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CLT UPDATE
Sunday, June 28, 2020

Latest Scheme to Kill Proposition 2½


Jump directly to CLT's Commentary on the News


Most Relevant News Excerpts
(Full news reports follow Commentary)

Longmeadow Town Meeting voters rejected a move by the town Selectboard and the Finance Committee to begin the process of exempting the town from Proposition 2½ tax limitations. A request for funds to cover initial engineering costs for a Longmeadow Street rebuild was also voted down.

Tuesday’s outdoor meeting on the grounds of Longmeadow High School Tuesday evening allowed generous social distancing for the 277 registered voters who attended.

Article 14 asked voters to allow the town to begin home rule legislation that could eventually exempt town government from the 2.5 percent tax cap mandated by Proposition 2½.

The Chair of the Select Board, Thomas Lachiusa said home rule legislation would begin a process to allow the town to permanently exempt itself from having to adhere to the 2.5 percent cap on yearly property taxes.

“This is something both the Select Board and the Finance Committee have been looking at for a long time as a solution to protect the town from a drastic property value decreases,” he said. If that were to happen we would see a lot of cuts to education, programs and services we have all come to expect. It would be a progressive loss of services as each year we would have to make more and more cuts."

Lachuisa said the vote Tuesday would have allowed the town to approach the state legislature for home rule legislation. Once the state government approves, the town would have two more votes, Town Meeting and the second a town-wide ballot initiative, to either pass the measure or reject it.

The Springfield Republican
Friday, June 26, 2020
Longmeadow Town Meeting rejects Prop. 2½ cut and Route 5 rebuild


The pandemic tables have turned, in many ways, with the coronavirus now boiling over in southern and western states like Florida and Texas, while in the Northeast the pot lid is only slightly rattling.

But Bay Staters just venturing out into the wild are doing so with great trepidation, many still uncomfortable with the idea of eating out or riding the T. Forget about getting on a plane.

New polling from Suffolk University for WGBH News, the State House News Service, The Boston Globe and MassLive found that more than 66 percent of residents are living with more than normal levels of fear and anxiety. And perhaps that's to be expected.

Not only are they living through the worst pandemic in over a century, but society is also struggling to come to terms with generations of racism and the inequities that built into every system, from housing to law enforcement.

Racism, in fact, ranked among the biggest problems residents see facing the state today, which helped to explain the sweeping support found in the Suffolk/WGBH/SHNS poll for broad reforms to policing....

Despite the fact that 81 percent of residents still think Baker is doing a good job handling the pandemic, there wasn't enough support to sugarcoat a 174-page report that painted a hideous portrait of the leadership at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home.

Mark Pearlstein, a former federal prosecutor tapped by Baker to conduct an independent investigation into the deaths of at least 76 veterans from COVID-19 at the home, found that a series of "utterly baffling" decisions led to the creation of conditions that allowed the virus to wreak havoc.

The Pearlstein report focused on the decisions that were made that allowed COVID-19 to flourish inside the walls of the veterans' home, but it also laid out warning signs that Superintendent Bennett Walsh may have been underqualified to run the facility before the start of the pandemic....

Over 2,000 teachers in 47 school districts have also been informed that they will be without a job in the fall, according to the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which is the state's largest teachers' union.

The layoff and non-renewal notices signal the high level of uncertainty under which local officials are operating as the Legislature has yet to finalize a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and the Baker administration is currently level-funding local aid to cities and towns in the short-term.

Schools did get a bit more clarity about what the fall might look like, though....

The governor said it could be at least another month before the state is ready to commit to Chapter 70 aid for the next school year. Baker signed a $5.25 billion interim budget on Friday that will keep government operating through at least July as budget writers in the House, Senate and administration struggle to peer into the future.

"We don't have a good sort of vision into tax revenue for the next fiscal year yet, and it's going to take a little while to get there," Baker said.

House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz said the target the House set for his committee in May to release a fiscal 2021 budget proposal by July 1 is no longer feasible, and not likely to be met by next Wednesday.

Guessing exactly what the Legislature will be able to accomplish by July 31 could be a fun parlor game.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo has said policing reform is on that list, but he has not yet surfaced a proposal to respond to the legislation filed by Baker to create a police licensing system that would give the state new power to hold cops to standards of law enforcement and professionalism, including bans on the use of forceful tactics like chokeholds.

The governor got an earful on a visit this week to Mattapan from a woman upset that Baker's bill proposed to pay police up to $5,000 to get the additional training they need to be sensitive to racial biases. He was there to announce the selection of a minority-owned firm to redevelop the last parcel on the former Boston State Hospital campus....

The Senate passed health care legislation Thursday to enshrine some of the pandemic protocols that have led to massive growth in the use of telemedicine, and to put an end to surprise billing and expand the scope of practices for some medical professionals.

The topic of health care, however, was a sensitive one given the accusation made by some House lawmakers -- namely House Majority Leader Ron Mariano and Rep. Dan Cullinane -- that the Senate has been a bad partner in trying to negotiate a path forward with limited time until the end of the session.

With the House seeking to extend the life of some health care bills, the Senate responded to the criticism by rejecting their extension request, initiating a parliamentary feud that doesn't bode well for much of anything getting accomplished in the health care space over the next month.

"At some point, because we were being asked to extend and extend, how many times does someone say no before you stop asking them out?" Sen. Cindy Friedman said about the House.

Given the bad blood, it was a small win that the House and Senate were able to agree to a "compromise" over local road repair funding and the future of the MBTA's oversight board....

Both branches earlier this year had passed legislation to bump Chapter 90 funding to $300 million for the year, delighting cities and towns after years of lobbying for more money.

But with the pandemic crushing state finances and the Senate apparently unwilling to take up the House's transportation tax bill, the compromise was to punt.

State House News Service
Friday, June 26, 2020
Weekly Roundup - Fear and Loathing in Massachusetts
Recap and analysis of the week in state government


Just as the Legislature heads into crunch time on Beacon Hill, tensions appear to be rising between the House and Senate over how bills should emerge from a key committee.

Under the Legislature’s rules, all bills dealing with health care are supposed to be reviewed and voted on by the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing before moving on to votes in the two branches. But the two chairs of that committee – Sen. Cindy Friedman of Arlington and Rep. Dan Cullinane of Dorchester – are barely on speaking terms these days.

Cullinane says Friedman has refused to work with him to schedule votes on all but a few bills since he took over as acting chair of the committee early this year. He said he is leaving the Legislature at the end of this session and has no political agenda other than moving forward good public policy.

“Plain and simple, the Senate chair refuses to negotiate, refuses to engage in any meaningful conversation,” he said. “The Senate did not walk away from the negotiating table, they never showed up.” ...

On Thursday, the Senate passed a major health care bill backed by Friedman and Senate President Karen Spilka. The bill did not go through the joint committee, but instead originated in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which Cullinane says is a violation of the Legislature’s rules. He said the Senate has bypassed the joint committee and passed other health care measures in recent months....

On the Senate floor Thursday, Friedman also urged the rejection of a House measure that would have extended until the end of the year the reporting date for the more than 300 bills remaining in the Health Care Financing Committee. Cullinane said he filed the extension because he didn’t want to see the bills die, but Friedman indicated on the Senate floor that she didn’t care....

Cullinane says Friedman’s approach subverts the whole point of the committee, which is to have members and staff with an expertise in health care review all health care legislation....

To an outsider, it all sounds like much ado about nothing. After all, a Senate bill can’t become law unless the House goes along, so it’s not as if the two branches will never have to negotiate. But the Senate’s attempt to bypass a key legislative committee and gain more control of its legislation is stirring anger in the House, anger that is likely to surface somewhere down the road.

CommonWealth Magazine
Friday, June 26, 2020
Tensions rising between House and Senate


Governors from both major parties over the years have turned to midyear budget cuts when it's become apparent that tax revenues are not going to keep pace with spending. These 9C cuts are named for the section of state finance law that authorizes governors to take unilateral budget-fixing actions.

But since March, in the face of the precedent-setting evaporation of tax receipts brought on by forced business closures, the Baker administration has not revised revenue expectations -- which could have triggered 9C cuts -- or announced other specific budget-balancing plans.

State laws require the state Administration and Finance Secretary, in this case Michael Heffernan, to notify the governor in writing whenever he believes budgeted revenues will be insufficient to meet expenditures.

Within five days of that notification, the secretary must inform the governor and legislative budget officials of the amount of the probable deficiency of revenue and the governor is then required, no more than 15 days after that notification, to reduce spending and outline his or her reasons or submit to the Legislature specific proposals to raise additional revenues by an amount equal to such deficiency.

The law governing actions in the face of a "deficiency of revenue" also references the option to pull money from state reserves to backfill funding gaps.

Tax collections through May are running $1.73 billion or 6.5 percent less than the same fiscal year-to-date period in 2019, and $2.25 billion or 8.3 percent behind the year-to-date benchmark, an unprecedented decline and one that economic experts believe will not quickly reverse itself.

Asked why the Baker administration has not adjusted its revenue benchmarks downward, Heffernan spokesman Patrick Marvin did not say.

State House News Service
Monday, June 22, 2020
Facing $2.25B Shortfall,
Baker Admin Hasn’t Updated Revenue Expectations


Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday morning signed an interim budget to keep state government running when the new fiscal year begins on July 1 since the Legislature has not yet developed a fiscal 2021 spending plan.

The governor filed the $5.25 billion interim budget a week ago and said Friday that the amount is sufficient to fund government operations through July and "will make it possible for the treasurer to deliver local aid payments to cities and towns."

House and Senate leaders have not laid out a timeline yet for completion of a budget for the full fiscal year.

State House News Service
Friday, June 26, 2020
Baker Signs Budget to Fund Government in July


The state's 6.25 percent sales tax will be waived on many purchases the weekend of Saturday, Aug. 29 and Sunday, Aug. 30, the Baker administration announced Tuesday. This summer's sales tax holiday weekend will take place as retailers regain their footing after weeks of government-forced shutdowns, and Gov. Charlie Baker said he hopes people will take advantage of the tax savings to support local businesses....

The annual tax holiday, made a permanent fixture as part of a 2018 "grand bargain" law addressing multiple topics, allows shoppers to avoid paying the tax on most retail items -- excluding food and drink at restaurants -- that cost less than $2,500. The state agrees to give up tens of millions of dollars in taxes in a bid to spur buying and consumer savings.

State House News Service
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
State Sets Aug. 29-30 as Sales Tax Holiday Weekend


There is no question that the pandemic has significantly altered agendas and priorities in the Legislature, and with the time to tackle big issues running out leaders are being pressed from multiple directions to address bills dealing with climate change.

Climate legislation had figured to be a focus of the legislative session's home stretch since the House and Senate had each passed major climate-related bills before most business was put on hold. Now, with five weeks to go in the session and other hefty matters still incomplete, one key lawmaker is trying to rally colleagues to finish the job before the July 31 end of formal sessions....

Towards the end of January, it seemed almost certain that the governor would be signing some kind of climate bill this summer. On the same day that month, Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka all declared their support for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, a policy that climate change activists have been pushing for years. Both branches have passed climate-related bills, but the shared goal still hasn't been formalized.

The House last July unanimously approved a roughly $1.3 billion bill -- the so-called GreenWorks bill -- centered around grants to help communities adapt to climate change impacts, and at the end of January the Senate overwhelmingly passed a suite of climate bills that called for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and set deadlines for the state to impose carbon-pricing mechanisms for transportation, commercial buildings and homes....

In a letter this week to House leaders, a coalition of some of the most powerful business and trade groups in the state made clear that they do not want the House to follow the Senate's radical and dramatic lead.

"Representing twenty of the Commonwealth's largest business, employer, housing, labor and trade associations we recognized [in January], as now, the importance of advancing our climate leadership and the urgent need for bold action," the Mass. Coalition for Sustainable Energy wrote to DeLeo and House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Aaron Michlewitz. "However, after reviewing in depth S2500, An Act Setting Next-Generation Climate Policy -- and in light of the many consequences of the ongoing pandemic -- we believe the bill would have negative environmental consequences for the Commonwealth while seriously exacerbating our housing costs and affordability challenges at a moment when our economy already faces a sharp downturn in productivity."

The coalition, which includes the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Mass. Business Roundtable, and Associated Industries of Massachusetts, has recently grown to now include the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, NAIOP Massachusetts, and Plumbers & Gasfitters Local 12 Boston.

"Ultimately, we believe this bill would harm consumers and businesses and undermine our smart growth objectives at a time our economy can least afford even the smallest step backwards without making the meaningful emissions reductions we need to reverse the effects of climate change," the coalition wrote.

The group disagrees with the Senate's decision to leave critical specifics of carbon pricing up to the executive branch, claims the Senate bill makes unrealistic assumptions about the future costs and availability of clean energy technologies, and disapproves of the Senate leaving business, employer and labor groups off of a Climate Policy Commission proposed in a Senate bill.

On that last point, the coalition was backed up Thursday by Jay Ash, the former Baker administration economic development secretary who now leads the the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership....

Though there had been talk months ago about the House and Senate agreeing to hold formal sessions after the traditional July 31 end date stipulated in the joint rules, that possibility seems to have lost favor and lawmakers have repeatedly discussed July 31 as the hard deadline for major legislation.

With the clock running down, the Legislature must still put a permanent budget in place for the fiscal year that starts July 1 (a process that typically takes months on Beacon Hill), momentum is building around an economic development bill that could respond to the financial pain the pandemic has inflicted, and other major initiatives around transportation revenue and health care remain under active consideration.

State House News Service
Friday, June 26, 2020
Lawmakers Feeling Push and Pull on Climate Bills
Branches on Different Courses as Session Winds Down


Ten states had unemployment rates in May above 15 percent. They are all states with Democratic governors, with the exception of Deep Blue Massachusetts with its liberal Republican governor Charlie Baker....

This is not a coronavirus recession. It is a blue state lockdown recession. Democrats say they have shut down their economies for health reasons, but these are also the states that generally have had the highest death rates and the highest nursing home fatalities. So the blue states have not only failed to keep their citizens safe, they’ve ruined their economies as well.

http://cltg.org/cltg/clt2020/images/States_Unemployment.png

Committee to Unleash Prosperity Hotline
Issue #56
Monday, June 22, 2020
The Blue State Depression


We’re number four!

Gov. Charlie Baker must be so proud – as of last month, only three of the 50 states had a higher unemployment rate than the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ 16.3%, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I’ll bet you hadn’t heard that until right now, had you? Odd how almost all of Charlie Parker’s amen chorus in the Boston media gave these appalling statistics a good leaving-alone for the better part of a week.

I first read about the Massachusetts Misery in the Wall Street Journal last weekend, in an editorial pointing to the dire consequences of assorted governors’ catastrophic overreactions to the recent panic.

Headline: “Lockdown States and the Jobless/Job gains are much greater in states that reopened faster.”

Lockdown state? That’s Maskachusetts, right.

But as you would expect, the Boston media shrugged, as if to say, Nothing to see here.

Move along, folks, and pay no attention to all those boarded-up storefronts and looted buildings in Downtown Crossing and Back Bay, not to mention the thousands of shuttered mom-and-pop businesses on every main street and state highway in Massachusetts.

But look on the bright side, Governor – not only does the Mask State have the most disastrously high unemployment rate in the country among those run by “Republicans,” you’re the only GOP governor, RINO or otherwise, who’s in the top 10 for wrecking his state’s economy....

But there’s more work yet for Charlie Parker et al. to do in finally finishing off the MA economy once and for all. And so his energy secretary, Climate Katie Theoharides, said last week that she and her boss remain totally committed to doubling the state’s gasoline tax next year – it’s an “investment,” you see.

The hacks call it the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) but it’s really just a TAX.

The TCI will be Baker’s next move to demolish what remains of the Dreaded Private Sector, in order to enrich even further the bloated hackerama, which, by the way, has suffered almost no layoffs, and none whatsoever in the most worthless payroll-patriot-infested agencies like UMass, Massport and the courts....

C’mon Tall Deval, we all know you can do an even worse job. Just concentrate on those key industries – “indices,” as you called them Tuesday. And you can encourage more rioting and looting – excuse me, “large gatherings.”

Maskachusetts – we can do better. We can get the unemployment rate up to 20%!

Well done, Tall Deval.

The Boston Herald
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Thanks Charlie Baker, jobless rate a national disgrace
By Howie Carr


A $1.1 billion budget bill is on its way to the Senate after the House passed the legislation Wednesday and added on an additional $17.5 million in COVID-19 spending.

Passage of the legislation comes as Gov. Charlie Baker has poked lawmakers to quickly get it to his desk so that the state can take advantage of federal reimbursements for costs related to the respiratory virus. The House approved the bill on a 158-0 vote....

Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier filed an unsuccessful amendment that would have directed the commissioner of revenue to send stimulus checks to state residents who file taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. People who have an ITIN are disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits and stimulus checks from the CARES Act. There was no direct vote on the amendment, and it was dispensed with in a larger amendment.

The Pittsfield Democrat's amendment would have sent qualified ITIN taxpayers $1,200 if filing individually or $2,400 if filing jointly, with an additional $500 for each dependent. Farley-Bouvier said if a U.S. citizen files their taxes with someone who is an ITIN holder, they and their children will become ineligible for unemployment benefits and stimulus checks.

"It's cruel and it's stupid," she told the News Service after the session ended. "The issue of how we treat immigrants justly and fairly and how their wellbeing is connected to the rest of the commonwealth's being is a conversation that needs to keep happening." ...

Michlewitz said it was important for the House to pass the bill Wednesday to secure Massachusetts' place in line for federal reimbursement of COVID-related costs.

"As the federal government is inundated with reimbursement requests, it is vital that we maximize our options and take advantage of the FEMA funds while we can. That is why it is so critical that we pass this today and get it closer to the governor's desk, so that we do not fall far behind other states in the race for federal reimbursement," Michlewitz said.

Last week, the governor prodded lawmakers to act on the supplemental budget bill he filed in May, saying that "the clock's ticking" and his administration cannot seek money from available federal pools to cover COVID-related expenses until the Legislature finalizes the bill....

Separately Wednesday, Michlewitz told the News Service that the House Ways and Means Committee will not have a full-year budget proposal ready by July 1, the deadline given to the committee in a set of emergency rules adopted by the House in May.

State House News Service
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
House Passes $1.1 Bil Budget to Cover COVID-19 Costs
State in "Race" to Net Federal Reimbursements


Already behind schedule in May, the House adopted emergency rules to govern its operations during the pandemic, including a new target date for Democratic leaders to produce an annual state budget.

But with that new July 1 deadline approaching, House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz told the News Service Wednesday that his committee does not expect to present a full-year spending plan by next week.

The House will have to "move off" that date as it continues to try to anticipate how the economy will react to the slow reopening of businesses and the threat of a second wave of the coronavirus in the fall, Michlewitz said. There is also the possibility that Congress will come up with additional federal relief that could dramatically change the state's fortunes, although the outcome of those talks remains uncertain.

The rules package adopted in May called for the Ways and Means Committee to produce a fiscal 2021 budget bill by the time the new fiscal year begins on July 1. Leaders are now looking into whether that rule must be changed, or whether the House's passage of a $5.25 billion interim budget filed by Gov. Charlie Baker to keep government funded through July can be interpreted to satisfy the requirement....

"We don't have a good sort of vision into tax revenue for the next fiscal year yet, and it's going to take a little while to get there," [Gov.] Baker said. "The folks in the Legislature are moving a one-twelfth budget, which we filed several days ago to ensure that payments continue into July, but they and we both recognize that we're not going to know exactly where we are on the budget until we get a little more information."

Baker said he was "optimistic" that Congress would come through with additional aid for states, and described his administration as "very engaged" with the state's Congressional delegation and "others" on that front....

Despite collapsing state tax revenues, the Baker administration opted against a formal downward revision of fiscal 2020 tax collections, which could have triggered the need for immediate spending cuts or other budget-balancing plans. A revision to the fiscal 2021 revenue estimate is expected, though, once an annual budget bill starts to advance in the Legislature.

Baker in January filed a $44.6 billion fiscal 2021 budget, which remains under review in the House.

State House News Service
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
House Budget Appears Unlikely by July 1 Deadline
Heffernan Sees "One or More" Interim Budgets


House and Senate leaders reached an agreement Thursday to keep the MBTA's Fiscal and Management Control Board in place for another year and to scrap a planned increase in road and bridge maintenance funding, effectively sealing the fate of the annual reimbursement program.

After weeks of disagreement between the two branches, the Senate adopted what one top lawmaker called a "compromise" that will direct $200 million toward the Chapter 90 program next fiscal year and will extend the about-to-expire board tasked with overseeing and managing the T until June 30, 2021.

Settling on a $200 million allocation toward road repairs represents a retreat from the $300 million that both the House and Senate had already approved in earlier legislation, reducing the funding level to where it has remained almost every single year for the past decade....

House leaders appeared to be prodding the Senate to join them in passing a major tax package, and it's unclear whether the Senate's retreat on Chapter 90 funding means that branch has given up on tax-raising initiatives to fund transportation this year.

State House News Service
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
House, Senate Agree on Road Funding, MBTA Board
Chapter 90 Cut to $200 Mill, FMCB Extended One Year


COVID-19 continues to run its invisible thread through the public health, economic and racial justice crises that are raging across the United States as summer gets underway. Three months into the pandemic, case counts are exploding in big states like California, Florida and Texas, threatening progress in others, like Massachusetts, and influencing the constant public, fiscal, and monetary policy responses to the evolving situation.

Mask-wearing has proven effective in slowing the spread of the deadly virus, but many Americans have chosen not to cover up or practice social distancing and the virus is leaping from one infected person to the next at an alarming rate. Concerns over a second wave in the fall have taken a backseat to the more immediate responses to the outbreaks across the country that are occurring right now.

In Massachusetts, state officials are monitoring the situation nationally, and reactions to it from Washington, while trying to focus on their own agenda with five weeks left for formal legislative sessions this year. The Senate plans next Thursday to pass its own versions of a $1.1 billion, House-approved, COVID-19 spending bill and a long-term capital bill to invest in technology upgrades that have become even more critical in pandemic times when people are working together, but on computers.

Here are some of the issues to watch in the week ahead:

-- COVID - PHASE 3: Pressure will surely begin to mount on Gov. Baker next week to announce whether Phase 3 of the state's economic reopening plan will get underway on Monday, July 6. That's the earliest possible date for the third phase, which will include the return of gyms, sporting events, casinos, museums, and movie theaters, but Baker has said that his decisions will be driven by data and not arbitrary dates....

-- THE BUDGET: Massachusetts begins fiscal 2021 on Wednesday with a $5.25 billion interim budget in place, a COVID-19 spending bill up for consideration in the Senate on Thursday, and Gov. Charlie Baker's $44.6 billion fiscal 2021 budget beginning its sixth month under review in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Before deciding on how to proceed, Baker and legislative leaders are waiting to see how tax collections perform in the wake of the decision to push the annual tax-filing deadline forward from April 15 to July 15.

They are also waiting to see when and whether Congress will pass another major stimulus bill providing additional support to individuals, businesses, and state and local governments struggling due to the pandemic's impacts....

-- TRANSPORTATION POLICY/FUNDING: At the start of 2020, transportation funding and policy appeared to represent the largest and most important topic that the Legislature would address this year. The pandemic quickly changed that and heading down the stretch toward July 31 it seems possible that lawmakers are poised to just punt some of the once-critical issues into 2021.

The House in March approved an $18 billion transportation bond bill and a $500 million tax and fee package designed, in part, to improve MBTA, regional transit and other transportation services. The Senate hasn't taken up either of those bills, although Senate President Spilka has expressed interest in passing a bond bill....

House leaders have prodded the Senate to pass a transportation finance bill, saying a $300 million local road and bridge repair agenda could be supported with more revenues. This week, however, in a response that might indicate where senators stand on new taxes right now, the Senate opted to cut the Chapter 90 program authorization back to $200 million.

State House News Service
Friday, June 26, 2020
Advances - Week of June 28, 2020


Massachusetts is one of the most heavily Democratic states in the country. What can Republicans do about it?

Not much, at the moment. But some state Republican officials see a longer-term strategy.

Before the GOP can make meaningful inroads in state and federal offices, they say, the party may need to make more meaningful inroads closer to home.

“Running for local office is the most effective activism a Republican can do,” said Jim Lyons, chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, in an email message to New Boston Post. “By running, and winning, you create a team at the local level that can fight against ill-conceived overrides, stifling zoning laws, and useless plastic bag bans, just to name a few issues. And it always helps for statewide candidates to have that Republican selectman as a local contact, and eventually, that Republican selectman could become a governor or a United States senator, as has happened in the past.”

The party has attracted a number of first-time candidates for relatively high office in recent years, most of whom have lost. But there is another way. As Lyons notes, prominent Massachusetts Republicans got their start in local politics.

The New Boston Post
Sunday, June 21, 2020
Want To Grow the Massachusetts Republican Party?
Run For Local Office, Politicians Say


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

Another CLT Proposition 2½ founding father left us this week.  K. Heinz Muehlmann passed away from cancer on June 17 at the age of 81.  While Warren T. Brookes, then a Boston Herald business columnist who chronicled California's Proposition 13, which revolutionized property taxes eventually nationwide, advocated for a similar law in Massachusetts, it was Boston economist Dr. K. Heinz Muehlmann who crunched the numbers and created the structure for property tax relief in Massachusetts.  It became CLT's Proposition 2½ and was adopted by a vast majority of voters on the 1980 ballot — and Massachusetts became the second state to adopt property tax limitations.

Proposition 2½ will mark 40 years as CLT's property tax law of the land in November.

Heinz was born and educated in Austria — an actual "Austrian School" economist who followed in the footsteps of the great Ludwig von Mises, Frederich von Hayek, and Murray Rothbard.  As noted in his obituary (full obit below):

Heinz’ signature public accomplishment was creating the economics behind Massachusetts Proposition 2½, which limits property tax assessments and automobile excise tax levies.  The late Barbara Anderson, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, shepherded Proposition 2½ to a ballot victory.  They became life-long friends.  Barbara referred to Heinz as her “favorite local Austrian-born economist” tutor, who supported small government, protection of private property, and individualism in general.

CLT presented Heinz — a CLT member since 1979 — with its most prestigious "Warren T. Brookes Award" at CLT's 2008 Awards Brunch.  Unfortunately Barbara presented it to Heinz in absentia — as he was in Austria visiting his family at the time of our event.  (Barbara and I delivered it to him when he returned home.)

http://cltg.org/cltg/clt2008/brunch/images/DSC_0036.JPG

CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE

Barbara Anderson, "director emeritus,"
presents the 2008 Warren T. Brookes Award to the absent Heinz Muehlmann,
a longtime CLT member and true "Austrian Economist." (Dec. 14, 2008)

Barbara and I spent many evenings over the years as guests of Heinz and his wife Brigitte for their Christmas holiday dinners with us at their Waltham home; they were excellent cooks and hosts.  In turn, they were our guests for a few summer cookouts in Barbara's and my yard in Marblehead.  I took Heinz out sailing aboard "Chip Ahoy" on one of those occasions upon discovering he was an accomplished sailor.

Farewell Heinz my friend.  May you have fair winds and following seas in your new voyage.


Another stealth assault on Proposition 2½ arose last week, another devious scheme that was fortunately defeated at town meeting by residents of Longmeadow.  They knew what was coming for them if it ever passed.  The Springfield Republican reported on Friday ("Longmeadow Town Meeting rejects Prop. 2½ cut"):

Longmeadow Town Meeting voters rejected a move by the town Selectboard and the Finance Committee to begin the process of exempting the town from Proposition 2½ tax limitations.  A request for funds to cover initial engineering costs for a Longmeadow Street rebuild was also voted down.

Tuesday’s outdoor meeting on the grounds of Longmeadow High School Tuesday evening allowed generous social distancing for the 277 registered voters who attended.

Article 14 asked voters to allow the town to begin home rule legislation that could eventually exempt town government from the 2.5 percent tax cap mandated by Proposition 2½.

The Chair of the Select Board, Thomas Lachiusa said home rule legislation would begin a process to allow the town to permanently exempt itself from having to adhere to the 2.5 percent cap on yearly property taxes.

“This is something both the Select Board and the Finance Committee have been looking at for a long time as a solution to protect the town from a drastic property value decreases,” he said. If that were to happen we would see a lot of cuts to education, programs and services we have all come to expect. It would be a progressive loss of services as each year we would have to make more and more cuts."

Lachuisa said the vote Tuesday would have allowed the town to approach the state legislature for home rule legislation. Once the state government approves, the town would have two more votes, Town Meeting and the second a town-wide ballot initiative, to either pass the measure or reject it.

A home rule petition, if passed by voters at town meeting, would be sent to the Legislature for permission to proceed.  If adopted, it would apply only to that municipality requesting it, in effect repealing Proposition 2½ in that town.  But it wouldn't be long before elected officials in the other 350 cities and towns demanded their own Prop. 2½ "exemption," before Prop. 2½ died a painful death of a thousand cuts.

Caution:  It failed in Longmeadow among the 277 registered voters who attended town meeting.  The Takers have revealed their latest strategy.  Expect the teachers and public employee unions and their More Is Never Enough (MINE) ilk to grab onto this scheme and pack town meetings across the state in the future.


The State House News Service reported on Friday ("Baker Signs Budget to Fund Government in July"):

Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday morning signed an interim budget to keep state government running when the new fiscal year begins on July 1 since the Legislature has not yet developed a fiscal 2021 spending plan.

The governor filed the $5.25 billion interim budget a week ago and said Friday that the amount is sufficient to fund government operations through July and "will make it possible for the treasurer to deliver local aid payments to cities and towns."

House and Senate leaders have not laid out a timeline yet for completion of a budget for the full fiscal year.

I still don't get it.  In the last CLT Update (June 21: "Another Beacon Hill Helter-Skelter Week") in my commentary I wrote:

Stop and think about this.  A $5.25 billion "interim spending bill" to get the state through July, one month.  Carried through the fiscal year that would create a $63 billion FY2021 budget for the coming 12 months.  That exceeds even the $44.6 billion Baker proposed in January, which itself was $1.3 billion more than last year's $43.3 budget.

On Wednesday the State House News Service reported ("House Passes $1.1 Bil Budget to Cover COVID-19 Costs; State in 'Race' to Net Federal Reimbursements"):

A $1.1 billion budget bill is on its way to the Senate after the House passed the legislation Wednesday and added on an additional $17.5 million in COVID-19 spending.

Passage of the legislation comes as Gov. Charlie Baker has poked lawmakers to quickly get it to his desk so that the state can take advantage of federal reimbursements for costs related to the respiratory virus. The House approved the bill on a 158-0 vote.

On Monday the State House News Service reported ("Facing $2.25B Shortfall, Baker Admin Hasn’t Updated Revenue Expectations"):

Governors from both major parties over the years have turned to midyear budget cuts when it's become apparent that tax revenues are not going to keep pace with spending. These 9C cuts are named for the section of state finance law that authorizes governors to take unilateral budget-fixing actions.

But since March, in the face of the precedent-setting evaporation of tax receipts brought on by forced business closures, the Baker administration has not revised revenue expectations -- which could have triggered 9C cuts -- or announced other specific budget-balancing plans.

State laws require the state Administration and Finance Secretary, in this case Michael Heffernan, to notify the governor in writing whenever he believes budgeted revenues will be insufficient to meet expenditures.

Gov. Baker seems intent on spending more and dodging required spending cuts due to the extreme revenue shortfall.  It appears that he's whistling past the graveyard, hoping the economic depression he created isn't really happening, or will just go away without consequences or that the federal government will ride to his rescue and bail out Massachusetts and the other tax-and-spend progressive states.


On Beacon Hill they're winging it day by day, changing rules on the fly.  The News Service reported on Wednesday ("House Budget Appears Unlikely by July 1 Deadline; Heffernan Sees 'One or More' Interim Budgets:"):

Already behind schedule in May, the House adopted emergency rules to govern its operations during the pandemic, including a new target date for Democratic leaders to produce an annual state budget.

But with that new July 1 deadline approaching, House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz told the News Service Wednesday that his committee does not expect to present a full-year spending plan by next week.

The House will have to "move off" that date as it continues to try to anticipate how the economy will react to the slow reopening of businesses and the threat of a second wave of the coronavirus in the fall, Michlewitz said. There is also the possibility that Congress will come up with additional federal relief that could dramatically change the state's fortunes, although the outcome of those talks remains uncertain.

The rules package adopted in May called for the Ways and Means Committee to produce a fiscal 2021 budget bill by the time the new fiscal year begins on July 1. Leaders are now looking into whether that rule must be changed, or whether the House's passage of a $5.25 billion interim budget filed by Gov. Charlie Baker to keep government funded through July can be interpreted to satisfy the requirement.

In another report on Wednesday ("House, Senate Agree on Road Funding, MBTA Board; Chapter 90 Cut to $200 Mill, FMCB Extended One Year") the News Service added:

House and Senate leaders reached an agreement Thursday to keep the MBTA's Fiscal and Management Control Board in place for another year and to scrap a planned increase in road and bridge maintenance funding, effectively sealing the fate of the annual reimbursement program....

Settling on a $200 million allocation toward road repairs represents a retreat from the $300 million that both the House and Senate had already approved in earlier legislation, reducing the funding level to where it has remained almost every single year for the past decade....

House leaders appeared to be prodding the Senate to join them in passing a major tax package, and it's unclear whether the Senate's retreat on Chapter 90 funding means that branch has given up on tax-raising initiatives to fund transportation this year.

On Friday CommonWealth Magazine took a deep look into the ongoing rivalry and acrimony between the House and the Senate in pushing each chamber's policy preferences, and why it's so difficult to get anything accomplished.  In "Tensions rising between House and Senate" it reports:

Just as the Legislature heads into crunch time on Beacon Hill, tensions appear to be rising between the House and Senate over how bills should emerge from a key committee.

Under the Legislature’s rules, all bills dealing with health care are supposed to be reviewed and voted on by the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing before moving on to votes in the two branches. But the two chairs of that committee – Sen. Cindy Friedman of Arlington and Rep. Dan Cullinane of Dorchester – are barely on speaking terms these days.

Cullinane says Friedman has refused to work with him to schedule votes on all but a few bills since he took over as acting chair of the committee early this year. He said he is leaving the Legislature at the end of this session and has no political agenda other than moving forward good public policy.

“Plain and simple, the Senate chair refuses to negotiate, refuses to engage in any meaningful conversation,” he said. “The Senate did not walk away from the negotiating table, they never showed up.” ...

On Thursday, the Senate passed a major health care bill backed by Friedman and Senate President Karen Spilka. The bill did not go through the joint committee, but instead originated in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which Cullinane says is a violation of the Legislature’s rules. He said the Senate has bypassed the joint committee and passed other health care measures in recent months....

On the Senate floor Thursday, Friedman also urged the rejection of a House measure that would have extended until the end of the year the reporting date for the more than 300 bills remaining in the Health Care Financing Committee. Cullinane said he filed the extension because he didn’t want to see the bills die, but Friedman indicated on the Senate floor that she didn’t care....

Cullinane says Friedman’s approach subverts the whole point of the committee, which is to have members and staff with an expertise in health care review all health care legislation....

To an outsider, it all sounds like much ado about nothing. After all, a Senate bill can’t become law unless the House goes along, so it’s not as if the two branches will never have to negotiate. But the Senate’s attempt to bypass a key legislative committee and gain more control of its legislation is stirring anger in the House, anger that is likely to surface somewhere down the road.

It's often considered beneficial for taxpayers when the Legislature can't agree on legislating; for example, the Senate so far declining to take up and pass the House's $500 million gas-and-diesel tax hike.  Apparently that's just the tip of an iceberg the rancor appears to be rooted much deeper.


Some good news, sort of.  The date of the annual sales tax holiday weekend has been announced:  "The state's 6.25 percent sales tax will be waived on many purchases the weekend of Saturday, Aug. 29 and Sunday, Aug. 30, the Baker administration announced Tuesday," State House News Service reported.  "The annual tax holiday, made a permanent fixture as part of a 2018 'grand bargain' law."

You may recall that this was part of the Legislature's and Governor's agreement two years ago to eliminate a couple of threatening ballot questions heading for the 2018 ballot.  The State House News Service at the time reported:

"The Mass. Retailers Association dropped its proposal for a sales tax increase, but accepted an increase in the minimum wage, in return for which it won an end to the state law requiring workers be paid time-and-a-half for Sunday and holiday hours. The minimum wage increase from $11 to $15 an hour will occur in five years, not four, as the Raise Up ballot question proposes, and tipped workers won't see their minimum rise as much as in the question. There will be a permanent annual sales tax holiday on state lawbooks (again, if the governor signs the compromise). Raise Up and the unions won their long-sought paid leave program, covering sick time, family care, maternity and paternity, and bereavement absences from the workplace."

Instead of the sales tax being reduced from 6.25% to 5% as the popular ballot question proposed (CLT members helped get some of the signatures for it), the Retailers Association got a permanent sales tax holiday weekend.  In my CLT commentary back then I wrote:

The probable rollback of the sales tax was eliminated from the ballot, but the statutory sales tax holiday weekend every August it also sought was created (until the Legislature next decides "the state can't afford it," I presume).

So the good news is that two years later the Legislature and Governor haven't eliminated the sales tax holiday weekend yet.  I'm quite impressed and somewhat surprised.


The New Boston Post reported last Sunday ("Want To Grow the Massachusetts Republican Party?  Run For Local Office, Politicians Say"):

Massachusetts is one of the most heavily Democratic states in the country. What can Republicans do about it?

Not much, at the moment. But some state Republican officials see a longer-term strategy.

Before the GOP can make meaningful inroads in state and federal offices, they say, the party may need to make more meaningful inroads closer to home.

“Running for local office is the most effective activism a Republican can do,” said Jim Lyons, chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, in an email message to New Boston Post. “By running, and winning, you create a team at the local level that can fight against ill-conceived overrides, stifling zoning laws, and useless plastic bag bans, just to name a few issues. And it always helps for statewide candidates to have that Republican selectman as a local contact, and eventually, that Republican selectman could become a governor or a United States senator, as has happened in the past.”

The party has attracted a number of first-time candidates for relatively high office in recent years, most of whom have lost. But there is another way. As Lyons notes, prominent Massachusetts Republicans got their start in local politics. . . .

With Democrats crushing Republicans in the Legislature by 137-31 in the House and 36-4 in the Senate at last count, doing anything new is better than doing what the GOP has done for much too long in Massachusetts.  As candidate Trump famously chided, "What have you got to lose?"

Chip Ford
Executive Director


K. Heinz Muehlmann
September 28, 1938 - June 17, 2020
Obituary

http://cltg.org/cltg/clt2020/images/Heinz_Muehlmann.jpgWareham Karl Heinz Muehlmann, 81, of Waltham, passed away at his summer home in Wareham on Wednesday June 17, 2020.

During his career, Dr. Heinz Muehlmann was an economic advisor to Massachusetts Governors Frank Sargent, Ed King, Bill Weld, and Paul Cellucci. In addition, he was the Chief Economist for Jobs for Massachusetts, Inc., and Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

Early in his career, while teaching Economics at Bentley University, Heinz consulted for the Department of Commerce and Development. With assistance from Robert Kenney and Rena Kottcamp, Heinz prepared an analysis of the Massachusetts economy, which became known as “The Muehlmann Report on Economic Strategy.”

Heinz’ signature public accomplishment was creating the economics behind Massachusetts Proposition 2½, which limits property tax assessments and automobile excise tax levies. The late Barbara Anderson, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, shepherded Proposition 2½ to a ballot victory. They became life-long friends. Barbara referred to Heinz as her “favorite local Austrian-born economist” tutor, who supported small government, protection of private property, and individualism in general.

Economics was Heinz’ second career. When he arrived in the U.S., he brought with him a nurtured childhood from his home town Zell am See, a solid education from Salzburg, a degree from the Vienna University of Economics and Business, and a growth mindset and self-discipline. Heinz was also a state-certified ski instructor, who had perfected his signature “Follow me” pedagogy. For his students, this was easier said than done, because Heinz negotiated any triple black diamond slope gracefully in blue jeans, his favorite ski pants.

Heinz’ first role in the U.S. was to coach the Northern Michigan University ski team, where he also earned a Master of Arts from the School of Graduate Studies, learned about the regional economy as well as Midwestern values and life. Heinz continued teaching skiing professionally in New England, in the Sugarloaf and Stratton mountain resorts. He abandoned his professional ski instructor career at age 33 and turned to what Richard Cunningham called “an economic mountain top called Jobs.”

Besides skiing, Heinz was a lifelong competitive athlete, who enjoyed playing tennis, sailing, fishing (especially striped bass and bluefish), and lobstering. He liked flying gliders in the Alps in earlier years. Heinz also became an ice hockey referee, which led to a role at the 1964 Olympic Games in Innsbruck. His trophies included the first place in the Vienna Academic Championship slalom competition, mixed doubles at Sippican Tennis Club and Mount Auburn Club, arguably with the help of his infamous drop shot, as well as Senior races at Bourne Cove Yacht Club.

Heinz’ favorite role was, however, being the father of his three children Sonja, Martha, and Carl. A family man, he loved teaching them sports, taking them out water skiing and fishing on Buzzards Bay, going on ski trips and vacations with them, and passing on to them what he knew. One of Carl’s favorite memories is a day, which they started in Wareham catching lobsters in Buzzard’s Bay before driving to Killington, Vermont, for a day of skiing, and returning to Wareham in the evening. In recent years, Heinz awaited his grandchildren with his boat and fishing rods ready for adventure when they visited Wareham in the summer.

Heinz welcomed opportunities to be creative, whether as an economist or in the kitchen, initially cooking and baking for his family, and later also for friends. A signature three-course meal would start with his Manhattan Clam Chowder, followed by a main course of Wiener Schnitzel from turkey tenderloins with parsley fingerling potatoes and cranberry sauce. Heinz’ popular Linzer Torte made from scratch with walnuts and red currant jelly, often prepared on Sunday afternoons during football season, would be served for dessert. His last invention was the Linzer Cupcake, a small Linzer Torte designed to serve one person.

A son of the late Hermann and Martha (Vorderegger) Muehlmann, Heinz will be missed greatly by many. He is survived by Brigitte Wudernitz Muehlmann, his second wife and soul mate, whom he met in Boston after his first marriage had ended in divorce, his children Sonja Fay Muehlmann and her husband Philip Chu of Monrovia, CA, Martha Muehlmann of Mautern, Austria, and Carl Eliot Muehlmann and his wife Amalia Daskalakis of New York, NY, his grandchildren Amelia Mary Chu, Collis Eliot Chu, Maya Juliana Muehlmann and Livio Nikola Muehlmann, brothers Hermann and Hansjoerg Muehlmann, loving nieces and nephews, cousins, and loyal friends near and far.

Heinz was able to spend his final days at home and die in his wife’s arms as he had wished, thanks to the compassionate and open-minded continuous care provided by Community Nurse Home Care of Fairhaven. Gifts to the agency in Heinz’ memory would be appreciated. URL: https://www.communitynurse.com/donate/

Funeral services in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, and in Zell am See, Austria, will be private. A celebration of Heinz’ life will be held at Sippican Tennis Club at a later date to be announced. Heinz’ memoir “Slalom Racer” is in progress. To leave a message of condolence for the family, please visit www.warehamvillagefuneralhome.com.


Dear Brigitte and family,

It was so sad to hear the bad news of Heinz' passing.  Heinz was so incredibly helpful in getting our Proposition 2½ drafted and passed into Massachusetts law forty years ago.  Barbara Anderson and I loved the time we spent together with Heinz and Brigitte for the excellent holiday dinners at their home, the occasional cookouts at our place in Marblehead, and the sail aboard my Catalina 22 in Salem Sound.

Heinz was a master of so many talents and skills.  He will be sorely missed.

Chip Ford
Executive Director
Citizens for Limited Taxation


Full News Reports Follow
(excerpted above)

The Springfield Republican
Friday, June 26, 2020
Longmeadow Town Meeting rejects Prop. 2½ cut and Route 5 rebuild
By Dave Canton


Longmeadow Town Meeting voters rejected a move by the town Selectboard and the Finance Committee to begin the process of exempting the town from Proposition 2½ tax limitations. A request for funds to cover initial engineering costs for a Longmeadow Street rebuild was also voted down.

Tuesday’s outdoor meeting on the grounds of Longmeadow High School Tuesday evening allowed generous social distancing for the 277 registered voters who attended.

Article 14 asked voters to allow the town to begin home rule legislation that could eventually exempt town government from the 2.5 percent tax cap mandated by Proposition 2½.

The Chair of the Select Board, Thomas Lachiusa said home rule legislation would begin a process to allow the town to permanently exempt itself from having to adhere to the 2.5 percent cap on yearly property taxes.

“This is something both the Select Board and the Finance Committee have been looking at for a long time as a solution to protect the town from a drastic property value decreases,” he said. If that were to happen we would see a lot of cuts to education, programs and services we have all come to expect. It would be a progressive loss of services as each year we would have to make more and more cuts."

Lachuisa said the vote Tuesday would have allowed the town to approach the state legislature for home rule legislation. Once the state government approves, the town would have two more votes, Town Meeting and the second a town-wide ballot initiative, to either pass the measure or reject it.

Lachuisa pointed out that Longmeadow is pretty much limited to residential property taxes for its operations. The town does not have an industrial or commercial base to buffer town residents.

“We are all optimistic that Springfield does well, that the casino attracts a lot of attention to the city, Because Longmeadow property values rise and far as Springfield does,” he said. “But we need a plan beyond that.”

Town Meeting also rejected a proposed allocation of $100,000, part of a $400,000 preliminary engineering package on the reconstruction of Route 5, Longmeadow Street.

Selectman Marc Strange said the funding would include the initial survey and engineering needed before the state would consider funding the actual work.

“It’s needed he said. “The road is heavily used, and I don’t see how you can not do it. It’s not a good time to ask but it is necessary.”

The work would include bringing the roadway up to Department of Transportation standards, improving drainage and repaving.

Green Willow Drive resident John Friedson was concerned that the Route 5 reconstruction was a step too far for many older residents.

‘We have seniors here on fixed incomes. Those of us who would like to keep our houses are getting increasingly concerned about the town’s appetite for spending, the appetite for debt, for increasing taxes at every possible stage and not casting a strong, judicious eye on what the requests are for expenditures in a time of economic collapse and pandemic,” he said. “This particular case, Route 5 is not perfect, and yeah, we’d like to get state money. But, the last I noticed from my checkbook I pay state taxes, too. This is not the year, this is not the time for spending on things that are unnecessary, in my opinion.”


State House News Service
Friday, June 26, 2020
Weekly Roundup - Fear and Loathing in Massachusetts
Recap and analysis of the week in state government
By Matt Murphy


The pandemic tables have turned, in many ways, with the coronavirus now boiling over in southern and western states like Florida and Texas, while in the Northeast the pot lid is only slightly rattling.

But Bay Staters just venturing out into the wild are doing so with great trepidation, many still uncomfortable with the idea of eating out or riding the T. Forget about getting on a plane.

New polling from Suffolk University for WGBH News, the State House News Service, The Boston Globe and MassLive found that more than 66 percent of residents are living with more than normal levels of fear and anxiety. And perhaps that's to be expected.

Not only are they living through the worst pandemic in over a century, but society is also struggling to come to terms with generations of racism and the inequities that built into every system, from housing to law enforcement.

Racism, in fact, ranked among the biggest problems residents see facing the state today, which helped to explain the sweeping support found in the Suffolk/WGBH/SHNS poll for broad reforms to policing.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo also got behind the idea of making Juneteenth (June 19) a state holiday to mark the day that the last slaves were freed in Texas. The amendment filed by Rep. Bud Williams of Springfield was tacked onto a $1.1 billion COVID-19 spending bill.

Facing up to a past of racism collided this week with the need to confront a more recent history of injustice.

Despite the fact that 81 percent of residents still think Baker is doing a good job handling the pandemic, there wasn't enough support to sugarcoat a 174-page report that painted a hideous portrait of the leadership at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home.

Mark Pearlstein, a former federal prosecutor tapped by Baker to conduct an independent investigation into the deaths of at least 76 veterans from COVID-19 at the home, found that a series of "utterly baffling" decisions led to the creation of conditions that allowed the virus to wreak havoc.

The Pearlstein report focused on the decisions that were made that allowed COVID-19 to flourish inside the walls of the veterans' home, but it also laid out warning signs that Superintendent Bennett Walsh may have been underqualified to run the facility before the start of the pandemic.

Pearlstein raised questions about what qualifications officials saw in Walsh to back up his hiring as superintendent of a long-term care facility, and laid out in detail his failings as a manager and the administration's lack of vision into the Soldiers' Home that might have prompted them to intervene.

"Veterans who deserve the best from state government got exactly the opposite, and there's no excuse or plausible explanation for that," Baker said.

The fallout from the report claimed the job of Veterans' Affairs Secretary Francisco Urena, who was asked to resign in light of Pearlstein's conclusions. He was replaced on an acting basis by Cheryl Poppe, the superintendent of the Chelsea Soldiers' Home. And Baker said he would move to terminate Walsh, who has been on administrative leave.

Over 2,000 teachers in 47 school districts have also been informed that they will be without a job in the fall, according to the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which is the state's largest teachers' union.

The layoff and non-renewal notices signal the high level of uncertainty under which local officials are operating as the Legislature has yet to finalize a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and the Baker administration is currently level-funding local aid to cities and towns in the short-term.

Schools did get a bit more clarity about what the fall might look like, though.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education put out new guidance this week for schools to contemplate as they think about reopening in the fall, including a continuation of remote learning, staggered in-person learning schedules for students, or a full return with mandatory mask-wearing and desks at least three feet, but preferably six, apart.

Lunches would be eaten in the classroom, but temperature checks would not be required.

The guidelines for reopening gave school administrators a lot to think about, and the Baker administration dangled a little more than $200 million in federal relief funding that would help districts buy the supplies they need to safely reopen.

The governor said it could be at least another month before the state is ready to commit to Chapter 70 aid for the next school year. Baker signed a $5.25 billion interim budget on Friday that will keep government operating through at least July as budget writers in the House, Senate and administration struggle to peer into the future.

"We don't have a good sort of vision into tax revenue for the next fiscal year yet, and it's going to take a little while to get there," Baker said.

House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz said the target the House set for his committee in May to release a fiscal 2021 budget proposal by July 1 is no longer feasible, and not likely to be met by next Wednesday.

Guessing exactly what the Legislature will be able to accomplish by July 31 could be a fun parlor game.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo has said policing reform is on that list, but he has not yet surfaced a proposal to respond to the legislation filed by Baker to create a police licensing system that would give the state new power to hold cops to standards of law enforcement and professionalism, including bans on the use of forceful tactics like chokeholds.

The governor got an earful on a visit this week to Mattapan from a woman upset that Baker's bill proposed to pay police up to $5,000 to get the additional training they need to be sensitive to racial biases. He was there to announce the selection of a minority-owned firm to redevelop the last parcel on the former Boston State Hospital campus.

Rep. Russell Holmes, who has made no secret of his own issues with the DeLeo, came to Baker's defense, crediting him with at least putting a plan on paper.

Baker also put a plan on paper to implement the recommendations of the Pearlstein report for improved oversight of the state's two Soldiers' Homes. But DeLeo signaled he's in no rush to put that bill on the floor, signaling his own intent to ask House lawmakers next week to support their own investigation through a Special Legislative Oversight Committee.

Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, a veteran, recommended the oversight committee to DeLeo, and envisions the probe to last into next year, and to focus both on what happened in Holyoke, as well as how the state can broadly improve care for veterans.

The Senate has not yet signed on to the oversight committee concept, and comity was something in short supply between the branches to start the week.

The Senate passed health care legislation Thursday to enshrine some of the pandemic protocols that have led to massive growth in the use of telemedicine, and to put an end to surprise billing and expand the scope of practices for some medical professionals.

The topic of health care, however, was a sensitive one given the accusation made by some House lawmakers -- namely House Majority Leader Ron Mariano and Rep. Dan Cullinane -- that the Senate has been a bad partner in trying to negotiate a path forward with limited time until the end of the session.

With the House seeking to extend the life of some health care bills, the Senate responded to the criticism by rejecting their extension request, initiating a parliamentary feud that doesn't bode well for much of anything getting accomplished in the health care space over the next month.

"At some point, because we were being asked to extend and extend, how many times does someone say no before you stop asking them out?" Sen. Cindy Friedman said about the House.

Given the bad blood, it was a small win that the House and Senate were able to agree to a "compromise" over local road repair funding and the future of the MBTA's oversight board.

Rather than remake the temporary Fiscal and Management Control Board into something more permanent, Democratic leaders agreed to simply extend its authorization for another year. And on the issue of Chapter 90 funding, it's also the status quo moving forward.

Both branches earlier this year had passed legislation to bump Chapter 90 funding to $300 million for the year, delighting cities and towns after years of lobbying for more money.

But with the pandemic crushing state finances and the Senate apparently unwilling to take up the House's transportation tax bill, the compromise was to punt.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Report finds they served their country, but in the end their state didn't do them a service.


CommonWealth Magazine
Friday, June 26, 2020
Tensions rising between House and Senate
By Bruce Mohl - Editor


Just as the Legislature heads into crunch time on Beacon Hill, tensions appear to be rising between the House and Senate over how bills should emerge from a key committee.

Under the Legislature’s rules, all bills dealing with health care are supposed to be reviewed and voted on by the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing before moving on to votes in the two branches. But the two chairs of that committee – Sen. Cindy Friedman of Arlington and Rep. Dan Cullinane of Dorchester – are barely on speaking terms these days.

Cullinane says Friedman has refused to work with him to schedule votes on all but a few bills since he took over as acting chair of the committee early this year. He said he is leaving the Legislature at the end of this session and has no political agenda other than moving forward good public policy.

“Plain and simple, the Senate chair refuses to negotiate, refuses to engage in any meaningful conversation,” he said. “The Senate did not walk away from the negotiating table, they never showed up.”

A similar dustup occurred in 2015, when then-Senate President Stan Rosenberg complained that too many of the Senate’s bills ended up stalled in joint House-Senate committees which tend to be dominated by members of the larger House. The tension became so high that the Senate voted 39-0 to develop plans to pull members out of the joint committees and establish its own panels, an approach that came to be known as the “nuclear option.” House Speaker Robert DeLeo at the time was dismissive of the Senate’s push for change, calling it an “impolitic and manufactured reaction to a non-existent problem.”

Eventually, cooler heads prevailed, some minor changes in joint rules were approved, and the two branches went back to doing business. But a new battle over the same issue seems to be emerging again with the Health Care Financing Committee.

On Thursday, the Senate passed a major health care bill backed by Friedman and Senate President Karen Spilka. The bill did not go through the joint committee, but instead originated in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which Cullinane says is a violation of the Legislature’s rules. He said the Senate has bypassed the joint committee and passed other health care measures in recent months.

“Such unusual action by the Senate would be concerning at any time. But in a time when our Commonwealth must navigate the dual challenges of the worst global pandemic in over a century and a historic recession, the Senate’s choice to bypass the expertise of the members of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing is an unconscionable political decision that has disenfranchised both the House and Senate members appointed to the joint committee and their constituents,” Cullinane said in a letter filed with the House clerk prior to the Senate’s vote.

On the Senate floor Thursday, Friedman also urged the rejection of a House measure that would have extended until the end of the year the reporting date for the more than 300 bills remaining in the Health Care Financing Committee. Cullinane said he filed the extension because he didn’t want to see the bills die, but Friedman indicated on the Senate floor that she didn’t care.

According to a transcript of the floor debate compiled by the State House News Service, Friedman said the bills in the committee fall into three buckets – House bills, Senate bills, and bills filed in both branches that deal with the same issues. Friedman said negotiations had broken down in the committee over the bills dealing with overlapping issues so she wanted the committee to release the Senate bills to the Senate. She said the House members could do whatever they wanted with the House bills.

Cullinane says Friedman’s approach subverts the whole point of the committee, which is to have members and staff with an expertise in health care review all health care legislation.

The Senate voted to reject the extension sought by Cullinane, which meant all bills in the committee were released with adverse reports, meaning they would normally be dead. The Senate then began passing measures to resuscitate the Senate bills it wanted to consider.

“I have heard that there have been accusations that the Senate is being obstructionist, that there has been no outreach, and that we won't negotiate,” Friedman said, according to State House News. “I am not sure how you reconcile five Senate proposals since January as being obstructionist. But here we are. It's June 25. Our formals will end soon. Our health care system is upside down. Our residents depend on us to provide care. We can't wait, they can't wait. And so it's time to move the bills along.”

To an outsider, it all sounds like much ado about nothing. After all, a Senate bill can’t become law unless the House goes along, so it’s not as if the two branches will never have to negotiate. But the Senate’s attempt to bypass a key legislative committee and gain more control of its legislation is stirring anger in the House, anger that is likely to surface somewhere down the road.


State House News Service
Monday, June 22, 2020
Facing $2.25B Shortfall,
Baker Admin Hasn’t Updated Revenue Expectations
By Michael P. Norton

Governors from both major parties over the years have turned to midyear budget cuts when it's become apparent that tax revenues are not going to keep pace with spending. These 9C cuts are named for the section of state finance law that authorizes governors to take unilateral budget-fixing actions.

But since March, in the face of the precedent-setting evaporation of tax receipts brought on by forced business closures, the Baker administration has not revised revenue expectations -- which could have triggered 9C cuts -- or announced other specific budget-balancing plans.

State laws require the state Administration and Finance Secretary, in this case Michael Heffernan, to notify the governor in writing whenever he believes budgeted revenues will be insufficient to meet expenditures.

Within five days of that notification, the secretary must inform the governor and legislative budget officials of the amount of the probable deficiency of revenue and the governor is then required, no more than 15 days after that notification, to reduce spending and outline his or her reasons or submit to the Legislature specific proposals to raise additional revenues by an amount equal to such deficiency.

The law governing actions in the face of a "deficiency of revenue" also references the option to pull money from state reserves to backfill funding gaps.

Tax collections through May are running $1.73 billion or 6.5 percent less than the same fiscal year-to-date period in 2019, and $2.25 billion or 8.3 percent behind the year-to-date benchmark, an unprecedented decline and one that economic experts believe will not quickly reverse itself.

Asked why the Baker administration has not adjusted its revenue benchmarks downward, Heffernan spokesman Patrick Marvin did not say.

"The Administration is continuing to work with the Massachusetts Legislature and municipal officials to carefully monitor revenue collections and the impact of COVID-19 on the Commonwealth's budget," Marvin wrote in an emailed statement.

There are a number of major variables that state officials are monitoring, including revenue impacts associated with moving the tax-filing deadline to July 15 from April 15, the roles that government agencies and workers are playing in responding to the pandemic and its impacts, and the continuing debate in Washington over pandemic aid to the states. A special state law approved during the pandemic also empowers the state treasurer to borrow money for fiscal 2020 purposes as long as the funds are repaid by the end of fiscal 2021, on June 30, 2021.


State House News Service
Friday, June 26, 2020
Baker Signs Budget to Fund Government in July
By Colin A. Young


Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday morning signed an interim budget to keep state government running when the new fiscal year begins on July 1 since the Legislature has not yet developed a fiscal 2021 spending plan.

The governor filed the $5.25 billion interim budget a week ago and said Friday that the amount is sufficient to fund government operations through July and "will make it possible for the treasurer to deliver local aid payments to cities and towns."

House and Senate leaders have not laid out a timeline yet for completion of a budget for the full fiscal year. With just a few days until the new budget year begins, the Baker administration this week told municipalities that upcoming monthly local aid payments will largely be based on fiscal year 2020 estimates. The planned implementation of a new school funding law in the new fiscal year is on hold, at least for the time being.

"We obviously look forward to working with our colleagues in the Legislature during the month of July, as some of the issues associated with fiscal '20 get a little clearer and fiscal '21 get a little clearer, to finalize what I would call a budget for the go-forward on the rest of the year," Baker said Friday after announcing he had signed the stopgap budget. "But I want to thank the Legislature for acting quickly on this one and providing some security and certainty to people with respect to how the new year will start here for the commonwealth and for the commonwealth's cities and towns."


State House News Service
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
State Sets Aug. 29-30 as Sales Tax Holiday Weekend
By Colin A. Young


The state's 6.25 percent sales tax will be waived on many purchases the weekend of Saturday, Aug. 29 and Sunday, Aug. 30, the Baker administration announced Tuesday. This summer's sales tax holiday weekend will take place as retailers regain their footing after weeks of government-forced shutdowns, and Gov. Charlie Baker said he hopes people will take advantage of the tax savings to support local businesses.

"The annual sales tax holiday is an opportunity for us to support small businesses and consumers, and this year, it's a great way to support our economy that's been impacted by COVID-19," the governor said. "This pandemic has created enormous challenges for the Commonwealth's small businesses, and the sales tax-free weekend is one way that we can encourage more economic activity to help Main Street businesses and local economies."

The annual tax holiday, made a permanent fixture as part of a 2018 "grand bargain" law addressing multiple topics, allows shoppers to avoid paying the tax on most retail items -- excluding food and drink at restaurants -- that cost less than $2,500. The state agrees to give up tens of millions of dollars in taxes in a bid to spur buying and consumer savings.

The 2018 law that made the tax holiday an annual occurrence calls for the Legislature by June 15 to choose a weekend in August to designate as the holiday. If legislators miss that deadline or do not act, the Department of Revenue has until July 1 to announce dates for the holiday, as it did Tuesday. Massachusetts has long offered the tax holiday during a summer weekend as a way to boost local businesses, though it did not have one in place in 2016 or 2017.


State House News Service
Friday, June 26, 2020
Lawmakers Feeling Push and Pull on Climate Bills
Branches on Different Courses as Session Winds Down
Colin A. Young


There is no question that the pandemic has significantly altered agendas and priorities in the Legislature, and with the time to tackle big issues running out leaders are being pressed from multiple directions to address bills dealing with climate change.

Climate legislation had figured to be a focus of the legislative session's home stretch since the House and Senate had each passed major climate-related bills before most business was put on hold. Now, with five weeks to go in the session and other hefty matters still incomplete, one key lawmaker is trying to rally colleagues to finish the job before the July 31 end of formal sessions.

"We are in a position to achieve significant progress on climate before the end of session -- including raising our requirements for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to at least Net Zero by 2050 or sooner -- by working together and acting with urgency," a statement that Sen. Marc Pacheco is asking other lawmakers to sign onto says.

Meanwhile, business groups are leading a parallel effort urging the House to reject many of the ideas that the Senate has embraced.

Towards the end of January, it seemed almost certain that the governor would be signing some kind of climate bill this summer. On the same day that month, Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka all declared their support for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, a policy that climate change activists have been pushing for years. Both branches have passed climate-related bills, but the shared goal still hasn't been formalized.

The House last July unanimously approved a roughly $1.3 billion bill -- the so-called GreenWorks bill -- centered around grants to help communities adapt to climate change impacts, and at the end of January the Senate overwhelmingly passed a suite of climate bills that called for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and set deadlines for the state to impose carbon-pricing mechanisms for transportation, commercial buildings and homes.

"People wanted to get radical, they wanted to get dramatic, and I think we gave them the bill they were looking for," Sen. Michael Barrett, the Senate chair of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, said after the January session.

In a letter this week to House leaders, a coalition of some of the most powerful business and trade groups in the state made clear that they do not want the House to follow the Senate's radical and dramatic lead.

"Representing twenty of the Commonwealth's largest business, employer, housing, labor and trade associations we recognized [in January], as now, the importance of advancing our climate leadership and the urgent need for bold action," the Mass. Coalition for Sustainable Energy wrote to DeLeo and House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Aaron Michlewitz. "However, after reviewing in depth S2500, An Act Setting Next-Generation Climate Policy -- and in light of the many consequences of the ongoing pandemic -- we believe the bill would have negative environmental consequences for the Commonwealth while seriously exacerbating our housing costs and affordability challenges at a moment when our economy already faces a sharp downturn in productivity."

The coalition, which includes the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Mass. Business Roundtable, and Associated Industries of Massachusetts, has recently grown to now include the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, NAIOP Massachusetts, and Plumbers & Gasfitters Local 12 Boston.

"Ultimately, we believe this bill would harm consumers and businesses and undermine our smart growth objectives at a time our economy can least afford even the smallest step backwards without making the meaningful emissions reductions we need to reverse the effects of climate change," the coalition wrote.

The group disagrees with the Senate's decision to leave critical specifics of carbon pricing up to the executive branch, claims the Senate bill makes unrealistic assumptions about the future costs and availability of clean energy technologies, and disapproves of the Senate leaving business, employer and labor groups off of a Climate Policy Commission proposed in a Senate bill.

On that last point, the coalition was backed up Thursday by Jay Ash, the former Baker administration economic development secretary who now leads the the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership.

"The absence of business, employer & labor reps on the Climate Commission proposed by Bill S2500 is a missed opportunity. If S2500 is to be successful, then we must be at the table, too! Many of us have been active & continue to lead on the possibilities," Ash tweeted Thursday.

On Thursday night, Pacheco began circulating a "dear colleague" letter asking senators and representatives to sign onto a statement by Wednesday affirming their commitment to getting a meaningful climate bill -- not necessarily exactly what the Senate passed -- done by the end of next month.

"The unprecedented effects of COVID-19 have made our commitment to the passage of climate legislation all the more critical. Our ability to address daunting financial obstacles and ensure equitable public health in disenfranchised communities depends on the passage of bold climate action policy," Pacheco wrote in the statement. "Yet, we continue to fail to protect our public health from greenhouse gas emissions and fail to seize upon major economic opportunities that could be achieved if we act now."

The statement adds, "The sustainability revolution is at our doorstep. Independence from fossil fuel addiction is within our grasp. All we need is to demonstrate the political will to act."

The committee Pacheco chairs, the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, will hold a virtual hearing on Wednesday to "provide an opportunity for climate experts and public officials to testify publicly about the need for bold climate action," the chairman said.

Though there had been talk months ago about the House and Senate agreeing to hold formal sessions after the traditional July 31 end date stipulated in the joint rules, that possibility seems to have lost favor and lawmakers have repeatedly discussed July 31 as the hard deadline for major legislation.

With the clock running down, the Legislature must still put a permanent budget in place for the fiscal year that starts July 1 (a process that typically takes months on Beacon Hill), momentum is building around an economic development bill that could respond to the financial pain the pandemic has inflicted, and other major initiatives around transportation revenue and health care remain under active consideration.


Committee to Unleash Prosperity Hotline
Issue #56
Monday, June 22, 2020
The Blue State Depression


The new Department of Labor employment data confirms that when it comes to the economy, America is on two divergent paths. Blue states are losing jobs at record pace and red states are gaining them.

Ten states had unemployment rates in May above 15 percent. They are all states with Democratic governors, with the exception of Deep Blue Massachusetts with its liberal Republican governor Charlie Baker.

http://cltg.org/cltg/clt2020/images/States_Unemployment.png


Ranked from highest to lowest they are Nevada 25.3%, Hawaii (22.6%), Michigan (21.2%), California (16.3%), Rhode Island (16.3%), Massachusetts (16.3%), Delaware (15.8%), Illinois (15.2%), New Jersey (15.2%), Washington (15.1%).

The six states with the lowest unemployment rates are all red states – most of which never shutdown at all. These are Nebraska (5.2%), Utah (8.5 %), Wyoming (8.8%), Arizona (8.9%), Idaho (8.9%), MT (9.0%) , and North Dakota (9.1%).

This is not a coronavirus recession. It is a blue state lockdown recession. Democrats say they have shut down their economies for health reasons, but these are also the states that generally have had the highest death rates and the highest nursing home fatalities. So the blue states have not only failed to keep their citizens safe, they’ve ruined their economies as well. Democrats are promising to make America look more like New Jersey, Washington, and California. God forbid.


The Boston Herald
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Thanks Charlie Baker, jobless rate a national disgrace
By Howie Carr


We’re number four!

Gov. Charlie Baker must be so proud – as of last month, only three of the 50 states had a higher unemployment rate than the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ 16.3%, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I’ll bet you hadn’t heard that until right now, had you? Odd how almost all of Charlie Parker’s amen chorus in the Boston media gave these appalling statistics a good leaving-alone for the better part of a week.

I first read about the Massachusetts Misery in the Wall Street Journal last weekend, in an editorial pointing to the dire consequences of assorted governors’ catastrophic overreactions to the recent panic.

Headline: “Lockdown States and the Jobless/Job gains are much greater in states that reopened faster.”

Lockdown state? That’s Maskachusetts, right.

But as you would expect, the Boston media shrugged, as if to say, Nothing to see here.

Move along, folks, and pay no attention to all those boarded-up storefronts and looted buildings in Downtown Crossing and Back Bay, not to mention the thousands of shuttered mom-and-pop businesses on every main street and state highway in Massachusetts.

But look on the bright side, Governor – not only does the Mask State have the most disastrously high unemployment rate in the country among those run by “Republicans,” you’re the only GOP governor, RINO or otherwise, who’s in the top 10 for wrecking his state’s economy.

Well done, Tall Deval.

At his droning press conferences, Parker always like to talk about the “data,” so let’s look at some of it.

The two top states for unemployment last month are not surprising – tourist-dependent Nevada (25.3%) and Hawaii (22.6%). Then comes Michigan, controlled by the unhinged Democrat Gretchen Whitmer (21.2%), perhaps the nation’s most prominent Karen.

The Fourth Reich of Massachusetts is tied for fourth with California and Rhode Island.

(Among the other New England states, Maine unbelievably has the 10th lowest unemployment rate at 9.3%, just ahead of Connecticut at 9.4, while Vermont is 31st at 12.7 percent and New Hampshire came in at 39th with a jobless rate of 14.5%.

Massachusetts has a higher unemployment rate than even New York (14.5%), whose governor has more nursing-home blood on his hands than even Tall Deval. Even higher than New Jersey (15.2%), which is run by Tall Deval’s old Needham High and Harvard College buddy Phil Murphy, who may if possible be even more sanctimonious than Charlie himself.

These numbers are truly embarrassing, which is why you won’t be reading them in the Globe. The bow-tied bum kissers are on Team Lockdown too.

But wait, there’s more “data” out there. For instance, according to the state’s own stats, also released Friday, while the unemployment rate for the rest of the nation was finally plummeting in May, it rose in MA by one-tenth of a percentage point, from 16.2%.

Here’s another number from the May job report for MA: in the “Leisure & Hospitality” sector, over the last 12 months the state has shed 225,200 jobs – 59.9% of the workforce, gone, unemployed, adios.

But there’s more work yet for Charlie Parker et al. to do in finally finishing off the MA economy once and for all. And so his energy secretary, Climate Katie Theoharides, said last week that she and her boss remain totally committed to doubling the state’s gasoline tax next year – it’s an “investment,” you see.

The hacks call it the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) but it’s really just a TAX.

The TCI will be Baker’s next move to demolish what remains of the Dreaded Private Sector, in order to enrich even further the bloated hackerama, which, by the way, has suffered almost no layoffs, and none whatsoever in the most worthless payroll-patriot-infested agencies like UMass, Massport and the courts.

Meanwhile, MA is number four in joblessness – quite an accomplishment for Baker, absolutely decimating what had been a fairly decent economy in a matter of weeks, in order to deal with an epidemic centered on nursing homes heavily-misregulated by this same governor who tried to cover up his incompetence and corruption by putting a million people out of work.

Latest MA death statistics as of Tuesday: 7,617 deaths, of which 4,956 have occurred in those state-regulated nursing homes. Only 123 people under the age of 50 have died, and the average age of the decedents remains 81.

For this, Charlie Parker murdered the state’s economy.

And yet for all his reckless depredations, we still only have the nation’s fourth highest unemployment rate.

C’mon Tall Deval, we all know you can do an even worse job. Just concentrate on those key industries – “indices,” as you called them Tuesday. And you can encourage more rioting and looting – excuse me, “large gatherings.”

Maskachusetts – we can do better. We can get the unemployment rate up to 20%!


State House News Service
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
House Passes $1.1 Bil Budget to Cover COVID-19 Costs
State in "Race" to Net Federal Reimbursements
By Colin A. Young and Chris Van Buskirk

A $1.1 billion budget bill is on its way to the Senate after the House passed the legislation Wednesday and added on an additional $17.5 million in COVID-19 spending.

Passage of the legislation comes as Gov. Charlie Baker has poked lawmakers to quickly get it to his desk so that the state can take advantage of federal reimbursements for costs related to the respiratory virus. The House approved the bill on a 158-0 vote.

Before the vote, Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Aaron Michlewitz laid out for representatives what the $1.1 billion COVID-19 spending bill entails.

"Today we are taking one step closer and helping relieve the financial burden that COVID-19 has inflicted while also helping some prepare for the coming months, as the virus continues to inflict pain and with a vaccine still a ways away from being a reality," he said.

The chairman said the bill includes $350 million for personal protective equipment, $139 million in increased rates and add-ons for human service providers, $93 million for human service provider incentive pay, $85 million for field hospitals and shelters, $44 million for contact tracing efforts, and more funding for child care providers, food security programs, emergency housing, and "a dedicated fund to address statewide efforts on racial disparities in COVID health care access."

"Collectively, these pieces represent a broad range of items that will help a wide variety of people and organizations that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 outbreak," Michlewitz said.

Rep. Christine Barber, who participated in the session by phone Wednesday, thanked the speaker and Ways and Means chairman for dedicating money in the bill to the Health Care for All helpline, which helps people enroll for health care. She said the helpline fields more than 20,000 calls each year, half of which are in Spanish or Portuguese.

"As you can imagine, since COVID-19 calls to the helpline have increased exponentially as thousands of people are in need of health care for the first time," Barber said. "I know many of us have relied on the helpline to aid our constituents, and the funding in this bill helps to increase the capacity to help people who lost their job and their employer-sponsored coverage and need help finding insurance coverage for the first time. They're helping people who have never had coverage but because of the crisis are now trying to enroll."

Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier filed an unsuccessful amendment that would have directed the commissioner of revenue to send stimulus checks to state residents who file taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. People who have an ITIN are disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits and stimulus checks from the CARES Act. There was no direct vote on the amendment, and it was dispensed with in a larger amendment.

The Pittsfield Democrat's amendment would have sent qualified ITIN taxpayers $1,200 if filing individually or $2,400 if filing jointly, with an additional $500 for each dependent. Farley-Bouvier said if a U.S. citizen files their taxes with someone who is an ITIN holder, they and their children will become ineligible for unemployment benefits and stimulus checks.

"It's cruel and it's stupid," she told the News Service after the session ended. "The issue of how we treat immigrants justly and fairly and how their wellbeing is connected to the rest of the commonwealth's being is a conversation that needs to keep happening."

Michlewitz said it was important for the House to pass the bill Wednesday to secure Massachusetts' place in line for federal reimbursement of COVID-related costs.

"As the federal government is inundated with reimbursement requests, it is vital that we maximize our options and take advantage of the FEMA funds while we can. That is why it is so critical that we pass this today and get it closer to the governor's desk, so that we do not fall far behind other states in the race for federal reimbursement," Michlewitz said.

Last week, the governor prodded lawmakers to act on the supplemental budget bill he filed in May, saying that "the clock's ticking" and his administration cannot seek money from available federal pools to cover COVID-related expenses until the Legislature finalizes the bill.

The federal funding will also help Massachusetts deal with the budgetary abyss it faces for fiscal 2021, which will start July 1 with a temporary budget in place while lawmakers try to figure out how to budget for the next year now that a recession has washed over the state.

"Our continued struggle with the Commonwealth fiscal outlook, creating so much uncertainty, makes it even more important to use these federal funds in a timely manner so our most vulnerable population can take advantage of it," Michlewitz said Wednesday.

Separately Wednesday, Michlewitz told the News Service that the House Ways and Means Committee will not have a full-year budget proposal ready by July 1, the deadline given to the committee in a set of emergency rules adopted by the House in May.


State House News Service
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
House Budget Appears Unlikely by July 1 Deadline
Heffernan Sees "One or More" Interim Budgets
By Matt Murphy and Michael P. Norton


Already behind schedule in May, the House adopted emergency rules to govern its operations during the pandemic, including a new target date for Democratic leaders to produce an annual state budget.

But with that new July 1 deadline approaching, House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz told the News Service Wednesday that his committee does not expect to present a full-year spending plan by next week.

The House will have to "move off" that date as it continues to try to anticipate how the economy will react to the slow reopening of businesses and the threat of a second wave of the coronavirus in the fall, Michlewitz said. There is also the possibility that Congress will come up with additional federal relief that could dramatically change the state's fortunes, although the outcome of those talks remains uncertain.

The rules package adopted in May called for the Ways and Means Committee to produce a fiscal 2021 budget bill by the time the new fiscal year begins on July 1. Leaders are now looking into whether that rule must be changed, or whether the House's passage of a $5.25 billion interim budget filed by Gov. Charlie Baker to keep government funded through July can be interpreted to satisfy the requirement.

Emergency rule 15 states, " ... the committee on Ways and Means shall report the General Appropriation Bill by July 1, 2020."

Baker on Tuesday reinforced the uncertainty with which state budget officials are operating. He specifically brought up the fact that the state delayed the April 15 income tax filing deadline until July 15.

"The problem with that is we don't know what actually is going to get paid for those tax payments that were due in April until people file in July, so that's a big open open question about what the close of fiscal '20 looks like and the open of fiscal '21 looks like," Baker said.

Baker also said the pandemic's nature and its impact on the economy makes traditional forecasting difficult.

"We don't have a good sort of vision into tax revenue for the next fiscal year yet, and it's going to take a little while to get there," Baker said. "The folks in the Legislature are moving a one-twelfth budget, which we filed several days ago to ensure that payments continue into July, but they and we both recognize that we're not going to know exactly where we are on the budget until we get a little more information."

Baker said he was "optimistic" that Congress would come through with additional aid for states, and described his administration as "very engaged" with the state's Congressional delegation and "others" on that front.

In a joint letter to Michlewitz and Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues, Treasurer Deb Goldberg and Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan on June 8 said the state received $2.46 billion in funding from the federal CARES Act to pay for the state's emergency COVID-19 expenditures.

The state's top finance officials noted that to manage cash flows the state had entered into a line of credit with commercial banks for up to $1.75 billion and highlighted a new state law authorizing the Treasury to borrow in anticipation of revenues, if necessary, with the funds needing to be paid back by June 30, 2021.

"The Commonwealth currently anticipates that it will have sufficient liquidity to meet ordinary treasury and cash flow needs for FY20 and FY21 through the existing liquidity and credit facilities and access to the capital markets," Heffernan and Goldberg wrote.

Treasury officials also say the state is eligible to borrow up to $7.86 billion under the Federal Reserve's Municipal Liquidity Facility program to help states with cash flow needs due to the later tax filing deadline.

State Treasury officials told the News Service Wednesday that they will be able to make the final monthly fiscal 2020 local aid payment to cities and towns next week without needing to resort to short-term borrowing.

During an investor call this month, Heffernan said he expected "one or more" interim budgets to be approved to keep state spending flowing while a fiscal 2021 budget is developed and approved by the Legislature. The first interim budget could be enacted in the Senate on Thursday and sent to Baker's desk.

Despite collapsing state tax revenues, the Baker administration opted against a formal downward revision of fiscal 2020 tax collections, which could have triggered the need for immediate spending cuts or other budget-balancing plans. A revision to the fiscal 2021 revenue estimate is expected, though, once an annual budget bill starts to advance in the Legislature.

Baker in January filed a $44.6 billion fiscal 2021 budget, which remains under review in the House.


State House News Service
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
House, Senate Agree on Road Funding, MBTA Board
Chapter 90 Cut to $200 Mill, FMCB Extended One Year
By Chris Lisinski


House and Senate leaders reached an agreement Thursday to keep the MBTA's Fiscal and Management Control Board in place for another year and to scrap a planned increase in road and bridge maintenance funding, effectively sealing the fate of the annual reimbursement program.

After weeks of disagreement between the two branches, the Senate adopted what one top lawmaker called a "compromise" that will direct $200 million toward the Chapter 90 program next fiscal year and will extend the about-to-expire board tasked with overseeing and managing the T until June 30, 2021.

Settling on a $200 million allocation toward road repairs represents a retreat from the $300 million that both the House and Senate had already approved in earlier legislation, reducing the funding level to where it has remained almost every single year for the past decade.

During a Thursday session where the Senate agreed to the compromise bill (H 4803), Transportation Committee Co-chair Sen. Joseph Boncore said he was "dismayed" to bring forward the lower amount of funding but felt it was important to reach a compromise quickly because of the "urgency of this matter."

Cities and towns each year seek clearance on the funding by spring and this year talks spilled into summer.

"While I commit to my colleagues in this chamber to continue to work to ensure we're spending appropriate amounts of money -- and amounts of money we can spend without raising revenue -- as I stated before, I think we can't delay any longer," Boncore said on the Senate floor. "We've asked municipalities to put off contracts for too long. This is far later than we've ever done a Chapter 90 bond authorization since I've been the chairman."

Gov. Charlie Baker originally proposed funding the Chapter 90 program at $200 million next year. In March, the House bumped the amount up to $300 million as part of its version of Baker's multi-year $18 billion transportation bond bill. The Senate did not act on the matter until June, when it also approved $300 million in a separate bill.

However, House leaders began to cast doubt over the state's ability to afford the additional bonding amid a pandemic-fueled recession without a package of tax and fee hikes they approved -- hikes that the Senate has left untouched for months.

"We increased Chapter 90 at that point in time, but we had a way to pay for it," Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said earlier this month. "We had mechanisms to pay for it. We're in the midst of dealing with potentially $6 to $8 billion dollars in a shortfall of revenue for (fiscal year) 2021, so it's a little perplexing to figure out how we're going to be doing that and raising Chapter 90 without using the revenue sources that have been put out there by the House."

House leaders appeared to be prodding the Senate to join them in passing a major tax package, and it's unclear whether the Senate's retreat on Chapter 90 funding means that branch has given up on tax-raising initiatives to fund transportation this year.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said his caucus supports $300 million for the program and said the House had already approved hundreds of millions of dollars more in other bond authorizations, such as a more than $1 billion climate resiliency program, that have not been scaled back amid the current economic climate.

"The members of this chamber unanimously endorsed the proposal that was brought forth by (Boncore) with regard to $300 million for this appropriation, and we did so with an understanding of the urgency that he referred to but also the importance of that funding to provide a stimulus for our economy at a time when it is urgently needed," he said.

The compromise reached Thursday also stabilizes uncertainty surrounding the future of MBTA oversight, at least for another year.

The FMCB, which since its formation in 2015 has conducted dozens of public meetings every year to discuss and approve T budgets and projects, will expire on June 30 under current state law.

Without legislative agreement to extend or replace the board, control would revert to the Department of Transportation Board of Directors on July 1.

Lawmakers at first took different positions on how to handle the board. As part of its March tax bill, the House approved extending the FMCB another three to five years and adding seats for the city of Boston and another municipality in the T's service area.

A Senate bill approved this month would have created a brand-new, seven-seat MBTA Board of Directors with the state transportation secretary and someone appointed by the MBTA Advisory Board watchdog group serving as members.

"We will have to continue to work on that," Boncore said. "I am committed to seeing through and working out a compromise between the House and Senate over the next year because that extension will expire on June 30, 2021."

The new bill does not add any seats to the FMCB, but keeps it in place one additional year. It will still need to earn Gov. Charlie Baker's approval before the board is extended, and Baker previously recommended a seven-member new board similar to the Senate's original proposal.


State House News Service
Friday, June 26, 2020
Advances - Week of June 28, 2020


COVID-19 continues to run its invisible thread through the public health, economic and racial justice crises that are raging across the United States as summer gets underway. Three months into the pandemic, case counts are exploding in big states like California, Florida and Texas, threatening progress in others, like Massachusetts, and influencing the constant public, fiscal, and monetary policy responses to the evolving situation.

Mask-wearing has proven effective in slowing the spread of the deadly virus, but many Americans have chosen not to cover up or practice social distancing and the virus is leaping from one infected person to the next at an alarming rate. Concerns over a second wave in the fall have taken a backseat to the more immediate responses to the outbreaks across the country that are occurring right now.

In Massachusetts, state officials are monitoring the situation nationally, and reactions to it from Washington, while trying to focus on their own agenda with five weeks left for formal legislative sessions this year. The Senate plans next Thursday to pass its own versions of a $1.1 billion, House-approved, COVID-19 spending bill and a long-term capital bill to invest in technology upgrades that have become even more critical in pandemic times when people are working together, but on computers.

Here are some of the issues to watch in the week ahead:

-- COVID - PHASE 3: Pressure will surely begin to mount on Gov. Baker next week to announce whether Phase 3 of the state's economic reopening plan will get underway on Monday, July 6. That's the earliest possible date for the third phase, which will include the return of gyms, sporting events, casinos, museums, and movie theaters, but Baker has said that his decisions will be driven by data and not arbitrary dates.

"We do need to recognize and understand that this is still very much with us and for anybody who thinks this is over, I would just ask them to take a look at the data coming out of a lot of the states in the south and the southwest, which had a very positive set of statistics week over week after week after week in the months of April and May and now they're really starting to struggle," the governor said Friday. "I think we all need to understand that vigilance and caution with regard to this is -- and serious focus on the data and on the things that stop the spread -- is where we really need to play."

Though he has said decisions about additional reopening will take into consideration things like the positive test rate, number of patients hospitalized, the state's testing capacity and more, the governor said he is particularly interested in seeing two week's worth of public health data from days when indoor restaurant dining has been allowed. Indoor dining resumed June 22.

But the governor also acknowledged that, so far, the state's phased reopening process has not led to concerning spikes in cases. "As we continue to gradually reopen Massachusetts, our public health data continues to trend in the right direction," he said. -- Colin A. Young

-- THE BUDGET: Massachusetts begins fiscal 2021 on Wednesday with a $5.25 billion interim budget in place, a COVID-19 spending bill up for consideration in the Senate on Thursday, and Gov. Charlie Baker's $44.6 billion fiscal 2021 budget beginning its sixth month under review in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Before deciding on how to proceed, Baker and legislative leaders are waiting to see how tax collections perform in the wake of the decision to push the annual tax-filing deadline forward from April 15 to July 15.

They are also waiting to see when and whether Congress will pass another major stimulus bill providing additional support to individuals, businesses, and state and local governments struggling due to the pandemic's impacts.

The House, which usually holds its annual budget deliberations in April, set a July 1 deadline for its Ways and Means Committee to recommend a post-pandemic fiscal 2021 budget, but committee chairman Rep. Aaron Michlewitz told the News Service this week that his panel's General Appropriations Act recommendation won't be ready by that deadline.

For the moment, state government appears set up to get through July on its interim budget. After that, it's not clear whether the House and Senate will be able to quickly agree on a fiscal 2021 budget before the end of next month or whether they will need to suspend their rules to facilitate consideration of the budget, and perhaps other matters, sometime after July 31. - Michael P. Norton

-- LOCAL ROAD FUNDING/MBTA BOARD COMPROMISE: The House and Senate each need to take one more vote to finalize a compromise they struck during the week over local road and bridge maintenance funding and MBTA oversight. Under the compromise, annual funding for the Chapter 90 reimbursement program would remain at $200 million -- not increase to $300 million as each branch initially supported before the House walked back its position amid concerns over revenue -- and the T's Fiscal and Management Control Board that expires June 30 would remain in place one year longer.

The potential resolution comes at the 11th hour for both issues: cities and towns typically expect an annual authorization for Chapter 90 in the spring so they can seek bidders and plan out construction seasons, and financial control and oversight of the T will revert to the Department of Transportation Board of Directors starting Wednesday without a legislative solution in place.

MassDOT's board may still wind up in control for some time, given that Gov. Charlie Baker will have 10 days to review whatever hits his desk and that he has not yet indicated if he supports a one-year stopgap extension of the existing board. Transportation officials scheduled the next MassDOT board meeting for July 27, creating a weeks-long cushion before an extension of the FMCB would need to take effect. - Chris Lisinski

-- POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY REFORMS: Enacting reforms to hold police accountable for their behavior is a goal of some that is consuming much of the political oxygen on Beacon Hill as massive demonstrations against police violence and systemic racism continue to take place across the state.

Several policy points have emerged as leading ideas to tackle the issue and the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus is behind most of them, pushing their 10-point plan to address racial justice. Gov. Charlie Baker last week presented a bill (H 4794) that would start an effort to prevent police violence and improve transparency by implementing a licensing system that would allow the state to decertify officers who commit certain acts of misconduct. The bill, which remains in committee, would create a Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee charged with certifying all officers.

In the Legislature, Rep. Liz Miranda (D-Roxbury) and Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton) filed a bill (HD 5128/SD 2968) that would prohibit the use of excessive force by police and require law enforcement agencies to report officer-involved injuries or deaths. House Speaker Robert DeLeo also pledged to get legislation to Baker's desk by July 31 banning the use of chokeholds and creating an independent office to enforce policing standards and conduct. DeLeo tapped Judiciary Committee Chair Claire Cronin of Easton to work on a bill.

Senate President Karen Spilka put Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz in charge of an advisory group on racial justice to review policy responses that could be taken up this session. As the calendar turns to July, the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee is working on a date for a public hearing on Baker's bill and perhaps others. - Chris Van Buskirk

-- UMASS FALL PLANS: The University of Massachusetts Boston has announced that it will stay remote for the fall semester, and UMass Lowell plans to return to on-campus instruction, with more details to be announced on July 1, a spokeswoman said. The two other undergraduate UMass campuses are almost ready to announce their fall plans.

At the flagship campus in Amherst, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy "will determine a final plan by June 30," and UMass Dartmouth officials say they'll announce their plans early in the week. UMass and other public higher education institutions are expecting to face multiple years of financial challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the educational and public health implications of repopulating their campuses with students who will be coming from all directions. They'll have to weigh budgetary matters, including the revenues associated with room and board and the costs of whatever new precautions are needed to bring students back safely. - Katie Lannan

-- FOUR BALLOT QUESTIONS: With the Legislature showing little interest in passing alternative proposals, four campaigns hoping to put proposed laws before voters in November face the final step on the path to the ballot. Campaigns already had to submit at least 13,347 valid signatures from Massachusetts voters to local election officials for certification, and now they must file the certified signatures with Secretary of State William Galvin's office by Wednesday.

Supporters of two of the initiatives, one implementing ranked-choice voting in the state and the other expanding access to automobile telematic data, touted their submission of more than the required amount of signatures to local offices. A campaign pushing for increased funding for nursing homes submitted just under 20,000 signatures for certification and is hoping to qualify for the ballot. The campaign behind a question that would allow more food stores to sell beer and wine has been quiet about their chances of clearing the required threshold. - Chris Lisinski and Michael P. Norton

-- SOLDIERS' HOME REFORMS: Gov. Baker added another item to the late-session legislative agenda this week, filing a bill that, among other oversight reforms, would require new state inspections at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home and change how its superintendent is appointed.

A scathing report released this week knocked the homes's leadership for errors leading up to the death of at least 76 veterans with COVID-19. Baker said when he filed the bill that he wanted "prompt enactment," but his bill received a mixed response upon arrival.

He filed the bill in the Senate, where President Karen Spilka has said lawmakers should take action. But in the House, Speaker Robert DeLeo thinks lawmakers should undertake their own probe before acting. When the report was released, Baker said he'd accept and implement all of its recommendations. Not all of them are being pursued through legislation, though, and one in particular -- the recommendation that future soldiers' home superintendents be licensed nursing home administrators -- is emerging as a potential pressure point.

The administration said it plans to post the Holyoke superintendent's job with "a preference for hiring a licensed nursing home administrator," but Baker isn't seeking to enshrine the qualification as a statutory requirement.

Attorney General Maura Healey, who's also investigating the home, appears to be among those who disagree with that approach. "If a license requirement is necessary to ensure a baseline level of care at every other long-term care facility in our state, then why would we compromise that standard when it comes to caring for our veterans?" she said in a statement. - Katie Lannan

-- TRANSPORTATION POLICY/FUNDING: At the start of 2020, transportation funding and policy appeared to represent the largest and most important topic that the Legislature would address this year. The pandemic quickly changed that and heading down the stretch toward July 31 it seems possible that lawmakers are poised to just punt some of the once-critical issues into 2021.

The House in March approved an $18 billion transportation bond bill and a $500 million tax and fee package designed, in part, to improve MBTA, regional transit and other transportation services. The Senate hasn't taken up either of those bills, although Senate President Spilka has expressed interest in passing a bond bill.

House leaders have prodded the Senate to pass a transportation finance bill, saying a $300 million local road and bridge repair agenda could be supported with more revenues. This week, however, in a response that might indicate where senators stand on new taxes right now, the Senate opted to cut the Chapter 90 program authorization back to $200 million.

For the moment at least, the situation on the ground has also changed, with fewer riders using the MBTA and traffic volumes down as many workers continue to do their jobs from home. - Michael P. Norton

-- HOUSE RESPONSE ON HEALTH CARE: Attention on the health care front now turns to the House for its response to a Senate-approved health care bill (S 2769) enshrining access to telehealth, making scope-of-practice adjustments and outlining an approach to out-of-network billing. However, the legislation's fate may already be sealed as a result of infighting among the Democrats who hold supermajorities in both chambers.

The heads of the Health Care Financing Committee, Sen. Cindy Friedman and Rep. Daniel Cullinane, spent the week trading public barbs, with the House accusing the Senate of "obstruction" by pushing its legislative priorities through channels outside the committee, and the Senate responding by questioning the House's commitment to achieving a resolution on health care bills.

If the branches remain at odds and cannot find agreement by the end of formal lawmaking business -- currently slated for July 31 -- it will be the second straight session that Democratic efforts to reform health care broke down.

Senators next week are following up their health care bill's passage with a comprehensive listening session on Monday that will shed more light on the health care landscape in Massachusetts, where providers are reeling from the negative fiscal consequences of pandemic response. - Chris Lisinski

-- MAIL-IN VOTING TALKS: The window is narrowing for a legislative panel still privately negotiating an agreement on expanding the use of vote-by-mail in Massachusetts this election season.

Both the House and Senate bills (H 4778 / S 2764) call for Secretary of State William Galvin to send every registered voter an application for a mail-in ballot by July 15, though they differ in whether that first batch of mail would include applications for both the primary and general election or just for the primary.

Galvin is close to finalizing the ballots for this year's cycle, too: the State Ballot Law Commission issued decisions Friday on eligibility challenges filed against five candidates, and four potential ballot questions must submit signatures to the secretary's office by Wednesday to go before voters on Nov. 3.

Greater use of mail-in ballots will likely be a key factor in the Sept. 1 primary election and Nov. 3 general election as voters grapple with concerns about COVID-19 transmission, particularly if Massachusetts experiences a second wave of cases this fall. - Chris Lisinski

-- DROUGHT/MOSQUITOES: The recent scarcity of rain could be helping to keep the mosquito population down but has also driven the Greater Boston area into abnormal dryness, with parts of northern, central and western Massachusetts experiencing a moderate drought.

The conditions are being watched closely for impacts on agriculture, fire dangers, and water supplies - some local systems have begun instituting restrictions on water use. On Wednesday, the Massachusetts Drought Management Task Force recommended moving to a Level 2 Drought Condition, formerly a drought warning, for the West, Connecticut River, Central and Northeast regions.

On Beacon Hill, a Senate approved a bill designed to modernize the state's approach to controlling mosquitoes, and by extension the deadly viruses the insects can transmit. It remains pending before the House. The bill is based on legislation Gov. Charlie Baker filed in April and would give the State Reclamation and Mosquito Control Board new powers to fight mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile Virus and Eastern equine encephalitis when the Department of Public Health determines there is an elevated risk.

"Many cities and towns have not joined a mosquito control project," Gov. Charlie Baker wrote when he submitted his bill in April. "In these parts of the Commonwealth, there is no entity -- state, regional or local -- that can engage in mosquito control. While a town by town approach does allow for maximum local input into mosquito control, unfortunately mosquitos and viruses do not respect borders." - Michael P. Norton


The New Boston Post
Sunday, June 21, 2020
Want To Grow the Massachusetts Republican Party?
Run For Local Office, Politicians Say
By Tom Joyce


Massachusetts is one of the most heavily Democratic states in the country. What can Republicans do about it?

Not much, at the moment. But some state Republican officials see a longer-term strategy.

Before the GOP can make meaningful inroads in state and federal offices, they say, the party may need to make more meaningful inroads closer to home.

“Running for local office is the most effective activism a Republican can do,” said Jim Lyons, chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, in an email message to New Boston Post. “By running, and winning, you create a team at the local level that can fight against ill-conceived overrides, stifling zoning laws, and useless plastic bag bans, just to name a few issues. And it always helps for statewide candidates to have that Republican selectman as a local contact, and eventually, that Republican selectman could become a governor or a United States senator, as has happened in the past.”

The party has attracted a number of first-time candidates for relatively high office in recent years, most of whom have lost. But there is another way. As Lyons notes, prominent Massachusetts Republicans got their start in local politics.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s first elected office was on the board of selectmen (the board that oversees day-to-day affairs in most towns in the state) in Swampscott. Former U.S. Senator Scott Brown started lower than that — he was first elected to the board of assessors (which oversees property valuations) in Wrentham, and later won a seat on the town’s board of selectmen. He used the selectman’s seat to win a state representative seat, later became a state senator, and in 2011 got elected to the U.S. Senate.

Former Governor Paul Cellucci also worked his way up. In his early 20s he served as a member of the Hudson Charter Commission and then got elected to the town’s board of selectmen. From there he went from state representative to state senator to lieutenant governor to governor.

More recently, Patrick O’Connor of Weymouth and Ryan Fattman of Sutton, now Republican state senators, started in town politics. O’Connor’s first elected position was on the Weymouth town council; Fattman’s first was on the Sutton Board of Selectmen.

For those aiming higher: President Calvin Coolidge got his start in elected politics on the Northampton City Council. His stops along the way included both chambers on Beacon Hill, lieutenant governor, governor, and vice president of the United States. (When Warren Harding died, he became president, and then was elected in his own right.)

To be sure, that was 100 years ago, when Massachusetts was a largely Republican state.

Today, Democrats have a supermajority in the state legislature. (The margin is 4 to 1 in the state House of Representatives, 9 to 1 in the state Senate.) All nine members of the U.S. House of Representatives and both U.S. senators are Democrats. The last Republican members of the U.S. House from Massachusetts left Congress in 1997. And the last time Massachusetts voted for a Republican for president was 1984 — the year Ronald Reagan won 49 states.

Breaking through can be hard — which is why some GOP officials say start small.

Oftentimes, town elections don’t attract many candidates. In some cases, races either don’t have any names on the ballot or don’t have enough names to fill all of the seats in question.

For example, later this month, on June 30, the town of Dennis on Cape Cod plans to hold a town election, but there is no name on the ballot for school committee. In Westport, only one candidate for constable will appear on the June 23 ballot despite voters being allowed to pick two. Stow’s June 27 ballot has no one running for assessor or housing authority. Hull’s June 23 ballot has no one running to be on the planning board or the board of trustees of the public library. And on East Brookfield’s June 29 ballot, there are no candidates for selectmen, board of health, planning board, finance committee, cemetery commissioner, trustee of shade tree & cemetery funds, or tree warden.

Similar under-filled ballots appear in annual town elections every year.

State Representative Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk) says he is passionate about getting more Republicans to pursue local office. One problem the MassGOP has faced for years, he says, is “an inability to nurture a strong bench for higher office.”

Dooley got his start in local politics as the town clerk in Norfolk. Then he got elected to the school committee.

He offers a few reasons why other Republicans should think small.

“First, as the party of small government — we should be embracing the ability to manifest change and promote fiscal responsibility at the level where we can make the greatest impact — our own communities,” Dooley said in an email message to New Boston Post.

“Second, while certainly not required, acquiring the experience of navigating the political landscape of town politics, understanding local needs, forging relationships, while gaining name recognition and respect with your constituents gives one a tremendous advantage when the opportunity arises to run for higher political office,” he said in early June. “We saw this play out a couple of weeks ago in the two state senate races where we got trounced in two districts we previously held by opponents who had local experience while our candidates did not.”

The races Dooley referred to occurred on Tuesday, May 19.

In the Plymouth & Barnstable District, Falmouth Democratic selectman Susan Moran beat Bourne lawyer Jay McMahon, the Republican nominee, 55 to 45 percent. In the Second Hampden and Hampshire District, John Velis, a Democratic state representative from Westfield, defeated John Cain, a Republican businessman from Southwick, 64 to 36 percent.

Since then, Republicans lost another seat in a race where their nominee had never held elected office. On June 2, longtime Taunton school committee member and former Massachusetts Teachers Association president Carol Doherty, a Democrat, defeated Taunton Republican Kelly Dooner in a race to fill a seat in the Bristol Third District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Doherty got 57 percent of the vote to Dooner’s 43 percent. The seat was previously held by a Republican, Shaunna O’Connell, now the mayor of Taunton.

Dooley says getting more people elected to office — at any level — is the best way for the MassGOP to counter the Democrats’ stranglehold on the state.

“It is critical for Republicans to have a strong presence in this state if for no other reason than one-party rule destroys democracy,” Dooley said in the email message. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We need to embrace this notion of good governance and build partnerships up and down the political spectrum. This model takes time but it is the only tried and true formula — and as we sit on the edge of a precipice, we must embrace this strategy of growth before it is too late.”

Getting elected to any contested office is hard. But getting elected locally is often easier than aiming first for Boston or Washington.

State Senator Ryan Fattman — one of only four Republicans in the 40-seat Massachusetts Senate — was 21 when he was elected to the Sutton Board of Selectmen in 2006.

“I think if you look at the evolution of how parties are built that’s how they start,” Fattman said. “When you start in your town, you build a rapport that transcends party politics. You may be from this party or that party but at the local level, there’s a lot of issues that are not party-based. It’s not a Republican issue or Democrat issue. It’s, ‘what does the town think of building a solar field?’

“They get to know you as a person outside of this grandiose hyperbolic political world we live in, and you can use that when running for office,” he added.

Fattman said he has supporters in his district who are registered Democrats — many of whom got to know him when he was a selectman in Sutton.

In Massachusetts town elections are nonpartisan. When candidates run for selectman, school committee, library trustee, or another position, no R or D appears next to their name on the ballot. So when people go to vote, they are not voting a party ticket.

Fattman also told New Boston Post that his experience in town politics helped prepare him for the State House.

“Without question,” he said. “I think it’s helpful about life. You learn about human nature and what’s important to people — and sometimes, you get surprised. It certainly takes a skill set that allows you to be able to listen to people’s concerns and apply them to solutions.”

In many communities, a board of selectmen like the one Fattman sat on has a mix of Democrats and Republican. Whatever their differences, the board members must find ways to work together to serve their community — which is preparation for life in the state Legislature.

State Representative David DeCoste (R-Norwell) says his time on the Norwell Board of Selectmen put him in a position to serve his community at the state level.

“I was better able to identify some of the needs locally,” DeCoste said. “When I ran, I was able to speak about, for instance, 40B abuse, and the need for higher local aid. As a Republican, we champion local aid over earmarks.”

Chapter 40B, which DeCoste referred to, is a piece of Massachusetts housing policy, which allows developers to avoid most local zoning rules as long as they set aside a portion of units in a development as below market rate. It’s a frequent topic in towns where there’s demand for buildable land.

DeCoste said he would like to see more people run for office, especially from viewpoints the left-leaning state lacks.

“I think more people who have a conservative outlook and have worked in the private sector should bring that point of view with them,” he said. “I also wish we’d see more former police and veterans run. We have a whole bunch of lawyers in the legislature, but very few veterans.”


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