommendations on the hundreds of bills put in their tender care arrived on Wednesday, a wonk-a-palooza for Beacon Hill Kremlinologists giddy at the prospect of trying to read the tea leaves and suss out the agenda for the next six months.

As rules go, this committee reporting deadline has been one less susceptible to being suspended, or worse, ignored. But that doesn't mean it's hard and fast.

So while former Gov. Mitt Romney was making history on the Senate floor in Washington, becoming a trivia question answer as the only senator to ever vote to remove a president of his own party, Democratic committee chairs at his former work address were busy preparing extension orders.

Committees that needed or wanted more time to make a decision on bills simply asked for it. But they had to be specific....

But while the clerks were busy processing extension orders, some committees did render verdicts. Hundreds, if not thousands, of bills were referred for further study, effectively killing them off until the next two-year session when they must be refiled and the process starts again....

The Transportation Committee also recommended a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a standard state driver's license, provided they can show certain documentation to prove their identity. Intended as a public safety measure, it's the first time it has ever advanced from committee, but Baker said he still can't support it, holding to his position from the 2014 campaign and one he has repeated over the years.

State House News Service
Friday, February 7, 2020
Weekly Roundup - The Dog Ate Their Homework
By Matt Murphy


Supporters of legislation that would create a pathway for undocumented immigrants to get Massachusetts driver's licenses plan to launch a hunger strike outside the State House on Monday morning.

The 10:30 a.m. event comes two days ahead of a deadline for joint legislative committees to report on bills. Committees can give bills favorable or unfavorable reports, send them to study, or request extensions for more time to consider them.

The activists are calling on House Speaker Robert DeLeo, House Transportation Committee Chairman William Straus and other members of the Transportation Committee to endorse and advance the driver's licenses bill (H 3012, S 2061), known as the Work and Family Mobility Act. Faith leaders will bless the hunger strikers during the event, according to a press release from Moviemento Cosecha.

State House News Service
Monday, February 3, 2020
Activists Launch Hunger Strike for License Bill


The Transportation Committee has given a favorable recommendation to legislation that would enable undocumented immigrants to access standard driver's licenses in Massachusetts.

Bill sponsor Rep. Christine Barber of Somerville joined activists in Nurses Hall late Wednesday to celebrate the vote.

"Si se puede," activists, who have been rallying for the bill all week, chanted.

State House News Service
Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Immigrant Driver’s License Bill Gets Committee Nod


A key legislative committee of the Massachusetts Legislature is recommending a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

“Si se puede,” chanted celebrating pro-illegal-immigrant activists late Wednesday afternoon in Nurses Hall at the Massachusetts State House in Boston, according to State House News Service.

The Spanish phrase means “Yes you can” in English – not far from former President Barack Obama’s slogan “Yes we can.” ...

Current state law does not allow foreign nationals in the country illegally to get a driver’s license.

“No license of any type may be issued to any person who does not have lawful presence in the United States,” states the statute (Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 90, Section 8).

The bill would strike that language and replace it with:

“Persons who are unable to provide proof of lawful presence, or who are ineligible for a social security number, may apply for a Massachusetts license if they meet all other qualifications for licensure and provide satisfactory proof to the registrar of identity, date of birth and Massachusetts residency.”

The New Boston Post
Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Driver’s Licenses For Illegal Aliens, Massachusetts Legislative Committee Says


Renewed efforts to turn Massachusetts into a haven for illegal immigrants took center stage on Beacon Hill recently....

So, it’s easy to see why most illegals have little to fear from federal, state or local authorities, But we shouldn’t endorse the sorry state of our immigration enforcement system by codifying it with a legislative seal of approval.

A Boston Herald editorial
Saturday, February 1, 2020
Don’t dilute state’s already lax immigration enforcement


A top Homeland Security Department official said a law in New York that allows illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses could put residents' lives in danger.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, defended the department’s decision to block New York from participating in several Trusted Traveler Programs, including Global Entry enrollment, citing the state's Green Light Law in its justification for doing so.

During a call with reporters, Cuccinelli said a “main problem” that occurred in the events leading up to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, was that the attackers used Virginia licenses to book the flights. “It was embarrassing to us in Virginia that the majority of 9/11 terrorists used Virginia driver's licenses to help accomplish their evil mission, and we set about to fix that. And we did fix that," Cuccinelli explained.

He added, “Here, we have one of the other targets of 9/11, who are walking backwards quite intentionally in the other direction to bar the sharing of law enforcement relevant information like vehicle registration, matching driver's licenses to identifications, and, critically, criminal records which are kept up to date and DMV databases.”

The Washington Examiner
Thursday, February 6, 2020
Top DHS official:
New York IDs for illegal immigrants bring back 'main problem' that 'allowed 9/11'


Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf sent a letter to New York State Wednesday informing officials that New Yorkers would not be eligible for DHS’s Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) because of the state’s law allowing illegal-immigrants to receive state driver’s licenses.

The “Green Light” law, which went into effect in December, also blocks federal agencies like ICE and CBP from accessing the state’s DMV records without a court order....

“They can’t enroll or reenroll in these Trusted Traveler Programs that Customs and Border Protection offers because we no longer have access to make sure that they meet those program requirements,” [Wolf] explained.

National Review
Thursday, February 6, 2020
DHS Bans New Yorkers from Trusted Traveler Programs over
Sanctuary Law Allowing Illegal Immigrants to Receive Driver Licenses


Penalties for evading fares on the MBTA would be lowered and drivers could be cited for using bus lanes under changes Gov. Charlie Baker proposed in a spending bill filed Friday....

Under the bill, police would be explicitly banned from arresting individuals who board or attempt to board the MBTA without paying, which they can do now if the individual fails to provide identification, according to the T.

Authorities will still issue non-criminal citations for evasion, but the fine structure would change from a statutory mandate to one set by MBTA regulations. The bill calls for lowering the fines from the current minimum of $50 and maximum of $500 to a new minimum of $10 and maximum of $250.

State law allows for the Registry of Motor Vehicles to decline renewing a driver's license if a single fare evasion citation is unresolved, but Baker's bill would only permit that step if a motorist has two or more outstanding citations.

The bill also strips out existing language that would require new drivers who received a fare evasion citation when they were 17 or younger to pay the outstanding fine before acquiring a license.

State House News Service
Monday, February 3, 2020
Baker Bill Eases Penalties for Fare Evasion
Guv Offers New Penalties for Bus Lane Interference


More than one in every five MBTA pensioners retired before age 50 as the state increasingly has to pick up the tab on the T’s troubled pension fund that’s running big deficits even in the current strong market, a Herald analysis shows.

“It’s a few retirees who are being subsidized by the Massachusetts taxpayers,” said Mark Williams, a Boston University finance professor who tracks the MBTA Retirement Fund. “They’re eating two bites at the apple, plus they get to work at another job.”

That’s referring to the situation caused by the T’s longstanding “23-and-out” policy, which didn’t put a retirement age on its workers — it just required 23 years of service, at which point they could grab the pension, eventually become eligible for Social Security, and pick up another gig at the same time.

That’s what led to 22% of the 5,626 people receiving T pensions having cashed out under age 50, according to a review of MBTA Retirement Fund data. The average T pensioner is 55.8 years old.

The retirement fund has floundered deeper into fiscal danger, last year reporting $2.91 billion in liabilities versus $1.45 billion in assets. The fund said no new data is available about that breakdown at this point. It falls on the state to fill the annual shortfall, which resulted in the MBTA budgeting $118.2 million to keep the retirement fund afloat for the current fiscal year. That’s up from $102.9 million in fiscal year 2019 and $93.8 million the previous year. That’s now more than half of the total yearly payout, which is upward of $201 million, per the data....

“A couple bad markets, and boom — the pension is gone … At the current outflow rate, by 2030, the pension’s done — kaput,” [Mark Williams, a Boston University finance professor who tracks the MBTA Retirement Fund] told the Herald, saying that his analyses point toward a $150 million-plus required MBTA contribution to float the fund in the next few years. “Those pensioners are left with nothing, and those employees are left with nothing.”

The Boston Herald
Tuesday, February 4. 2020
One in 5 MBTA pensioners is younger than 50 as fund struggles
‘A couple bad markets, and boom — the pension is gone’


He’s described as both a deliberate consensus builder and a power-collecting micro-manager. A humble everyman and a shrewd political operator. To some, he’s a Tom Menino-like figure; others say they’re reminded of Donald Trump.

The portrait of House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo is a muddled one, fueled by a vacuum — self-created to a degree — filled with contrasts, conjecture, and above all else, time.

As of Saturday, the Winthrop Democrat has served 4,029 days as leader of the House of Representatives, the longest tenure in state history and a record previously held by a 19th-century Federalist. That sustained longevity makes DeLeo both an oddity in a chamber oft-defined by its turnover and, in political circles, a constant source of speculation about his next move.

DeLeo says that’s to the ballot box.

The 69-year-old (he turns 70 next month) said in October that he’s running for reelection to his seat this fall, which would all but ensure he captures a seventh term as speaker in January.

After he and his deputies successfully pushed to revoke the office’s eight-year term limit in 2015, abolishing a measure DeLeo himself had earlier championed, there’s little that would stop his record-setting run atop the chamber he controls.

The Boston Globe
Saturday, February 8, 2020
Robert DeLeo is longest-serving House speaker in Massachusetts history


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

The State House News Service reported on Wednesday:

Tax revenues poured into state coffers in January, totaling nearly $3 billion and representing a 6.2 percent increase over January 2019 collections.

Tax receipts over the first seven months of fiscal 2020 are up 4.9 percent, or $794 million over the same period in fiscal 2019, a year that produced a more than $1 billion budget surplus.

Record-breaking tax collections continue to pour into the state treasury, but still on Beacon Hill massive tax hike schemes are being thrown around like confetti.  As we have asserted for decades and continue to assert, Massachusetts DOES NOT have a revenue problem it has a SPENDING PROBLEM.  Add to that, limitless crazy schemes abound that impose on industrious taxpayers an always increasing heavier burden.  It's frightening that this is getting only worse even more alarming is it happens without consequences at the ballot box, with incumbents gliding through to re-election without breaking a sweat, often even without opposition.


Remember when The Takers imposed the Community Preservation Act in 2000?  Its intent was sold as enabling communities to raise funds to create a local dedicated fund for open space preservation, preservation of historic resources, acquiring and developing outdoor recreation facilities and developing affordable housing.  At least it required a majority vote by ballot of local residents for adoption.

Twenty years later the insatiable agents of income redistribution are back for a second dip into taxpayers' pockets, by allowing communities to add a "transfer fee" up to 2% onto property tax bills.  (In early January we alerted you that this could be on the horizon.)  This latest assault on property owners intends to "provide municipalities with another source of potential funding to help pay for initiatives such as building new housing or expanding rental vouchers."  Instead of a vote by the potential victims the affected residents to tax themselves, it would require only local governing boards to approve the new fee by a two-thirds vote of town selectmen or city councilors.

When I was asked about this by Christian Wade of the Salem News last week, he reported:

"They just can't keep adding to the taxpayers' burden," said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.  "The Legislature has got to stop scheming for ways to take more money from productive taxpayers, or they're going to see an exodus of people leaving the state.  It's the law of diminishing returns."

Voters are no longer trusted to vote "the right way."  Remember the attempt in late-2018 to impose "Community Benefit Districts," which we ultimately defeated?  This is more of the same heavy-handed oppression attempting to circumvent CLT's Proposition 2˝.

If you ever doubted that More Is Never Enough (MINE) and never will be, wake up and open your eyes.


Rep. Dylan A. Fernandes (D-Falmouth) has filed the bill H.653, "An Act making voting obligatory and increasing turnout in elections."  It states:  "[A]ll eligible voters in the commonwealth shall be required to cast a ballot in the November general election.  A fee of $15 shall be added to the voter’s state tax liability for each November general election that voter did not mail in or drop off a ballot on time. . . .The department of revenue in consultation with the secretary of state’s office shall develop a system to assess the fee."  Congratulations to Rep. Fernandes!  Nobody on Beacon Hill has thought of or dared attempting to tax citizens' unalienable rights yet, unless it's the Second Amendment.

My response to it in this week's Beacon Hill Roll Call:

"This proposed further imposition by Rep. Fernandes would require 'all eligible voters in the commonwealth . . . to cast a ballot' under threat of legal penalty," said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.  "The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, which includes freedom from participating in speech.  Voting is a right of citizenship, exercised — or not — freely,"   "This bill exemplifies Massachusetts' political penchant for encroaching political overreach, where everything not prohibited by law must be made mandatory."


If you are a current CLT member-in-good-standing, having contributed anything over the past two years, you have just received CLT's annual membership renewal mailing for 2020 in your mailbox at home.

If you didn't receive it, then you are not a member-in-good-standing; you're a long-lapsed member for at least two years, still receiving these Updates.  You can change that status by renewing your membership immediately by sending your check to the address below, and at the top and bottom of this and all CLT Updates, or by making your contribution by credit card here and now.

CLT
PO Box 1147
Marblehead, MA  01945-5147

The response to this mailing will soon decide whether CLT will continue on in 2020, and for how long.  We hope you will support keeping it informing and fighting for you and for all taxpayers.  That's entirely your choice now.

Without your support and that of many others there would never have been a Citizens for Limited Taxation.  Without your support there can't be for much longer.


The new governing paradigm is to fleece residents without leaving fingerprints, dodging any accountability.  The Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) is an opening gambit for The Takers: creating hidden, unaccountable, indirect taxation that becomes irresistible by citizens, unable to be challenged.  Passage last week of the state Senate's "'Net-Zero' Climate Change" bills is widening the entry of this new strategy.  Nobody in the Senate had even the slightest idea of how much it will cost Massachusetts residents, but still it was blindly rammed through with a vote of 36-2.  The radical costs imposed on residents will just be blamed on others.

Nonetheless, MassINC has produced a new poll, the results supporting "Net-Zero."

Seventy-nine percent of respondents said climate change will be a serious problem for Massachusetts if it is left unaddressed, and 56 percent said officials here should act ahead of other states to address it. Another 22 percent said Massachusetts should act at the same time as other states, while 4 percent favored waiting for others to go first and 12 percent said the state should take no action.

Another disingenuous MassINC poll that doesn't include the costs when pollsters survey respondents.  This is the second recent such MassINC poll using this clearly deceptive method (See Poll: Voters Back Compact to Reduce Transpo Emissions from back in December).  The State House News Service further reported:

MassINC's poll was conducted before the coalition announced their cost estimates, and it did not ask respondents questions about paying for any policy changes. It was also conducted before Baker, Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo all said they want the state to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and before the details of the Senate's climate legislation had been made public.

When Mass Fiscal did its own recent poll The Boston Herald reported a converse result:  "Poll shows Massachusetts majority oppose cost of TCI."  Imagine that!  Commenting on the results, the pollster noted:

“Every data set tells a story and it really does tell a story,” [Jim Eltringham of Advantage Inc, a D.C.-based polling company] said. “When people are asked if they support a measure to help environment that has this price tag from their own wallet, that’s when you start seeing the dip.”


At this time Gov. Charlie Baker's Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) seems to be slowing its momentum.

During our weekly conference call among the dozen state Anti-TCI coalition, on Monday reports from the other state citizen-advocate groups involved indicate no groundswell of consensus in their respective state capitals.  It appears that individual states each have their parochial preferences, or their own ongoing revenue targets to fund their respective state transportation needs.  TCI certainly remains a threat, but is by no means an inevitable fait accompli for the moment.  This can still change in the days ahead.  Count on Massachusetts to keep its pressure to comply on those other reluctant states within the multi-state compact it has assembled.


Fulltime state legislatures everywhere have far too much idle time on their hands.  This provides those legislators with limitless opportunity to come up with asinine schemes they lust to impose on the citizenry.  This obvious danger is why only ten states in the nation have full-time legislatures.  Most states recognize the danger and intentionally send their legislators home after a few months at most of necessary governing.

But this full-time, year-round Legislature gets nothing done but political posturing, procrastination and intrigue until the eleventh-hour on the closing day of each session.  That's when a forklift drops a hundred pound bill on desks of rank-and-file members of the House and Senate, who are expected to vote on it right now, without a clue what it contains until exposed weeks and months later.


But committee hearings?  They do have time for committee hearings to advance legislation they support.  (Not so much for legislation they don't want out in the public, like the secret "Net-Zero" legislation that whisked through the Senate last week without a single public hearing or even a cost estimate.)  The big hearing this week was to provide driver's licenses to illegal aliens.  "Si se puede!" echoed through the State House corridors; translation:  “Yes you can!”

The big problem with this farce is that the Trump administration has begun cracking down on the illegal practice.  Last week it banned New York state residents from airport amenities such as participating in several Trusted Traveler Programs, including Global Entry enrollment, since New York recently began issuing drivers licenses for illegal immigrants.  Meanwhile, Massachusetts is defying federal immigration laws by pushing to become a sanctuary state and issuing drivers licenses to illegal aliens which if adopted will create problems, costs, risks, and inconveniences for its citizens and legal immigrant population.


The Boston Herald reported this week:

More than one in every five MBTA pensioners retired before age 50 as the state increasingly has to pick up the tab on the T’s troubled pension fund that’s running big deficits even in the current strong market, a Herald analysis shows. . . .

The retirement fund has floundered deeper into fiscal danger, last year reporting $2.91 billion in liabilities versus $1.45 billion in assets....  It falls on the state to fill the annual shortfall, which resulted in the MBTA budgeting $118.2 million to keep the retirement fund afloat for the current fiscal year. That’s up from $102.9 million in fiscal year 2019 and $93.8 million the previous year. That’s now more than half of the total yearly payout, which is upward of $201 million, per the data.

Apparently Gov. Charlie Baker has all sorts of plans for how to fix the "T" has had them since he was elected.  We won't ask here how those plans are going; we know they're telling us that it'll take billions more.

But how is this any part of any solution?  The State House News Service reported this week:

Penalties for evading fares on the MBTA would be lowered and drivers could be cited for using bus lanes under changes Gov. Charlie Baker proposed in a spending bill filed Friday.

Baker's $52.6 million fiscal year 2020 supplemental budget bill (H 4354) calls for reforms to how those who do not pay for rides are punished and greater protections on passenger data as the T prepares a new fare collection model. . . .

Under the bill, police would be explicitly banned from arresting individuals who board or attempt to board the MBTA without paying, which they can do now if the individual fails to provide identification, according to the T.

Authorities will still issue non-criminal citations for evasion, but the fine structure would change from a statutory mandate to one set by MBTA regulations. The bill calls for lowering the fines from the current minimum of $50 and maximum of $500 to a new minimum of $10 and maximum of $250.


Yesterday we celebrated an historic milestone in the storied history of Massachusetts.  The Boston Globe reported:

As of Saturday, the Winthrop Democrat has served 4,029 days as leader of the House of Representatives, the longest tenure in state history and a record previously held by a 19th-century Federalist.  That sustained longevity makes DeLeo both an oddity in a chamber oft-defined by its turnover and, in political circles, a constant source of speculation about his next move.

DeLeo says that’s to the ballot box.

The 69-year-old (he turns 70 next month) said in October that he’s running for reelection to his seat this fall, which would all but ensure he captures a seventh term as speaker in January.

After he and his deputies successfully pushed to revoke the office’s eight-year term limit in 2015, abolishing a measure DeLeo himself had earlier championed, there’s little that would stop his record-setting run atop the chamber he controls.

Break out the champagne all you lucky citizens!

Chip Ford
Executive Director


 

The Salem News
Wednesday, February 5, 2020

New 2% fee may fund affordable housing
Fiscal watchdogs say the proposal creates more taxes
By Christian M. Wade, Statehouse Reporter


Housing advocates want to carve out a new source of money to help cities and towns cover the cost of new affordable units, but fiscal watchdogs say the move will add to the burden on property owners.

A proposal by Rep. Jay Livingstone, D-Boston, and Sen. William Brownsberger, D-Belmont [HD.4850 / SD.2785], would allow communities to add a transfer fee up to 2% onto property tax bills.

Local governing boards would have to approve the new fee by a two-thirds vote and also get approval from a majority of the community’s voters in a local referendum.

Livingstone said a dearth of federal and state funding means many cities and towns don't have the money for affordable housing projects.

"This bill would provide municipalities with another source of potential funding to help pay for initiatives such as building new housing or expanding rental vouchers," he said.

The proposal includes exemptions for low-income and elderly property owners, and cities and towns could tack on provisions to lessen the fiscal impact on the community.

Andrew DeFranza, executive director of Beverly-based Harborlight Community Partners, said the fee would draw in much needed revenue to build housing.

"There's not enough capital in the system to create affordable housing anywhere near the demand," he said. "Anything to create more capital to create more units is a good thing."

But fiscal watchdogs say the proposal creates more taxes that would unfairly burden property owners.

"They just can't keep adding to the taxpayers' burden," said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. "The Legislature has got to stop scheming for ways to take more money from productive taxpayers, or they're going to see an exodus of people leaving the state. It's the law of diminishing returns."

Few dispute the need for more low-cost housing in Massachusetts, which has some of the highest housing costs and rents in the country.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council estimates the Greater Boston area needs at least 435,000 new affordable housing units by 2040 to keep pace with demand.

DeFranza said many communities impose restrictive zoning, such as requiring two- and three-acre lots, to block affordable housing from being built.

"Zoning is the dominant problem in Massachusetts," he said. "Cities and towns have fabricated a land shortage in the state by restricting its use though zoning."

Several years ago, lawmakers pitched a proposal to allow cities and towns to adopt "inclusionary zoning," which requires developers to designate units for affordable housing in exchange for local concessions on density and other requirements. Under the plan cities and towns would designate areas where "cluster developments" are allowed. But the Legislature rejected the proposal.

Gov. Charlie Baker has filed legislation aimed at boosting the state's housing stock as part of an ambitious plan to add at least 135,000 new homes over the next five to seven years. His plan would allow town governing bodies to change zoning rules with a simple majority vote, removing a current requirement of a two-thirds vote.

Housing is deemed "affordable" when a tenant or homeowner spends no more than 30% of their income on housing costs, according to state housing officials.

To qualify for affordable housing, tenants generally must make less than 80% of the median income, adjusted to the size of their family, in the city or town where they want to live.

A state law approved nearly 50 years ago shifted the burden onto cities and towns to ensure at least 10% of local housing is affordable.

The Chapter 40B law aimed to encourage affordable development by reducing zoning roadblocks, but housing advocates say it has done little to solve the problem, as towns have found a way around it.

Many communities fall short of the minimum, according to the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Statewide, only about 70 have reached the 10% threshold.

Marblehead, for example, boasts some of the highest incomes on the North Shore, with a median of $115,511 per household, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. But less than 4% of its 8,528 housing units are deemed affordable.

In Hamilton, with a median of $108,558 per household, only 3% of the 2,783 affordable housing units are considered affordable.

Some communities have created affordable housing trusts to cover the cost for new projects, while others have conducted a top-to-bottom reviews of local zoning laws.

"Building the housing we need isn't just good public policy, it's an economic necessity for the state," said Marc Draisen, executive director of the regional planning council. "We must tackle this problem."

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.


Bill H.653
An Act making voting obligatory and increasing turnout in elections


Sponsor:  Rep. Dylan A. Fernandes (D-Falmouth)

SECTION 1. Chapter 51 of the General Laws is hereby amended by striking out section 34 and inserting in place thereof the following section:-

Section 34. There shall be no deadline for registering to vote for any election in Massachusetts.

SECTION 2. Chapter 54 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 25A the following section:-

Section 25A˝. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, all eligible voters in the commonwealth shall be required to cast a ballot in the November general election. A fee of $15 shall be added to the voter’s state tax liability for each November general election that voter did not mail in or drop off a ballot on time. Nothing shall impede a voter’s right to complete and return a ballot that does not include any actual votes for candidates. The department of revenue in consultation with the secretary of state’s office shall develop a system to assess the fee.


State House News Service
Wednesday, February 5, 2020

January Tax Collections Shoot Up 6.2 Percent
By Michael P. Norton


Tax revenues poured into state coffers in January, totaling nearly $3 billion and representing a 6.2 percent increase over January 2019 collections.

Tax receipts over the first seven months of fiscal 2020 are up 4.9 percent, or $794 million over the same period in fiscal 2019, a year that produced a more than $1 billion budget surplus. Collections are running $107 million above benchmarks. The Baker administration in January raised the fiscal 2020 tax revenue estimate from $30.099 billion to $30.289 billion, an adjustment that is reflected in the January reporting.

January collections of $2.959 billion missed the monthly benchmark by $35 million, but were $172 million higher than in January 2019, with withholding tax collections rising $119 million over last January.

"On a fiscal year-to-date basis, we continue to see steady, moderate growth above both prior year and benchmark," Acting Revenue Commissioner Kevin Brown said in a statement. "The monthly results for January show estimated payments coming in somewhat below expectations, partly offset by the surplus in withholding and the 'All Other' tax category. With respect to non-withheld income tax or income estimated payments, it appears taxpayers are adjusting to 2017 federal tax law changes, making the timing of non-withheld payments less predictable. This timing uncertainty is expected to be resolved in the filing season and we do not expect it to have any net impact on revenues for the fiscal year as a whole at this time."

With five months left in fiscal 2020, the state could be trending toward another surplus, although state finance officials say there's a 1 percent variance between spending and revenues - Baker administration officials have declined to say whether the variance is to the positive or negative.


Commonwealth Magazine
Friday, January 31, 2020

7 takes on Senate climate change debate
Lots of harmony, plus some political intrigue
By Bruce Mohl


In a business-like fashion, the Senate passed a sweeping package of climate change legislation on Thursday night that sets a net-zero target for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, creates an independent commission to watchdog that effort, and requires the MBTA to start buying all-electric buses by 2028 and go all-electric by 2040.

Even though the issue of climate change is full of political minefields, there were few serious policy disputes over the course of the day. More than 150 amendments were filed to the three bills, but many of them were withdrawn by members who went along with appeals from leadership to stay focused on the task at hand. Votes were lopsided, with the three bills passing by votes of 36-2, 35-2, and 35-2.

“There was a very high harmony quotient with that debate,” said the architect of the package, Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington.

Here are seven observations:

Climate Change Commission – Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester is close with the Baker administration, so it’s fair to assume that where he had problems with the legislation the governor does as well. Tarr walked a fine line, praising the goals of the climate change legislation but raising concerns about specific elements of the bill. One of his biggest concerns was the creation of an independent commission to watchdog how the state is doing on meeting its greenhouse gas emission goals. He portrayed the commission as a redundant bureaucracy costing the state as much as $5 million a year. He suggested the same watchdog role could be filled by the existing Clean Energy Commission, whose board is dominated by cabinet members appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker.

Barrett thinks an independent watchdog is essential. He has raised concerns with the Baker administration about the current three-year lag in emissions data, which in practical terms means officials won’t know if Massachusetts met its greenhouse gas emissions target for 2020 until 2023. Barrett’s legislation requires that timetable to be cut to 18 months, but he says that type of pressure for action is what an independent commission will bring to the table. “We need an independent, authoritative, expert, and credible source of perspective on whether all of us are doing our jobs,” Barrett said.

Carbon sequestration – The net-zero emissions goal means some greenhouse gas emissions could be offset by carbon being sucked up by trees and other plant life. Tarr won passage of an amendment that would require state officials to develop a baseline figure for the carbon sequestered in forests and the natural landscape and goals for increasing that amount. Some environmentalists privately worry the sequestration goals could conflict with clean energy goals – if, for exampl4e, solar farms were blocked because they would result in trees being cut down.

Natural gas — Many senators filed amendments dealing with the safety of natural gas and its infrastructure, but then withdrew them after receiving assurances from Senate President Karen Spilka that a separate bill on this issue would be taken up later this year.

Renewables – Several senators were eager to speed adoption of renewable forms of energy, specifically offshore wind, hydro-electricity, and solar. Sen. Julian Cyr of Truro proposed an amendment authorizing an additional 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind; other senators wanted to eliminate any restrictions on offshore wind development entirely. The push evaporated when Cyr withdrew his amendment, much to the chagrin of the Sierra Club, which called for a commitment to 100 percent clean energy.

It’s unclear why the push for more renewables fizzled, but sources said there were no guarantees about bringing the issue back in a future bill this session. Some senators said the Baker administration pushed back against more offshore wind procurements, in part because of ongoing concerns about Trump administration resistance to offshore wind.

Low-income residents – The climate change legislation calls for putting a price on the carbon contained in automobile and heating fuels, which is likely to mean higher prices. The original bill had a number of protections for low-income residents, but additional ones were added via amendment. Two amendments were adopted making it easier for low-income residents to take advantage of solar power. One amendment added “equity” to the list of future priorities for the Department of Public Utilities. Another amendment required state officials to draft regulations to meet emission reduction targets “in a manner that mitigates the effects of increased energy and transportation costs on low-income and moderate-income households, improves their economic condition, where feasible, and creates additional employment and economic development of the commonwealth.”

Thermal energy – An amendment authorized natural gas utilities to launch pilots testing the delivery of thermal energy to homes and businesses and allowing the companies to bill ratepayers for the cost.
Politics – With the departures of Sens. Vinny deMacedo of Plymouth and Donald Humason of Westfield, the Senate GOP is starting to look as badly split as the party statewide. There are currently only four Republicans in the Senate, split between moderates (Tarr and Patrick O’Connor of Weymouth) and conservatives (Ryan Fattman of Sutton and Dean Tran of Fitchburg). Fattman and Tran were the only two senators to vote against the climate change legislation.


MassGOP
Monday, February 3, 2020

News Release
Radical Democrats' newest obsession? Turning Massachusetts into California


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT:
Evan Lips, communications director
617-523-5005 ext. 245

WOBURN -- On Thursday, radical Senate Democrats scrambled to pass extreme and authoritarian climate legislation that seeks to drastically change how hard-working Massachusetts taxpayers live, work, and commute.

Here’s what’s in store if this trio of bills is approved by the House: California-style regulations will become the norm, meaning mandatory low-flow showerheads, in addition to slapping new taxes and fees on any and all uses of natural gas and oil.

Per Democratic Lexington Sen. Michael Barrett:

“We follow California.”

Meanwhile, Californians are fleeing their home state at record numbers.

The rhetoric from radical Senate Democrats on display Thursday was “absolutely insane,” said Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons.

Taunton Democratic Sen. Marc Pacheco, another major backer of this legislation, equated non-passage of the bill to garage-induced suicide.

“Would you drive into your garage with your engine running with the exhaust coming out your tailpipe and close the door and dare to stay inside that garage?” Pacheco said from the Senate floor. “We are inside a big garage. The world is in a big garage.”

Massachusetts currently contributes 1.2 percent of the United States’ carbon emissions, and 0.12 percent of global carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, Winchester Democratic Senator Jason Lewis later said what every other Democrat was thinking:

“In recent years we have ceded that standard to places like California,” Lewis said. “Hopefully we can regain our leadership by passing this.”

Lyons said the Democrats’ obsession with California is dangerous yet predictable.

“Virtue-signaling was obviously in high-demand on Thursday,” Lyons said. “And here’s the dirty little secret about these radical new standards they’re after -- these lawmakers, with their big pay raises, won’t be affected.

“It will be the hard-working Massachusetts taxpayer that will get stiffed again, all so these Democrats can to brag to each other they’re saving the world at their next cocktail party.”

Efforts by Republican Minority Leader Bruce Tarr to provide transparency to ratepayers, and provide them with estimates on various costs, was predictably stymied by Senate Democrats.

Democrats also dismissed another amendment submitted by Tarr that called for at least one ratepayer to serve on the new $5 million Climate Policy Commission.

“There are a whole lot of people on this commission, but what it also ought to be is a couple of folks of people who stand in the shoes of people who are paying the bills,” Tarr said.

Said Lyons:

“The last thing any of these Democrats want is to have members of the public involved and aware of their newest bureaucracy.”


The Boston Herald
Friday, February 7, 2020

A Boston Herald editorial
Hard to find fans of gas-tax increase


We’ve stated previously the gas-tax increase that’s part of the regional emissions reduction compact backed by Gov. Charlie Baker appears nothing more than a vehicle to raise funds for the state’s many transportation needs.

Recently the governor seemed to agree with that assessment — if that hike isn’t bundled with incentives for automakers and fuel suppliers to invest in clean vehicles, charging stations and alternative fuels. Otherwise, this tax increase will just be passed on to consumers.

The 11-state Transportation Climate Initiative could cause gas prices to rise by 5 to 17 cents per gallon.

“Putting a tax on something is not the same as creating a cap and invest program,” Baker said during his “Ask the Governor” segment on WGBH radio last week.

Pressed on whether he’d veto a gas-tax increase without any clean-energy incentives, Baker replied, “If that’s all it was, yeah.”

The gas-tax proposal already has created some cracks in the TCI; New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said his state won’t support it.

Meanwhile, our state Legislature, particularly the House, has been weighing the possibility of inserting a gasoline-tax increase in its transportation revenue bill.

According to the State House News Service, some lawmakers likely feel uncomfortable about raising the gas tax during an election year, while governors of those TCI states have reservations about its impact on gas prices.

Whether on an intrastate or interstate level, a gas-tax increase alone has become an increasingly harder sell.


State House News Service
Monday, February 3, 2020

Poll Tested Public Opinion on Climate Change
Survey Conducted Before Wave of Recent Action
By Katie Lannan


A majority of Massachusetts residents anticipate a need for "major" state and federal policy changes to stop climate change, and 70 percent think they'll need to make at least moderate changes to how they live, according to new poll results.

The MassInc Polling Group's survey of 2,318 Massachusetts residents was conducted between Oct. 10 and Nov. 8, 2019 and released Monday, four days after the state Senate passed climate legislation that included deadlines for the state to impose carbon-pricing mechanisms in the transportation sector, homes and commercial buildings.

Seventy-nine percent of respondents said climate change will be a serious problem for Massachusetts if it is left unaddressed, and 56 percent said officials here should act ahead of other states to address it. Another 22 percent said Massachusetts should act at the same time as other states, while 4 percent favored waiting for others to go first and 12 percent said the state should take no action.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Katie Theoharides said local and state officials are "stepping up" in response to residents' desire for climate leadership.

"I think where the rubber hits the road in terms of when this becomes to get more challenging is what the solutions are and how do we deploy them, and also the sense that probably on climate change, none of the things that we're going to do are going to be free," Theoharides said at an event MassINC hosted Monday morning at the UMass Club in downtown Boston.

Theoharides pitched Gov. Charlie Baker's bill (S 10) that would raise the state's real estate transfer tax to help cities and towns cope with climate change impacts. She said the tax increase would provide a "sustained and ongoing" revenue source for these efforts.

"The fee here is small, but again, it's asking people to pay for something, which is never easy," Theoharides said. "If you're looking at a housing cost, on a $400,000 house, it's about a $900 increase, so, moderate. The reason it's put on property is because property is at risk from climate change and so these investments in critical infrastructure will help property values."

Theoharides also discussed the Transportation Climate Initiative, a compact Baker is pursuing with other eastern states that would create a regional cap-and-invest program on greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

The states in the TCI coalition, which Theoharides chairs, are exploring three emissions-reduction scenarios that could increase gas prices at the pump by somewhere from 5 to 17 cents per gallon.

MassINC's poll was conducted before the coalition announced their cost estimates, and it did not ask respondents questions about paying for any policy changes. It was also conducted before Baker, Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo all said they want the state to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and before the details of the Senate's climate legislation had been made public.

Asked about different policy proposals, 66 percent said they either strongly or somewhat supported charging companies that bring gasoline into the region a fee and investing the funds in cleaner transportation; 77 percent supported providing state funds to cities and towns for specific climate change projects; 86 percent supported improving the public transportation network to reduce car travel; 77 percent supported moving the state toward offshore wind power; 84 percent supported restoring wetlands to serve as buffers against flooding; and 75 percent supported changing zoning laws to encourage developments near public transit.

Forty-six percent said major changes will be needed in state government policy to address climate change, and 23 percent said moderate changes are needed. At the federal level, 59 percent saw a need for major changes and 21 percent for moderate changes.

Respondents also saw a need for changes in people's everyday lives. To stop climate change, 45 percent said there would need to be a "major change to how we live," and 35 percent said there would need to be "moderate changes to how we live." Three percent said no changes would be needed and 5 percent said climate change can't be stopped by how we live.

Marcos Marrero, Holyoke's director of planning and economic development, said he believes there is an interest at the local level in "being bold" on climate change.

"I think there's less of an interest if that is a synonym for sacrifice," he said. "I'm not saying we all shouldn't sacrifice, but we're facing a time of incredible inequity in our society, and so asking for equal sacrifice from folks who have sacrificed so much or haven't benefited from the gains, I think that's where you're going to see a lot of pushback."

Marrero said if people are being asked to make sacrifices, the request shouldn't come in the context of a broad goal like improving the world but of tangible benefits. He gave the example of asking Hampden County residents to pay more for gas, and said that if that ask is made in the context of reducing the area's high asthma rates and pollution levels, "then I think people would gladly pay more for their gas."

"But if it's just 'Pay more gas so that the T gets an upgrade,' pitchforks come out," he said.


State House News Service
Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Transpo Challenges Testing Baker’s Patience
Rooney: "The Now Moment is The Gas Tax"
By Katie Lannan


On Beacon Hill, it'll feel like it arrives a lot faster.

That's what Gov. Charlie Baker suggested in an address before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, snapping his fingers to indicate how quickly time will pass between now and the last day of formal legislative business for the two-year term.

"It's going to go by like this, and a lot of distractions are going to be there, with the national scene and all the rest, but here at home we have a whole bunch of really important things to get done," he said.

Baker used his speech to highlight the priorities he wants to see lawmakers act on over the next nearly six months, singling out his health care, housing and transportation legislation.

An $18 billion transportation bond bill Baker filed last summer remains before the Transportation Committee, whose co-chairs Rep. William Straus and Sen. Joseph Boncore have indicated an interest in advancing a version of it.

The Republican governor encouraged people who attended the breakfast at the Marriott Copley Place to talk to their legislators about the borrowing bill (H 4002), which proposes to direct $11 billion into road and bridge work and $7 billion towards transit.

"One of the things that usually happens with a lot of the big, complicated bond bills is they don't get passed until the very end of session," he said. "Sometimes they get passed 15 minutes after the end of session, which is always interesting. It would be really great if that could get passed sooner, so that we could actually start using some of the tools and the resources that are available under that bond bill for this construction season, which starts in the spring."

Baker discussed ongoing efforts to upgrade public transportation in Massachusetts. He said the state has begun playing catch-up after decades of underinvestment in transit infrastructure.

Expect "a lot more bus lanes," Baker said, describing rapid bus service as having had "profound and positive" effects on traffic "in every place we've tried it."

He mentioned plans to bring new subway cars and bi-level commuter rail coaches online, a series of weekend MBTA service shutdowns for crews to conduct improvement work, and projects that will bring commuter rail service to the South Coast and extend the MBTA's Green Line into Somerville.

In a few years, Baker said, the transit system should be in "far better shape than it is today."

"But it will be disruptive and it will require a certain amount of patience," he said. "I don't have any patience for this. I would like it to all be here by tomorrow. But I've also learned to understand, when you're working on an operating system, it's a little more complicated."

James Rooney, the president and CEO of the Greater Boston of Chamber of Commerce, said after the speech that he's thinking long-term when it comes to transportation and development, with an eye toward connecting different regions of the state and toward Boston-area projects like Suffolk Downs, Boston Landing and UMass Boston's Bayside site.

"We know that all of what the governor had to say today needs to be done, and more," Rooney told the News Service. "More in the short-term and more in the long-term."

Rooney said there needs to be "a financial plan that stands the scrutiny test for the next 25 years."

"How are we going to get this done and give people confidence that, OK, we're dealing with some difficult situations now, but I know something's going to get better?" he said. "We have to rebuild that trust and confidence that indeed there's going to be light at the end of the tunnel."

House Speaker Robert DeLeo has said he plans to bring a transportation revenue package to the floor sometime before April, and he said last month that the legislation will be "more expansive than a straight gas tax" increase. Baker has voiced opposition to the idea of raising the gas tax and said in a January radio interview that he would veto a gas tax hike "if that's all it was."

Baker didn't touch on the potential for a gas tax increase in his speech. Separately from whatever transportation investment plan lawmakers might take up, Baker is also working with other states in hopes of creating a regional cap-and-invest program for carbon emissions from transportation, which could ultimately increase gas prices between 5 and 17 cents per gallon at the pump.

The Boston Chamber supports a 15-cent gas tax increase over three years.

Rooney said he views gas tax increases and the transportation climate initiative as separate issues, in part because it will be at least a few years before TCI generates any revenue.

"So we separate it and say, the now moment is the gas tax," Rooney said. "That can be done Monday, and it's very easy to implement, and we need funds for our transportation systems and we need to incent behavior of drivers."


State House News Service
Monday, February 3, 2020

Method May be Holding up Vote on $18 Bil Transpo Bond Bill
By Michael P. Norton


Ten days after a House chairman signaled he was ready to advance Gov. Charlie Baker's $18 billion transportation bond bill, his Senate counterpart called it his "number one priority" -- but it appears a vote has still not been scheduled.

"I have every intention in moving it too," Senate Transportation Committee Co-chairman Joseph Boncore told the News Service on Monday after presiding over the Senate's session.

House Chair William Straus suggested last month that the committee hold a public executive session to vote on the bill, but Boncore on Monday suggested an email poll of members might be the method of voting.

"This kind of bond bill is a little different in terms of how the membership looks at it, so I thought there are likely House members of the committee and Senate members of the committee who would like to express some views and input," Straus said last month.

Joint committees over the years have moved away from holding public executive sessions to cast votes on bills and toward the use of polls, which do not come with any public notice and the results of which are often not publicized by committees. Under the rules of the committee, the two chairs must be in agreement before an executive session can be scheduled.

Joint committees on Beacon Hill face a Wednesday deadline to make decisions on bills reviewed during 2019.


State House News Service
Wednesday, February 5, 2020

On Deadline Day, Committees Put Off Many of the Biggest Decisions
Abortion and Immigration Bills Among Those Extended
By Michael P. Norton

A wave of extension orders adopted this week is cutting into the intended impact of a rules reform adopted in early 2017 that was designed to improve the flow of bills ahead of the busy stretch run of formal sessions in election years.

On one big topic after another, House and Senate lawmakers this week agreed that rather than make a decision ahead of Wednesday's biennial bill-reporting deadline, they'll give themselves more time to review bills by folding them into orders that feature new deadlines in March, April, May and even June.

Legislation addressing some of the most high-profile topics on Beacon Hill, from abortion to drug use to immigration enforcement, largely received extension orders by Wednesday's deadline rather than recommendations that those bills should or should not advance.

One notable exception was in the Transportation Committee where an $18 billion long-term infrastructure borrowing bill (H 4002) and a bill (S 2061) to make driver's licenses available to undocumented immigrants were reported out favorably ahead of the deadline.

With less than six months for formal sessions remaining this year, extensions shrink the window for bill supporters to try to steer their proposals through the Beacon Hill legislative maze, which still features any number of trap doors where bills can slip off the public agenda.

A rule change that the House and Senate agreed to in 2017 moved up the biennial bill-reporting deadline for joint committees from mid-March to early February. The change was pushed by the Senate, where legislators complained that too many key bills were being held up for too long by House-controlled committees.

The Judiciary Committee heard hours of testimony in June on a bill, referred to as the ROE Act (H 3320 / S 1209), that would remove parental consent requirements for teenagers to seek abortions and would allow abortions after 24 weeks in some cases to protect patient health.

Eight months after that hearing, the committee decided it still needs more time and gave itself until May 12 to decide the fate of an issue that drew massive crowds of both supporters and opponents to testify at the summer hearing.

Both chairs of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery personally support legislation that would pilot sites for drug use under medical supervision, but they were not ready to poll members on the controversial idea -- which has drawn threats of federal enforcement from U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling -- and extended the deadline until April 15.

The Senate agreed to push the deadline back to June 5 on bills favored by low-income workers who say they are too often the victims of "wage theft" by their employers. That's a bill the Senate has favored in recent sessions but which has become bottled up in the House over the years.

Legislation limiting local law enforcements involvement in federal immigration enforcement also has a new deadline - May 1 - under a Public Safety Commitee extension order that also applies to bills dealing with preventing workplace violence in health care facilities and providing protections for inmates in segregated confinement.

Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said the large turnout at a January hearing for the immigration enforcement bill, known as "Safe Communities," gives her high hopes that the legislation will pass this session, but similarly large crowds in previous sessions have not translated to success.

Other extensions included legislation reforming public higher education funding, which was pushed to March 20; allowing prospective voters to register and cast ballots in one trip to the polls, which has a new deadline of April 30; and proposals to revive local options for rent control, which will remain in committee until March 31.

The House has adopted nearly two dozen extension orders in recent days while the Senate has passed about a half dozen. Others have been filed with clerks and remain pending.

For bill supporters, extensions are preferable to negative recommendations from committees or votes to dump bills into dead-end study orders.

Scores of bills were included by committees into study orders on Wednesday that typically mark the end of the legislative path for the session, including some that had been filed and championed by Gov. Charlie Baker.

The Judiciary Committee ordered further study on Baker's bills on penalties for repeat child rapists (S 2227) and on the sharing of sexually explicit images (H 76), and the Education Committee put into a study order a Baker bill (H 3632) that would allow school districts to create new zones to encourage innovation or address underperformance by struggling schools.

Chris Lisinski, Katie Lannan, Chris Van Buskirk and Matt Murphy contributed reporting


State House News Service
Monday, February 3, 2020

Activists Launch Hunger Strike for License Bill
By Katie Lannan


Supporters of legislation that would create a pathway for undocumented immigrants to get Massachusetts driver's licenses plan to launch a hunger strike outside the State House on Monday morning.

The 10:30 a.m. event comes two days ahead of a deadline for joint legislative committees to report on bills. Committees can give bills favorable or unfavorable reports, send them to study, or request extensions for more time to consider them.

The activists are calling on House Speaker Robert DeLeo, House Transportation Committee Chairman William Straus and other members of the Transportation Committee to endorse and advance the driver's licenses bill (H 3012, S 2061), known as the Work and Family Mobility Act. Faith leaders will bless the hunger strikers during the event, according to a press release from Moviemento Cosecha.

Organizers say two immigrant leaders of the group were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement earlier this month in incidents that "would have been prevented if undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts had access to drivers' licenses."


State House News Service
Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Immigrant Driver’s License Bill Gets Committee Nod
By Michael P. Norton


The Transportation Committee has given a favorable recommendation to legislation that would enable undocumented immigrants to access standard driver's licenses in Massachusetts.

Bill sponsor Rep. Christine Barber of Somerville joined activists in Nurses Hall late Wednesday to celebrate the vote.

"Si se puede," activists, who have been rallying for the bill all week, chanted.

Barber told the News Service the bill has been reported favorably to the Senate. The committee said it recommended a redrafted version of a bill (S 2061) filed by Sen. Brendan Crighton with Barber's bill attached.

Barber said she was "thrilled" about the vote and said she did not believe the bill had previously received a favorable vote in committee.

"Folks have been amazing to work with," Barber said, citing efforts by a coalition to advance the bill and the support of law enforcement for the legislation.

Last year, Senate President Karen Spilka, speaking to the bill's merits, said, "I believe that for public safety reasons, even just if you look at it alone, we should pass it ... There's like 14 other states that have done this and the sky hasn't fallen."


The New Boston Post
Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Driver’s Licenses For Illegal Aliens, Massachusetts Legislative Committee Says
By NBP Staff


A key legislative committee of the Massachusetts Legislature is recommending a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

“Si se puede,” chanted celebrating pro-illegal-immigrant activists late Wednesday afternoon in Nurses Hall at the Massachusetts State House in Boston, according to State House News Service.

The Spanish phrase means “Yes you can” in English – not far from former President Barack Obama’s slogan “Yes we can.”

The Joint Committee on Transportation of the Massachusetts Legislature voted Wednesday, February 5 to recommend a redrafted version of the measure (Massachusetts Senate Bill 2061), a sponsor of the bill, state Representative Christine Barber (D-Somerville), told State House News Service.

Current state law does not allow foreign nationals in the country illegally to get a driver’s license.

“No license of any type may be issued to any person who does not have lawful presence in the United States,” states the statute (Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 90, Section 8).

The bill would strike that language and replace it with:

“Persons who are unable to provide proof of lawful presence, or who are ineligible for a social security number, may apply for a Massachusetts license if they meet all other qualifications for licensure and provide satisfactory proof to the registrar of identity, date of birth and Massachusetts residency.”

Supporters say illegal immigrants need to drive to work and other places, and that they deserve to do so lawfully.

Opponents say issuing a driver’s license to people not in the country legally would encourage more illegal immigration and imperil safety, since the presence of illegal immigrants is largely undocumented.

Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), president of the Massachusetts Senate, supports the bill, according to State House News Service.

Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, opposes it. Baker said on September 4, 2019 – the date of the bill’s hearing before the Joint Committee on Transportation — that he would not support the bill, according to State House News Service.

If the full state Senate passes the bill, it would still need approval by the Massachusetts House of Representatives. If it passes both chambers, it would need the governor’s signature unless both chamber’s override a veto by two-thirds majorities.


The Washington Examiner
Thursday, February 6, 2020

Top DHS official: New York IDs for illegal immigrants bring back 'main problem' that 'allowed 9/11'
by Madison Dibble


A top Homeland Security Department official said a law in New York that allows illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses could put residents' lives in danger.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, defended the department’s decision to block New York from participating in several Trusted Traveler Programs, including Global Entry enrollment, citing the state's Green Light Law in its justification for doing so.

During a call with reporters, Cuccinelli said a “main problem” that occurred in the events leading up to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, was that the attackers used Virginia licenses to book the flights. “It was embarrassing to us in Virginia that the majority of 9/11 terrorists used Virginia driver's licenses to help accomplish their evil mission, and we set about to fix that. And we did fix that," Cuccinelli explained.

He added, “Here, we have one of the other targets of 9/11, who are walking backwards quite intentionally in the other direction to bar the sharing of law enforcement relevant information like vehicle registration, matching driver's licenses to identifications, and, critically, criminal records which are kept up to date and DMV databases.”

The Green Light Law allowed the Department of Motor Vehicles to grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and also prevents the department from sharing information about the legal status of those who apply for the licenses with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Trusted Traveler Programs, such as TSA PreCheck, from which New York is blocked allow states to verify the identities of travelers to fast-track security at airports. After the change from DHS, New York residents will not be able to renew their enrollment in several of the programs.

Cuccinelli said 80,000 New Yorkers who were applying for status in the Trusted Travelers Programs were immediately denied when the department's announcement took effect. He estimated that an additional 175,000 would be rejected moving forward.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, condemned the Trump administration’s decision to block New York’s participation, claiming the move had little to do with safety.

“The Trump administration’s ban on all New Yorkers applying for Global Entry and other Trusted Traveler programs is a purely punitive move that has nothing to do with security. It is clearly a blatant attempt by the White House to score political points and perpetuate a partisan fight with New York elected officials," he said.

Rep. Tom Reed, a New York Republican, supported the decision, saying, "This is yet another result of one-party extremist in Albany control hurting New Yorkers, and we warned of this impending outcome two weeks ago. As someone who lived through 9/11, I am astonished how Gov. Cuomo could disregard the words of the 9/11 Commission, where they noted, ‘For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons.’”

On the first day that driver’s licenses became available to illegal immigrants, DMV offices were flooded with hundreds of individuals applying for the new identification cards.

Cuccinelli, 51, is also the principal deputy director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency in addition to his role as acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security. He was previously attorney general of Virginia and ran unsuccessfully for governor of the state in 2013.


National Review
Thursday, February 6, 2020

DHS Bans New Yorkers from Trusted Traveler Programs
over Sanctuary Law Allowing Illegal Immigrants to Receive Driver Licenses
By Tobias Hoonhout

Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf sent a letter to New York State Wednesday informing officials that New Yorkers would not be eligible for DHS’s Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) because of the state’s law allowing illegal-immigrants to receive state driver’s licenses.

The “Green Light” law, which went into effect in December, also blocks federal agencies like ICE and CBP from accessing the state’s DMV records without a court order.

“Although DHS would prefer to continue our long-standing cooperative relationship with New York on a variety of these critical homeland security initiatives, this Act and the corresponding lack of security cooperation from the New York DMV requires DHS to take immediate action to ensure DHS’s efforts to protect the Homeland are not compromised,” the letter reads.

Wolf, speaking with Tucker Carlson Wednesday night, called the law “disappointing.”

“They can’t enroll or reenroll in these Trusted Traveler Programs that Customs and Border Protection offers because we no longer have access to make sure that they meet those program requirements,” he explained.

In response, a senior adviser to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told the Associated Press that the move amounted to “political retaliation.”

“This is obviously political retaliation by the federal government, and we’re going to review our legal options,” said Rich Azzopardi.

While the letter specifies that the international travel programs under the TTP will be curtailed, it is unclear whether the move will affect Transportation Security Administration’s pre-check program, which also falls under TTP.

President Trump singled out sanctuary-city policies during his State of the Union address on Tuesday, stating that “my administration is restoring the rule of law and reasserting the culture of American freedom.”

“Tragically, there are many cities in America where radical politicians have chosen to provide sanctuary for these criminal illegal aliens. In sanctuary cities, local officials order police to release dangerous criminal aliens to prey upon the public, instead of handing them over to ICE to be safely removed,” he said.


State House News Service
Monday, February 3, 2020

Baker Bill Eases Penalties for Fare Evasion
Guv Offers New Penalties for Bus Lane Interference
By Chris Lisinski

Penalties for evading fares on the MBTA would be lowered and drivers could be cited for using bus lanes under changes Gov. Charlie Baker proposed in a spending bill filed Friday.

Baker's $52.6 million fiscal year 2020 supplemental budget bill (H 4354) calls for reforms to how those who do not pay for rides are punished and greater protections on passenger data as the T prepares a new fare collection model.

The bill would create new penalties banning private motor vehicle operators from driving, standing or parking in designated bus lanes. Motorists would receive a fine of up to $200 for violations between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on a weekday and up to $100 for violations at any other time.

"The need for stricter enforcement of bus only infrastructure has been elevated as more and more cities and towns implement bus priority infrastructure," LivableStreets Alliance Executive Director Stacy Thompson said in an email. "While we are supportive of better bus lane enforcement we hope the State will also explore camera enforcement which is utilized in New York City."

The bulk of the transit-related changes in the bill aim at MBTA fare collection and evasion.

Under the bill, police would be explicitly banned from arresting individuals who board or attempt to board the MBTA without paying, which they can do now if the individual fails to provide identification, according to the T.

Authorities will still issue non-criminal citations for evasion, but the fine structure would change from a statutory mandate to one set by MBTA regulations. The bill calls for lowering the fines from the current minimum of $50 and maximum of $500 to a new minimum of $10 and maximum of $250.

State law allows for the Registry of Motor Vehicles to decline renewing a driver's license if a single fare evasion citation is unresolved, but Baker's bill would only permit that step if a motorist has two or more outstanding citations.

The bill also strips out existing language that would require new drivers who received a fare evasion citation when they were 17 or younger to pay the outstanding fine before acquiring a license.

Jarred Johnson, chief operating officer of the advocacy group TransitMatters, said in a statement that decriminalizing fare evasion should accompany a low-income fare structure.

"Fair penalties consistent with the low-gravity nature of the infraction ought to be adopted as the Commonwealth moves away from today's onerous approach," he said.

Baker's legislation calls for the MBTA to begin filing annual reports two years after passage detailing fare evasion warnings and citations issued by the agency. Commuter rail conductors could issue citations under the new language, and the MBTA would also be allowed to hire new civilian staff to handle the task rather than use transit police.

Keolis, which operates the commuter rail, in 2016 estimated losing about $35 million annually in uncollected fare revenue. At the same time, T officials said fare evasion on the Green Line and on buses — where passengers can often board through rear doors without stopping at the fare box — costs between $2.3 million and $6.9 million per year.

The company plans to install fare gates at North Station, South Station and Back Bay starting this year as part of a push to recoup uncollected revenue.

Baker's proposal comes less than two months after the MBTA reset its planned rollout of an automated fare collection 2.0 system.

The new system, set to be implemented in stages over the next four years, will allow riders to use a website and mobile app to track their fare balances. Larger changes such as all-door boarding on buses or tapping of a credit card — rather than a ticket or CharlieCard — at a fare gate are now three or four years away from implementation.


The Boston Herald
Tuesday, February 4. 2020

One in 5 MBTA pensioners is younger than 50 as fund struggles
‘A couple bad markets, and boom — the pension is gone’
By Sean Philip Cotter

More than one in every five MBTA pensioners retired before age 50 as the state increasingly has to pick up the tab on the T’s troubled pension fund that’s running big deficits even in the current strong market, a Herald analysis shows.

“It’s a few retirees who are being subsidized by the Massachusetts taxpayers,” said Mark Williams, a Boston University finance professor who tracks the MBTA Retirement Fund. “They’re eating two bites at the apple, plus they get to work at another job.”

That’s referring to the situation caused by the T’s longstanding “23-and-out” policy, which didn’t put a retirement age on its workers — it just required 23 years of service, at which point they could grab the pension, eventually become eligible for Social Security, and pick up another gig at the same time.

That’s what led to 22% of the 5,626 people receiving T pensions having cashed out under age 50, according to a review of MBTA Retirement Fund data. The average T pensioner is 55.8 years old.

The retirement fund has floundered deeper into fiscal danger, last year reporting $2.91 billion in liabilities versus $1.45 billion in assets. The fund said no new data is available about that breakdown at this point. It falls on the state to fill the annual shortfall, which resulted in the MBTA budgeting $118.2 million to keep the retirement fund afloat for the current fiscal year. That’s up from $102.9 million in fiscal year 2019 and $93.8 million the previous year. That’s now more than half of the total yearly payout, which is upward of $201 million, per the data.

The T didn’t respond to a request for comment. Asked about the pension fund’s solvency, a spokesman noted that the returns were particularly strong last year at more than 17%.

Williams said the inevitable economic downturn carries a huge risk for T employees and pensioners.

“A couple bad markets, and boom — the pension is gone … At the current outflow rate, by 2030, the pension’s done — kaput,” Williams told the Herald, saying that his analyses point toward a $150 million-plus required MBTA contribution to float the fund in the next few years. “Those pensioners are left with nothing, and those employees are left with nothing.”

The number of youthful retirees has dropped in recent years. In 2019, 13 of 141 retirees were under 50. In 2018, it was 24 of 201, and the year before it was 25 of 303. Back in the 2000s, there were at times upward of 60 or 70 people retiring each year who were under 50.

The state Legislature ended the 23-and-out policy in 2009 — but pension-based changes are only for future employees, so it’s only people hired since then for whom the new policies apply, which require 25 years and sets a retirement age at 55.

But Pioneer Institute transportation watcher Charlie Chieppo said, “The change is around the margins … what you have is a widening gap every year.”

Chieppo added, “The fix ultimately is to move the MBTA employees onto the state pension plan, but getting there is going to be very hard.”


The Boston Globe
Saturday, February 8, 2020

Robert DeLeo is longest-serving House speaker in Massachusetts history
By Matt Stout

He’s described as both a deliberate consensus builder and a power-collecting micro-manager. A humble everyman and a shrewd political operator. To some, he’s a Tom Menino-like figure; others say they’re reminded of Donald Trump.

The portrait of House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo is a muddled one, fueled by a vacuum — self-created to a degree — filled with contrasts, conjecture, and above all else, time.

As of Saturday, the Winthrop Democrat has served 4,029 days as leader of the House of Representatives, the longest tenure in state history and a record previously held by a 19th-century Federalist. That sustained longevity makes DeLeo both an oddity in a chamber oft-defined by its turnover and, in political circles, a constant source of speculation about his next move.

DeLeo says that’s to the ballot box.

The 69-year-old (he turns 70 next month) said in October that he’s running for reelection to his seat this fall, which would all but ensure he captures a seventh term as speaker in January.

After he and his deputies successfully pushed to revoke the office’s eight-year term limit in 2015, abolishing a measure DeLeo himself had earlier championed, there’s little that would stop his record-setting run atop the chamber he controls.

Several close allies say they’ve never heard DeLeo talk succession plans, even if privately some lawmakers believe majority leader Ronald Mariano or Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad would have the inside track should DeLeo step away. Whether DeLeo’s next term — his 16th in the House — would be his last is also unclear.

“There’s speculation that it will be,” said Representative Paul Donato, a Medford Democrat and a longtime member of DeLeo’s leadership team. “Among the leadership, there are those who have aspirations to be speaker. But I think that [discussion] will come after the speaker’s reelection in January and he makes a decision if that’s his last term. And that’s his decision to make.”

DeLeo declined an interview request for this story, and often skips opportunities to discuss his approach and tenure. Asked by reporters Wednesday about surpassing Timothy Bigelow as longest-serving speaker, a claim Bigelow held after presiding for roughly 11 years between 1805 and 1820, DeLeo said having the support to get there is “quite a nice feeling” but that he’s more focused on the issues in front of him.

It left others to hash out what has been a complicated reign. DeLeo took the gavel in 2009 vowing to steady a House upended by the resignation of then-speaker Salvatore DiMasi, who would become the third straight speaker convicted of a federal crime.

That included installing term limits, which were later undone, and pledging to “restore public confidence in the government.” DeLeo’s name came up repeatedly in the state probation department corruption trial in 2014, though he was never charged in the matter and lashed out at federal prosecutors who labeled him an unindicted co-conspirator.

(An appellate court ultimately overturned the convictions of three probation officials in the case, ruling in 2016 that while their actions were distasteful, they did not violate state law.)

In the years before and since, DeLeo’s fingerprints have been on nearly every major piece of legislation. A hotly debated 2013 transportation revenue package, multiple laws targeting the state’s opioid crisis, and last year’s celebrated overhaul of the state’s school funding formula all advanced with his guidance. The state also legalized casino gambling under DeLeo — DiMasi had opposed it — and early in his first term as speaker, raised the state sales tax for the first time in decades.

He helped propel a 2014 measure designed to toughen domestic violence laws to the governor’s desk, and that same a year, drove a gun control bill into law that John Rosenthal, a developer and founder of Stop Handgun Violence, said made Massachusetts “the national leader on gun violence prevention.”

“And in Massachusetts, it’s Speaker DeLeo,” Rosenthal said Thursday. “His leadership team abandoned him [on that bill]. And he single-handedly made it happen.”

Along the way, DeLeo remolded how the House functions. He rarely moves bills to the chamber floor without clear signs of passage, preferring to lean on backroom discussions with lawmakers to build broad support. It’s an approach that’s compressed floor discussions, compared to those of his predecessors, turning what was a weeklong debate of the budget, for example, into a two- or three-day affair.

Representative David P. Linsky said that’s allowed DeLeo to “negotiate a lot of landmines and a changing membership." And as a centrist Democrat working alongside a moderate Republican governor in Charlie Baker, DeLeo’s sway over the State House has seemingly only grown stronger in recent years.

“Oftentimes, he’s set the pace of the building,” said Thomas Finneran, a former House speaker whose own push to eliminate term limits during his eight-year tenure earned him the title of Speaker for Life. It’s a label Finneran, now a lobbyist, both laughs at and calls unfair, for him or DeLeo.

“[The House] is probably the only place in the world where experience is discounted as a negative," he said. “I think the duration and the durability of the speaker is something to almost — this might not be the word for it — but I’m almost in awe."

To critics, however, the style has at times meant slow movement, and more often, quashed debate, allowing little dissent to spill into public view. And when it has, they say, retribution isn’t far behind. Former state representative Jay Kaufman’s public claims last year that DeLeo threatened him with losing his chairmanship if he didn’t support a 2013 tax package drew a swift rebuke from the speaker, who called him a “liar.”

After DeLeo’s budget chairman, Brian Dempsey, widely considered to be DeLeo’s heir apparent, announced in 2017 he was resigning, Representative Russell Holmes called on various caucuses “to be strong and united in our selection of the next speaker.” Days later, DeLeo, showing no signs of leaving his speakership, shuffled Holmes from his post as a committee vice chairman.

Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat who has been unafraid to air his criticisms of DeLeo, said that in building his record tenure, the speaker is “very reminiscent to me of the president of the United States," with a team molded, he said, through “fear and intimidation.”

“We, as a House, have become complacent,” Holmes said. “Essentially, we all have kind of bowed.”

Former representative Cory Atkins, who left the Legislature last year after serving as a committee chairwoman under DeLeo, also likened him and his lieutenants to those in the White House. “Not as verbose as Trump,” she said, “but they’re just as revengeful.” Atkins was among those who voted to lift term limits in 2015 but described it as a “calculated survival decision," adding: “I just thought it was going to be for one term.”

“DeLeo did not start out this way,” the Concord Democrat said. "He put in more reforms than had been passed in the previous 25 years. He put more women in chairmanships. He restored term limits for the speaker. He passed pension reform.

“I don’t know what happened when, but he turned a corner. And he’s not the speaker that I signed on to elect.”

It’s a description DeLeo’s supporters roundly deny. Donato, one of his second assistant majority leaders, said DeLeo has never turned down ideas from lawmakers. “He tells us,” he said of DeLeo’s leadership team, “that the most important thing is to get input from the members and bring that information back to him.”

Plus, former lawmakers say, blow-back to any long-term leadership style may be unavoidable.

“Somebody has to make the hard decisions and lead in a certain direction,” said Dempsey, DeLeo’s former budget chairman and now a lobbyist. “It’s very difficult to lead an institution for as long as he has, with new members, new issues, controversies. He’s been a steady hand during some difficult times."

DeLeo, a former budget chairman himself who was popular among members in his rise to speaker, often does things quietly, his allies say. He rarely seeks out media coverage, and in one-on-one conversations, is prone to dote on his grandchildren and prognosticate on the Red Sox’s World Series chances.

Rick Sullivan, a onetime chief of staff to former governor Deval Patrick, said even in times his boss was locked in tense disagreements with DeLeo, the speaker would leave notes of appreciation at the corner office. “Dropping off a cigar and saying thanks for what you do,” Sullivan recalled.

DeLeo may be the most powerful person on Beacon Hill, but political ambition, his friends say, isn’t what drives him.

“The closest person I can draw similarities to is Tom Menino,” Representative Michael Moran, a Brighton Democrat, said of Boston’s late and longest-serving mayor who never sought higher office.

“He’s still Bob DeLeo for Winthrop. He was a selectmen and a baseball player on the [Boston] Latin School team,” Moran said. “There’s always the other side that will tell you what a bad person he is and members who are not happy. But if you know him, he’s a very humble guy.”

On Thursday, DeLeo spent part of the morning in a fourth-floor conference room speaking to the League of Women Voters. He spouted off an array of laws the Legislature has passed to elevate women — a pay equity law and one to protect pregnant women from abuse in the workplace — before addressing what drew them all there: The League, too, was celebrating a historic milestone, in its case, a 100th anniversary.

“Everyone — everyone — in this room should be proud of this amazing accomplishment,” he said.

And with that and a photo op, DeLeo was off to a meeting. As he was ushered from the room, an aide told a waiting reporter that DeLeo didn’t have time to talk.

Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.

 

NOTE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml


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