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CLT UPDATE
Monday, October 12, 2020

It Always Starts This Way


Jump directly to CLT's Commentary on the News


Most Relevant News Excerpts
(Full news reports follow Commentary)

Despite all the gloom and doom among budget officials on Beacon Hill, Massachusetts tax collections continue to roll along surprisingly well.

The state Department of Revenue said on Monday that tax revenues in September were down 1.4 percent compared to the same month last year, but overall through the first three months of fiscal 2021 revenues were up 1 percent to $7.27 billion.

In a cryptic press release, the Department of Revenue said income taxes withheld from paychecks and meals taxes were down, while sales taxes, motor vehicle sales taxes, and corporate and business taxes were up. The press release said September typically accounts for 10 percent of the state’s annual revenue, although it cautioned that the numbers this September were probably lower than usual because the due date for payments of certain sales, meals, and room occupancy taxes had been put off until May.

The growth in tax revenue during the first quarter of the year is fairly amazing, given the coronavirus pandemic, the shutdown of much of the state and national economy, and the resulting high unemployment....

House and Senate lawmakers have been projecting a budget shortfall of $4 billion to $6 billion this fiscal year. House Speaker Robert DeLeo was the latest state leader to make that forecast, urging Democrats and Republicans in Washington to come together and pass another stimulus package.

“Without the assistance from Washington, which hasn’t been forthcoming so far, we’re very concerned,” DeLeo said.

What none of the state leaders has fully explained is how the shortfall projection can be so high if revenue numbers are keeping pace with last year. The possible answer: Either the revenue numbers are surprising everyone, or spending during the pandemic is running far above what it was last year.

CommonWealth Magazine
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
Mass. tax collections continue to roll along


A coalition of unions, community groups and faith groups is calling on Beacon Hill to ratchet up taxes on corporations and the state’s wealthiest to support the recovery from the economic impact of the coronavirus.

During a virtual meeting with lawmakers Thursday, members of the group Raise Up Massachusetts and the North Shore Labor Council said the economic fallout of the outbreak continues to impact low-income families.

The advocates suggested lawmakers increase taxes on corporations and wealthy shareholders to drum up money that will offset budget cuts and provide pandemic relief.

"Businesses should be expected to contribute more to support the communities they are profiting from," said Helina Fontes, a Lynn-based mental health advocate.

Increasing the tax on corporate profits from 8% to 9.5%, advocates say, could generate another $450 million to $525 million a year for the state’s coffers.

The groups also want the state to tax a portion of profits that corporations store away in offshore "tax havens" and increase the 5% state tax rate on "unearned income" for shareholders and other high-income individuals....

Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, have both suggested tax increases may be needed to offset the impact.

Liberal economists have also pushed plans on Beacon Hill to increase the state's personal income tax rate, which finally dropped to 5% this year nearly two decades after voters approved cutting the rate.

The Salem News
Saturday, October 3, 2020
Groups push corporate tax increases to fund recovery


From spending cuts to tax hikes, “every option” is on the table for lawmakers struggling to plug a gaping budget hole with tax revenues predicted to nose dive between $2.76 billion and $5.23 billion this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Even under the rosiest of projections, we still have some real difficult decisions to make in relation to trying to balance our books for FY 21,” House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz said.

“Every option is really on the table at the moment,” Michlewitz, a North End Democrat, added.

Gov. Charlie Baker has repeatedly said he would not support raising taxes amid a pandemic that has wrought the worst economic fallout in recorded history. Baker’s budget chief, Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan doubled down on that on Wednesday, telling reporters, “from what we can see, we won’t need to raise taxes.” The shortfall prediction comes from the Department of Revenue.

Raising progressive taxes like a wealth tax has gained popularity among left-leaning organizations recently.

“Cuts will not address the growing needs or help us prime our economy for a robust and just recovery. Only new, progressive revenue can do those things,” Marie-Francis Rivera of the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Police center said.

Last month, a group of more than 150 Massachusetts organizations sent a letter to lawmakers urging similar revenue-raising measures.

The state could draw on its $3.5 billion Rainy Day Fund to balance the budget or make spending cuts....

Tufts Center for State Policy Analysis, however, offered a more optimistic picture, predicting revenue will come in $1.6 billion below the January benchmark.

Executive Director Evan Horowitz encouraged lawmakers to rely on the state’s rainy day fund to balance the FY 21 budget and “avoid painful cuts.” Concerns about budget woes in FY 22 are “overstated,” he said.

The Boston Herald
Thursday, October 8, 2020
Spending cuts, tax hikes on the table


More than 100 major corporations and higher education institutions wrote to governors Thursday voicing "strong support" for an in-development regional effort to curb transportation greenhouse gas emissions that will raise gasoline prices.

The signatories, some of which rely on transportation infrastructure for their business, urged leaders of 12 states and the District of Columbia to sign a memorandum of understanding signaling their commitment to the Transportation and Climate Initiative, known as TCI.

The companies that signed on to the letter to Gov. Charlie Baker, letter by the sustainability nonprofit Ceres, included ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft, Wayfair, Novartis, DHL, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and Biogen....

If implemented, TCI would impose a cap on emissions from motor vehicles and require gasoline suppliers to purchase allowances. Parties negotiating the system estimate it could raise gas prices 5 to 17 cents per gallon and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenues.

State House News Service
Thursday, October 8, 2020
TCI Gets Corporate Push


State tax collections this fiscal year could range anywhere from $25.9 billion to $29.8 billion, according to estimates offered Wednesday by economic experts that point to a likelihood that the state will see a year-over-year decline in tax receipts.

The estimates all fall below the $31.15 billion revenue estimate that the Ways and Means Committee chairs and Gov. Charlie Baker's budget office agreed to in January, before COVID-19 took hold in the United States, leading to widespread business closures and restrictions and a steep economic downturn.

Ten months later, with the state still operating under temporary budgets, chairmen Sen. Michael Rodrigues and Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan convened a group of experts to offer their latest forecasts and help inform the eventual crafting of a spending plan for the remainder of fiscal 2021....

Reacting to Snyder's testimony, Rodrigues said, "I've never seen this large of a range before in forecasts."

The DOR forecasts are based on projections from economic vendors and tax collections for the first three months of fiscal 2021 -- $7.27 billion through September. The range Snyder offered would represent a drop of anywhere from 4.1 percent to 12.4 percent from fiscal 2020 collections, or $2.764 billion to $5.233 billion below initial fiscal 2021 estimates.

Like Snyder, others who testified stressed that the pandemic and efforts to control the virus will be major drivers of the economy's path going forward.

"If we can't get the spread of the virus down, we cannot maintain much confidence that we can safely return to a full-throated economic activity," said Jeffrey Thompson of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

State House News Service
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Most Experts See Year-Over-Year Tax Revenue Decline
Better Than April, But Updated Forecasts Are Still Dim


Economists painted a murky picture of the state's pandemic-battered economy on Wednesday, saying the depth of a revenue shortfall will depend on relief from Washington.

State budget writers, economists and legislative leaders said fallout from COVID-19 continues to dampen state revenues despite recent upticks in tax collections.

Revenue Commissioner Geoffrey Snyder told lawmakers during a live-streamed hearing that the Baker administration projected state revenues will decline between $2.8 billion to $5.2 billion this fiscal year. He said there is "considerable uncertainty" in the estimates....

Eileen McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, predicted a $3.9 billion drop in state tax revenues, which will grow without federal relief.

"Even if there is a fiscal aid package, the proposed funding may be insufficient, especially if it's not properly targeted to sustain the economy," she said....

"There's a lot of political uncertainty and social unrest," McAnneny said. "That's also contributing to people's unease about the future."

David Tuerck, president of the conservative Beacon Hill Institute, offered a more optimistic outlook, suggesting a decline in tax revenues of only around $1.3 billion.

State House News Service
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
State's economic outlook still murky
Sales tax revenues expected to take $900M hit this fiscal year


The coronavirus pandemic has cratered revenue for Massachusetts, and funding programs and making necessary changes are slamming into the hard wall of reality.

In one instance, a state agency is finding new ways to raise cash — which may not please Boston drivers.

A proposal by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation to add parking meters to certain neighborhoods could up the ante on the frustration of finding a spot....

Parking rates will run $1.25 per hour.

A Boston Herald editorial
Friday, October 9, 2020
Revenue shortfalls call the shots as Mass. moves forward


The number of Massachusetts workers counted as unemployed dropped by more than 250,000 over the past two months, a decline of more than a third that helped the state escape from a short streak of owning the worst jobless rate in the country.

About 114,000 more workers became employed in that span, too, a sign of continued steps toward recovery following the pandemic-related recession's low point in the spring.

But the improving jobs numbers and unemployment rate likely mask deeper, more lasting damage at both the state and federal level: many people are dropping out of the workforce altogether, hinting that some -- particularly women, who disproportionately fill caretaker roles -- have given up attempts to find employment amid slow hiring and uncertainty about the COVID-19 health outlook.

"It's a significant problem," Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President and CEO Eric Rosengren said in a speech on Thursday. "The longer the pandemic goes on, the more you're going to see people leaving the labor force, not only because they can't find a job, but because they have to care for either elderly parents, people that are sick because of the pandemic, or children that are not able to go to school because schools have been closed and there is not availability of daycare."

The trend, according to economist Alicia Sasser Modestino, indicates that the recent improvement in the state's unemployment situation might be "not as rosy as it might seem." ...

A survey Modestino conducted found that 13 percent of working parents either reduced their hours or lost their jobs because they had to take on child care duties during the pandemic. The effects were more concentrated among women, she said.

"Among women who became unemployed during the pandemic, 25 percent of them said it was solely due to child care," Modestino said.

In February, about 31 percent of Massachusetts claimants seeking unemployment benefits were women, according to Modestino. By July, that rate had jumped to more than 56 percent, "a tremendous shift."

State House News Service
Friday, October 9, 2020
Data Shows Many in Mass. Have Left the Workforce
Departures Don't Show Up in Improving Unemployment Rate


It's raining. But is it pouring?

Literal weather-wise, it's still dry, with a critical drought declared Friday in the southeastern part of the state and significant drought levels elsewhere. On the fiscal front, though, it's time for budget managers to figure out just how much the climate has dampened since Gov. Charlie Baker filed a $44.6 billion spending plan in January, way back when the anticipated 2.8 percent growth was considered modest after a couple years that ended with surpluses.

By the time Ways and Means Chairs Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Sen. Michael Rodrigues and Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan convened economic experts on Wednesday -- their third such huddle of this budget cycle (December, April and October) -- any expectation for the $31.15 in revenue collections that Baker built his budget around had evaporated.

Instead, the revenue projections that were described as "optimistic" during the summit were those that, if you were more a glass half-empty type, could also be called "least bleak."

That includes the $29.6 billion estimate put forth by Tufts University's Center for State Policy Analysis, and the $29.2 billion offered by the Beacon Hill Institute. The Beacon Hill Institute's number, representing a decline over last year's tax haul, could perhaps only be deemed optimistic in comparison to the forecasts already shared earlier in the day -- $27.27 billion from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, and a range of $25.9 billion to $28.37 billion from the state Department of Revenue.

However big the gap is, it'll be up to Michlewitz and Rodrigues to figure out how to plug it in the budget proposals they ultimately put forward for their respective branches to vote on. Whenever that ends up happening.

Their main choices: cutting spending to match available revenues, raising taxes -- an idea Heffernan threw cold water on, saying the administration doesn't see a need for tax hikes right now -- or dipping into the state's $3.5 billion rainy day fund.

Evan Horowitz, from the Center for State Policy Analysis, said the $1.6 billion hole he was projecting was small enough to "comfortably be filled" with money from the stabilization fund, buying time until the relatively sunnier days he envisions in fiscal 2022.

Treasurer Deb Goldberg, though, suggested some caution around tapping the rainy day fund as a first resort. Credit rating agencies, Goldberg said, want to see other steps taken before the umbrellas come out.

State House News Service
Friday, October 9, 2020
Weekly Roundup - In the Red


While an annual budget was due July 1 and people are now looking to see if the Corner Office next week will seek a third temporary budget to keep government operating in November, Baker budget chief Michael Heffernan on Wednesday said it was "still early" when asked if the governor would file an entirely new fiscal 2021 budget plan to take the place of the obsolete $44.6 billion budget he filed in January.

If Baker officially writes down state revenue expectations by Thursday, he has 15 days, or until the end of October, to publicly submit to the Legislature "corrective amendments" to his January budget. State finance law requires the administration to not only update state tax revenue expectations, but also expectations of federal receipts.

The amount of federal aid Massachusetts will receive this fiscal year is tied up in a perfect storm of pre-election Washington politics marked by continuing discussion of a stimulus bill, next week's vetting of a nominee who could shift the balance of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the fight for the presidency between Trump and Democrat Joseph Biden.

State House News Service
Friday, October 9, 2020
Advances - Week of Oct. 11, 2020


A federal court judge held off a ruling on a lawsuit that challenges a string of executive orders by Gov. Charlie Baker in response to the coronavirus pandemic and could have broad implications for governors’ actions across the nation.

Massachusetts District Court Judge William Young said he is “taking this matter under advisement” following a 35-minute virtual bench trial on Monday. Young did not say when he would render an opinion.

“Whatever I declare in this case, one would think that a like case could be brought three months, six months from now because there is no end in sight,” Young said during proceedings....

The 82-page complaint argues that the governor overstepped his authority by invoking the Civil Defense Act to justify his shutdown of businesses, schools and churches and placing restrictions on public gatherings at the onset of the pandemic in March.

The suit calls Baker’s order requiring people to wear masks “irrational, arbitrary and capricious.” His lawyers’ argument purports the governor’s mask mandate and restrictions on assembly, particularly in churches, violate the First-Amendment rights of Vincent Delaney, a Peabody man who initiated the lawsuit.

“We risk suspending our constitutional liberties. This is not a minor issue that has been laid out here. This is a fundamental bedrock right about our country,” said attorney Thomas Mason....

Baker’s coronavirus response faces a similar challenge in the state’s Supreme Judicial Court . . .

The Boston Herald
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
No ruling yet on federal suit challenging Charlie Baker’s coronavirus restrictions


Is Charlie Baker a fiscal conservative?

Not really, according to a new report from the CATO Institute.

CATO put out its annual fiscal policy report card for each of the 50 state’s governors. Baker received a D.

After a career in the health care industry and state government, Charlie Baker was elected governor in 2014. He ran as a fiscal moderate and a social liberal.

He scored poorly on the CATO report mainly because of his support for a payroll tax to fund a new family medical and paid leave program.

When running for office in 2014, Baker said that he would not raise taxes, but he has broken that promise several times. Baker signed into law a tax on short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, and he has approved increases in online sales taxes. He has proposed increasing taxes on ride-sharing services, such as Uber. And in 2020, Baker proposed ‘real-time’ sales tax remittance to boost state revenues $300 million while raising compliance costs on businesses.

Baker’s largest tax increase came in July 2018, when he approved a 0.63 percent payroll tax on private employers to fund a new paid leave benefit. The law increased taxes on workers in the state by $750 million or more a year.

For reference, Republican governors Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and Phil Scott of Vermont earned an A and B, respectively.

The New Boston Post
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
CATO Institute Gives Charlie Baker A Poor Mark For Fiscal Responsibility


Its fund-raising has dwindled. Its share of registered voters statewide is at a seven-decade low. Its membership in the 40-seat state Senate is (back) down to four.

And looming above those Republican Party regressions is the schism between Charlie Baker, its popular second-term governor, and Jim Lyons, its staunchly pro-Trump party chairman.

Long the minority, the Massachusetts Republican Party is trying to avoid shrinking toward triviality this fall.

In a presidential election year when record numbers of people are expected to vote, the state GOP is hoping to protect its small delegation at the State House, but hasn’t grown its slate of challengers beyond those of recent years. How it ultimately fares Nov. 3 could help tip the direction of a state party whose divisions start at its very top....

Never a true threat to Democrats' grip on political power here, the state GOP also is battling within itself. Its top elected official, the moderate Trump critic Baker, has been at odds with a party leadership that’s adopted the president’s combative, more conservative tone, diverging on everything from fund-raising to the reopening of the state’s economy amid the pandemic.

Trump last month directly attacked Baker as a “RINO" (Republican in name only) after the governor bucked the president’s monthslong criticisms of mail-in balloting. The Massachusetts GOP later issued a statement backing Trump’s concerns by citing local criticisms of a newly launched ballot application portal.

The divide has meant Baker has all but disconnected from the state party apparatus he once led....

Within the state’s 200-seat Legislature, Republicans are challenging Democratic incumbents in 19 races, and the party has candidates running for seven open seats. They include Matt Kelly, who’s challenging Senator Becca Rausch in a district previously held by Republicans, and Susan Smiley, a state committeewoman, vying in an open Worcester County race.

It’s the same number of nonincumbent Republicans running as in 2016, and a drop from 2018′s midterm elections, which are generally viewed as more favorable to the GOP, when the party put up 24 challengers and 13 open-seat candidates....

As of August, the Massachusetts GOP this cycle had pulled $1.55 million into its federal account, which it can use for party operations. It’s an amount well behind the $5 million it raised during 2017 and 2018, and, party leaders say, tied to limitations brought on by the pandemic.

Compounding the money crunch, just 3,300 voters have registered with the GOP since Lyons was elected chairman, pushing its total to roughly 460,000 statewide. That’s less than 9.9 percent of all Massachusetts voters, the party’s lowest share since at least 1948.

The Boston Globe
Thursday, October 1, 2020
Divided between Baker and Trump, Mass. GOP
tries to avoid sliding into triviality in November


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

It has predictably started.  It always starts this way.  Always.

After months of denying tax hikes are under consideration, the trial balloons for coming tax hikes are being released.

In my commentary for the CLT Update of April 12, 2020 ("Never let a crisis go to waste") I wrote:

In his commentary on Tuesday ("The Endless Game of Whack-a-Tax") TV and radio pundit Jon Keller noted . . .

Keller asked rhetorically, "Could a resurgent economy amid public gratitude for state and local government’s handling of the crisis clear the way for a Prop 2˝ takedown?"

I expect that question will be broadened in the weeks and months ahead: Could a resurgent economy amid public gratitude for state and local government’s handling of the crisis clear the way for all sorts of tax increases?

I won't be surprised if a complacent, historically-challenged, and relieved public buys a promise that any and all tax hikes will be "only temporary, just to get us back on track after this crisis."

Crises by definition are temporary.  Taxes never are.

We taxpayers and taxpayer advocates know all too well, have learned that bitter lesson the hard way:  Any and all tax hikes inevitably mutate into forever. . . .

After CLT's two separate, onerous, and expensive statewide petition signature drives (1997-98 then again in 1999) and a successful state ballot campaign in 2000; after the Legislature then freezing our rollback of that "temporary" income tax hike in 2002, replacing it with its own "economic triggers" the income tax was finally returned to its historic rate of 5 percent just this yearTHIRTY YEARS after the promise of a "temporary, only 18-months, trust us, we promise!" tax hike.

Understandably, we won't be buying any more "temporary" tax hike deceptions.

"Never let a crisis go to waste."


Last Tuesday CommonWealth Magazine reported ("Mass. tax collections continue to roll along"):

Despite all the gloom and doom among budget officials on Beacon Hill, Massachusetts tax collections continue to roll along surprisingly well.

The state Department of Revenue said on Monday that tax revenues in September were down 1.4 percent compared to the same month last year, but overall through the first three months of fiscal 2021 revenues were up 1 percent to $7.27 billion.

In a cryptic press release, the Department of Revenue said income taxes withheld from paychecks and meals taxes were down, while sales taxes, motor vehicle sales taxes, and corporate and business taxes were up. The press release said September typically accounts for 10 percent of the state’s annual revenue, although it cautioned that the numbers this September were probably lower than usual because the due date for payments of certain sales, meals, and room occupancy taxes had been put off until May.

The growth in tax revenue during the first quarter of the year is fairly amazing, given the coronavirus pandemic, the shutdown of much of the state and national economy, and the resulting high unemployment....

House and Senate lawmakers have been projecting a budget shortfall of $4 billion to $6 billion this fiscal year. House Speaker Robert DeLeo was the latest state leader to make that forecast, urging Democrats and Republicans in Washington to come together and pass another stimulus package.

“Without the assistance from Washington, which hasn’t been forthcoming so far, we’re very concerned,” DeLeo said.

What none of the state leaders has fully explained is how the shortfall projection can be so high if revenue numbers are keeping pace with last year. The possible answer: Either the revenue numbers are surprising everyone, or spending during the pandemic is running far above what it was last year.

Nonetheless, according to The Salem News on October 3 ("Groups push corporate tax increases to fund recovery"):

A coalition of unions, community groups and faith groups is calling on Beacon Hill to ratchet up taxes on corporations and the state’s wealthiest to support the recovery from the economic impact of the coronavirus.

During a virtual meeting with lawmakers Thursday, members of the group Raise Up Massachusetts and the North Shore Labor Council said the economic fallout of the outbreak continues to impact low-income families.

The advocates suggested lawmakers increase taxes on corporations and wealthy shareholders to drum up money that will offset budget cuts and provide pandemic relief.

"Businesses should be expected to contribute more to support the communities they are profiting from," said Helina Fontes, a Lynn-based mental health advocate.

Increasing the tax on corporate profits from 8% to 9.5%, advocates say, could generate another $450 million to $525 million a year for the state’s coffers.

The groups also want the state to tax a portion of profits that corporations store away in offshore "tax havens" and increase the 5% state tax rate on "unearned income" for shareholders and other high-income individuals....

Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, have both suggested tax increases may be needed to offset the impact.

Liberal economists have also pushed plans on Beacon Hill to increase the state's personal income tax rate, which finally dropped to 5% this year nearly two decades after voters approved cutting the rate.

Did you catch that?  "Liberal economists have also pushed plans on Beacon Hill to increase the state's personal income tax rate, which finally dropped to 5% this year nearly two decades after voters approved cutting the rate."

Rise Up Massachusetts is the same Takers group that is responsible for the ongoing assault on the state's flat income tax, with it's now five-year push for a constitutional amendment that would open the door for a graduated income tax, which they cleverly termed the "Fair Share Amendment" — aka the "Millionaires Tax."  (See CLT's news release from August 5, 2015, five years ago when this latest assault was first proposed ("CLT still opposes Grad Tax schemes").  It is the same Takers group that forced paid leave with its new tax and minimum wage increases on employers large and small.

The Boston Herald reported on Thursday ("Spending cuts, tax hikes on the table"):

From spending cuts to tax hikes, “every option” is on the table for lawmakers struggling to plug a gaping budget hole with tax revenues predicted to nose dive between $2.76 billion and $5.23 billion this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Even under the rosiest of projections, we still have some real difficult decisions to make in relation to trying to balance our books for FY 21,” House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz said.

“Every option is really on the table at the moment,” Michlewitz, a North End Democrat, added.

Gov. Charlie Baker has repeatedly said he would not support raising taxes amid a pandemic that has wrought the worst economic fallout in recorded history. Baker’s budget chief, Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan doubled down on that on Wednesday, telling reporters, “from what we can see, we won’t need to raise taxes.” The shortfall prediction comes from the Department of Revenue.

Raising progressive taxes like a wealth tax has gained popularity among left-leaning organizations recently.

“Cuts will not address the growing needs or help us prime our economy for a robust and just recovery. Only new, progressive revenue can do those things,” Marie-Francis Rivera of the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Police center said.

Last month, a group of more than 150 Massachusetts organizations sent a letter to lawmakers urging similar revenue-raising measures.

The state could draw on its $3.5 billion Rainy Day Fund to balance the budget or make spending cuts....

Tufts Center for State Policy Analysis, however, offered a more optimistic picture, predicting revenue will come in $1.6 billion below the January benchmark.

Executive Director Evan Horowitz encouraged lawmakers to rely on the state’s rainy day fund to balance the FY 21 budget and “avoid painful cuts.” Concerns about budget woes in FY 22 are “overstated,” he said.

“Every option is really on the table at the moment,” House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz stated.

You too should be able to clearly see where this is heading.


The State House News Service reported on Thursday ("TCI Gets Corporate Push"):

More than 100 major corporations and higher education institutions wrote to governors Thursday voicing "strong support" for an in-development regional effort to curb transportation greenhouse gas emissions that will raise gasoline prices.

The signatories, some of which rely on transportation infrastructure for their business, urged leaders of 12 states and the District of Columbia to sign a memorandum of understanding signaling their commitment to the Transportation and Climate Initiative, known as TCI.

The companies that signed on to the letter to Gov. Charlie Baker, letter by the sustainability nonprofit Ceres, included ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft, Wayfair, Novartis, DHL, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and Biogen....

If implemented, TCI would impose a cap on emissions from motor vehicles and require gasoline suppliers to purchase allowances. Parties negotiating the system estimate it could raise gas prices 5 to 17 cents per gallon and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenues.

CLT is a member of the TCI opposition coalition comprised of limited taxes, limited government, free market organizations from the twelve states affected by this multi-state boondoggle instigated and led by Gov. Baker and Massachusetts.  We are in the process of drafting our response, which will be released very soon.

In the meantime you can contact members of the Climate Change Conference Committee and ask them to reject empowering the governor to unilaterally impose TCI on Massachusetts motorists.  Gov. Baker has demonstrated shown what he does with unlimited power.

In my research of Ceres, the organization and its virtue-signaling deep-pockets sponsors behind this carbon tax scheme being promoted as the Transportation Climate Initiative, I came across the following news release they issued.  It's an eye-opening indication of where it is coming from.

Press Release:  We Stand In Solidarity With The Black Community [website] | June 3, 2020

We have long seen that the impacts of the climate crisis, water pollution and scarcity, and other environmental harms fall disproportionately on the poor, marginalized, and communities of color. The compounding Covid-19 pandemic has shined a similar light on the deep and long standing fissures of racial inequality that are so searingly evident today and must be urgently addressed.

Systemic racism demands systemic solutions. And they must be based on listening, learning, empathy, solidarity, and action. We hear you, and stand with you.

Now "Climate Change" has become a "social justice" and "racial equality" crisis.  If you oppose gas tax hikes you must be a "racist"!  Watch for more of this in the future.

It should come as no surprise that Ceres is headquartered at 99 Chauncy Street in Boston.  It's second national office is located in "progressive" San Francisco, California.


In the CLT Update of September 23 ("The Glass Half Fill") I noted:

A CLT member who is an economist pointed out to me in a phone call how important the labor force participation rate is while determining unemployment numbers.  If someone is out of work and seeking employment they are included in the unemployment rate.  If they are unemployed and have given up seeking a job they are not included in the unemployment rate:

What Is the Labor Force Participation Rate?

The Labor Force Participation Rate is a measure of an economy’s active workforce.  The formula for the number is the sum of all workers who are employed or actively seeking employment divided by the total noninstitutionalized, civilian working-age population.  [The civilian noninstitutional population refers to people 16 years of age and older residing in the 50 States and the District of Columbia who are not inmates of institutions (penal, mental facilities, homes for the aged), and who are not on active duty in the Armed Forces.]

Here are the monthly labor force participation rates in Massachusetts since the China Covid-19 Pandemic arrived:

Labor Force Participation Rate for Massachusetts (LBSSA25)
https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/LBSSA25

  Feb 2020: 

67.9
Mar 2020: 66.8
Apr 2020: 60.3
May 2020: 62.6
Jun 2020: 65.1
Jul 2020: 64.9
Aug 2020: 62.6

While the official unemployment rate in Massachusetts is decreasing, as you can see in the above Federal Reserve Bank chart, so too is the labor force participation rate — which automatically reduces the unemployment rate as fewer are actually seeking jobs.

On Friday the State House News Service confirmed our speculation last month in its report "Data Shows Many in Mass. Have Left the Workforce; Departures Don't Show Up in Improving Unemployment Rate":

The number of Massachusetts workers counted as unemployed dropped by more than 250,000 over the past two months, a decline of more than a third that helped the state escape from a short streak of owning the worst jobless rate in the country.

About 114,000 more workers became employed in that span, too, a sign of continued steps toward recovery following the pandemic-related recession's low point in the spring.

But the improving jobs numbers and unemployment rate likely mask deeper, more lasting damage at both the state and federal level: many people are dropping out of the workforce altogether, hinting that some -- particularly women, who disproportionately fill caretaker roles -- have given up attempts to find employment amid slow hiring and uncertainty about the COVID-19 health outlook.

"It's a significant problem," Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President and CEO Eric Rosengren said in a speech on Thursday. "The longer the pandemic goes on, the more you're going to see people leaving the labor force, not only because they can't find a job, but because they have to care for either elderly parents, people that are sick because of the pandemic, or children that are not able to go to school because schools have been closed and there is not availability of daycare."

The trend, according to economist Alicia Sasser Modestino, indicates that the recent improvement in the state's unemployment situation might be "not as rosy as it might seem." ...

A survey Modestino conducted found that 13 percent of working parents either reduced their hours or lost their jobs because they had to take on child care duties during the pandemic. The effects were more concentrated among women, she said.

"Among women who became unemployed during the pandemic, 25 percent of them said it was solely due to child care," Modestino said.

In February, about 31 percent of Massachusetts claimants seeking unemployment benefits were women, according to Modestino. By July, that rate had jumped to more than 56 percent, "a tremendous shift."


Excerpts from more information that affect taxpayers' interest follows (full news reports are available below), which I will leave to you without comment.

A federal court judge held off a ruling on a lawsuit that challenges a string of executive orders by Gov. Charlie Baker in response to the coronavirus pandemic and could have broad implications for governors’ actions across the nation.

Massachusetts District Court Judge William Young said he is “taking this matter under advisement” following a 35-minute virtual bench trial on Monday. Young did not say when he would render an opinion.

“Whatever I declare in this case, one would think that a like case could be brought three months, six months from now because there is no end in sight,” Young said during proceedings....

The 82-page complaint argues that the governor overstepped his authority by invoking the Civil Defense Act to justify his shutdown of businesses, schools and churches and placing restrictions on public gatherings at the onset of the pandemic in March.

The suit calls Baker’s order requiring people to wear masks “irrational, arbitrary and capricious.” His lawyers’ argument purports the governor’s mask mandate and restrictions on assembly, particularly in churches, violate the First-Amendment rights of Vincent Delaney, a Peabody man who initiated the lawsuit.

“We risk suspending our constitutional liberties. This is not a minor issue that has been laid out here. This is a fundamental bedrock right about our country,” said attorney Thomas Mason....

Baker’s coronavirus response faces a similar challenge in the state’s Supreme Judicial Court . . .

The Boston Herald
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
No ruling yet on federal suit challenging Charlie Baker’s coronavirus restrictions


Is Charlie Baker a fiscal conservative?

Not really, according to a new report from the CATO Institute.

CATO put out its annual fiscal policy report card for each of the 50 state’s governors. Baker received a D.

After a career in the health care industry and state government, Charlie Baker was elected governor in 2014. He ran as a fiscal moderate and a social liberal.

He scored poorly on the CATO report mainly because of his support for a payroll tax to fund a new family medical and paid leave program.

When running for office in 2014, Baker said that he would not raise taxes, but he has broken that promise several times. Baker signed into law a tax on short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, and he has approved increases in online sales taxes. He has proposed increasing taxes on ride-sharing services, such as Uber. And in 2020, Baker proposed ‘real-time’ sales tax remittance to boost state revenues $300 million while raising compliance costs on businesses.

Baker’s largest tax increase came in July 2018, when he approved a 0.63 percent payroll tax on private employers to fund a new paid leave benefit. The law increased taxes on workers in the state by $750 million or more a year.

For reference, Republican governors Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and Phil Scott of Vermont earned an A and B, respectively.

The New Boston Post
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
CATO Institute Gives Charlie Baker A Poor Mark For Fiscal Responsibility


Its fund-raising has dwindled. Its share of registered voters statewide is at a seven-decade low. Its membership in the 40-seat state Senate is (back) down to four.

And looming above those Republican Party regressions is the schism between Charlie Baker, its popular second-term governor, and Jim Lyons, its staunchly pro-Trump party chairman.

Long the minority, the Massachusetts Republican Party is trying to avoid shrinking toward triviality this fall.

In a presidential election year when record numbers of people are expected to vote, the state GOP is hoping to protect its small delegation at the State House, but hasn’t grown its slate of challengers beyond those of recent years. How it ultimately fares Nov. 3 could help tip the direction of a state party whose divisions start at its very top....

Never a true threat to Democrats' grip on political power here, the state GOP also is battling within itself. Its top elected official, the moderate Trump critic Baker, has been at odds with a party leadership that’s adopted the president’s combative, more conservative tone, diverging on everything from fund-raising to the reopening of the state’s economy amid the pandemic.

Trump last month directly attacked Baker as a “RINO" (Republican in name only) after the governor bucked the president’s monthslong criticisms of mail-in balloting. The Massachusetts GOP later issued a statement backing Trump’s concerns by citing local criticisms of a newly launched ballot application portal.

The divide has meant Baker has all but disconnected from the state party apparatus he once led....

Within the state’s 200-seat Legislature, Republicans are challenging Democratic incumbents in 19 races, and the party has candidates running for seven open seats. They include Matt Kelly, who’s challenging Senator Becca Rausch in a district previously held by Republicans, and Susan Smiley, a state committeewoman, vying in an open Worcester County race.

It’s the same number of nonincumbent Republicans running as in 2016, and a drop from 2018′s midterm elections, which are generally viewed as more favorable to the GOP, when the party put up 24 challengers and 13 open-seat candidates....

As of August, the Massachusetts GOP this cycle had pulled $1.55 million into its federal account, which it can use for party operations. It’s an amount well behind the $5 million it raised during 2017 and 2018, and, party leaders say, tied to limitations brought on by the pandemic.

Compounding the money crunch, just 3,300 voters have registered with the GOP since Lyons was elected chairman, pushing its total to roughly 460,000 statewide. That’s less than 9.9 percent of all Massachusetts voters, the party’s lowest share since at least 1948.

The Boston Globe
Thursday, October 1, 2020
Divided between Baker and Trump, Mass. GOP tries to avoid sliding into triviality in November

Chip Ford
Executive Director


Full News Reports Follow
(excerpted above)

CommonWealth Magazine
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
Mass. tax collections continue to roll along
By Bruce Mohl – CommonWealth editor


Despite all the gloom and doom among budget officials on Beacon Hill, Massachusetts tax collections continue to roll along surprisingly well.

The state Department of Revenue said on Monday that tax revenues in September were down 1.4 percent compared to the same month last year, but overall through the first three months of fiscal 2021 revenues were up 1 percent to $7.27 billion.

In a cryptic press release, the Department of Revenue said income taxes withheld from paychecks and meals taxes were down, while sales taxes, motor vehicle sales taxes, and corporate and business taxes were up. The press release said September typically accounts for 10 percent of the state’s annual revenue, although it cautioned that the numbers this September were probably lower than usual because the due date for payments of certain sales, meals, and room occupancy taxes had been put off until May.

The growth in tax revenue during the first quarter of the year is fairly amazing, given the coronavirus pandemic, the shutdown of much of the state and national economy, and the resulting high unemployment.

The new numbers set an interesting stage for state officials and economists, who are expected to gather via Zoom on Wednesday to develop a consensus revenue forecast for the remainder of the fiscal year. The House and Senate will then get to work on a budget for the year, close to four months after the start of the fiscal year. (The state has been operating under a temporary budget using the same level of spending as last year.)

House and Senate lawmakers have been projecting a budget shortfall of $4 billion to $6 billion this fiscal year. House Speaker Robert DeLeo was the latest state leader to make that forecast, urging Democrats and Republicans in Washington to come together and pass another stimulus package.

“Without the assistance from Washington, which hasn’t been forthcoming so far, we’re very concerned,” DeLeo said.

What none of the state leaders has fully explained is how the shortfall projection can be so high if revenue numbers are keeping pace with last year. The possible answer: Either the revenue numbers are surprising everyone, or spending during the pandemic is running far above what it was last year.

Gov. Charlie Baker has provided the most detailed explanation so far, saying he expects the state to “work our way through” the current fiscal year, presumably by tapping some of the state’s $3.5 billion rainy day fund. Baker has warned that fiscal 2022, which doesn’t start until July 2021, will be the real problem. He has said more funding from Washington will be needed if the state is to weather shortfalls expected then.


The Salem News
Saturday, October 3, 2020
Groups push corporate tax increases to fund recovery
By Christian M. Wade, Statehouse Reporter


A coalition of unions, community groups and faith groups is calling on Beacon Hill to ratchet up taxes on corporations and the state’s wealthiest to support the recovery from the economic impact of the coronavirus.

During a virtual meeting with lawmakers Thursday, members of the group Raise Up Massachusetts and the North Shore Labor Council said the economic fallout of the outbreak continues to impact low-income families.

The advocates suggested lawmakers increase taxes on corporations and wealthy shareholders to drum up money that will offset budget cuts and provide pandemic relief.

"Businesses should be expected to contribute more to support the communities they are profiting from," said Helina Fontes, a Lynn-based mental health advocate.

Increasing the tax on corporate profits from 8% to 9.5%, advocates say, could generate another $450 million to $525 million a year for the state’s coffers.

The groups also want the state to tax a portion of profits that corporations store away in offshore "tax havens" and increase the 5% state tax rate on "unearned income" for shareholders and other high-income individuals.

The advocates say corporations have made record profits during the pandemic, and wealthy shareholders have used loopholes, tax breaks and weak corporate disclosure laws to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

Advocates told North Shore area lawmakers who participated in the briefing, including Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn and Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, that with unemployment benefits running out and the state’s eviction moratorium set to expire this month, state leaders shouldn't be considering deep cuts.

"That's the worst thing for our economy," said Phineas Baxandall, a senior policy analyst with the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, which is advocating for tax increases. "It would suck the lifeblood out of our economy."

House and Senate leaders are tied up in closed-door negotiations on the state's nearly $45 billion budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. The state is running on a three-month, $16.5 billion interim budget that expires at the end of October.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation predicts the state will see a $6 billion drop in tax revenues this fiscal year, which could sink further depending on how long people are out of work or if a second wave of COVID-19 infections prompts the state to rollback its reopening plans.

Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, have both suggested tax increases may be needed to offset the impact.

Liberal economists have also pushed plans on Beacon Hill to increase the state's personal income tax rate, which finally dropped to 5% this year nearly two decades after voters approved cutting the rate.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has repeatedly said he would not consider raising taxes amid the pandemic.

Republican lawmakers are also cool to the idea of increasing corporate taxes.

"We should be looking at cutting wasteful state spending, not increasing taxes," said Rep. Lenny Mirra, R-Georgetown. "And these corporations will just find some other way to hide their money."


The Boston Herald
Thursday, October 8, 2020
Spending cuts, tax hikes on the table
as coronavirus takes estimated $3-5 billion bite from revenues
By Erin Tiernan


From spending cuts to tax hikes, “every option” is on the table for lawmakers struggling to plug a gaping budget hole with tax revenues predicted to nose dive between $2.76 billion and $5.23 billion this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Even under the rosiest of projections, we still have some real difficult decisions to make in relation to trying to balance our books for FY 21,” House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz said.

“Every option is really on the table at the moment,” Michlewitz, a North End Democrat, added.

Gov. Charlie Baker has repeatedly said he would not support raising taxes amid a pandemic that has wrought the worst economic fallout in recorded history. Baker’s budget chief, Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan doubled down on that on Wednesday, telling reporters, “from what we can see, we won’t need to raise taxes.” The shortfall prediction comes from the Department of Revenue.

Raising progressive taxes like a wealth tax has gained popularity among left-leaning organizations recently.

“Cuts will not address the growing needs or help us prime our economy for a robust and just recovery. Only new, progressive revenue can do those things,” Marie-Francis Rivera of the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Police center said.

Last month, a group of more than 150 Massachusetts organizations sent a letter to lawmakers urging similar revenue-raising measures.

The state could draw on its $3.5 billion Rainy Day Fund to balance the budget or make spending cuts.

While Massachusetts is “clearly in a rainy day,” State Treasurer Deb Goldberg warned drawing too much from the state’s savings account could lead to a downgrading by crediting agencies

“We don’t know how long the rainy day will last,” she said, noting agencies first “want to see the state has used all available, public finance tools, including cutting discretionary.”

Uncertainties with federal aid make it hard to pin down exactly how big the state’s budget hole is, Eileen McAnneny of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation said.

Should another federal relief package not materialize, McAnneny said “the revenue shortfall will grow massively.”

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues described “glaring federal dysfunction” by the feds and said it was up to the state to “close an anticipated budget shortfall without federal assistance for at least the foreseeable future.”

Tufts Center for State Policy Analysis, however, offered a more optimistic picture, predicting revenue will come in $1.6 billion below the January benchmark.

Executive Director Evan Horowitz encouraged lawmakers to rely on the state’s rainy day fund to balance the FY 21 budget and “avoid painful cuts.” Concerns about budget woes in FY 22 are “overstated,” he said.


State House News Service
Thursday, October 8, 2020
TCI Gets Corporate Push
By Chris Lisinski


More than 100 major corporations and higher education institutions wrote to governors Thursday voicing "strong support" for an in-development regional effort to curb transportation greenhouse gas emissions that will raise gasoline prices.

The signatories, some of which rely on transportation infrastructure for their business, urged leaders of 12 states and the District of Columbia to sign a memorandum of understanding signaling their commitment to the Transportation and Climate Initiative, known as TCI.

The companies that signed on to the letter to Gov. Charlie Baker, letter by the sustainability nonprofit Ceres, included ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft, Wayfair, Novartis, DHL, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and Biogen.

Implementing a regional cap-and-trade program that increases costs at the pump could help curb emissions, they argued, particularly for "overburdened and underserved communities" that face the most pollution, and it could also raise revenue to fund much-needed improvements.

"The existing transportation system is a roadblock to our economic and our climate goals," the signatories concluded. "We feel an urgency to create a transportation future that enables economic growth and substantial decarbonization."

If implemented, TCI would impose a cap on emissions from motor vehicles and require gasoline suppliers to purchase allowances. Parties negotiating the system estimate it could raise gas prices 5 to 17 cents per gallon and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenues.


State House News Service
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Most Experts See Year-Over-Year Tax Revenue Decline
Better Than April, But Updated Forecasts Are Still Dim
By Katie Lannan


State tax collections this fiscal year could range anywhere from $25.9 billion to $29.8 billion, according to estimates offered Wednesday by economic experts that point to a likelihood that the state will see a year-over-year decline in tax receipts.

The estimates all fall below the $31.15 billion revenue estimate that the Ways and Means Committee chairs and Gov. Charlie Baker's budget office agreed to in January, before COVID-19 took hold in the United States, leading to widespread business closures and restrictions and a steep economic downturn.

Ten months later, with the state still operating under temporary budgets, chairmen Sen. Michael Rodrigues and Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan convened a group of experts to offer their latest forecasts and help inform the eventual crafting of a spending plan for the remainder of fiscal 2021.

The projections received Wednesday also reflect a host of unpredictable factors that experts said will shape the state and national fiscal pictures, including the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic and future federal government policies and actions.

The state Department of Revenue projected a tax haul in the range of $25.918 billion to $28.387 billion. Three other speakers offered estimates in the area of $29 billion, shy of the $29.596 billion collected in fiscal 2020.

"There's tremendous uncertainty in these forecasts," Revenue Commissioner Geoffery Snyder said. "The trajectory of the pandemic, the timing of the development of vaccines and therapeutics, the measures governments have taken to control the pandemic and to mitigate its impacts, and the uncertainty surrounding potential action at the federal level have combined to create unprecedented challenges in revenue forecasting for the commonwealth."

Reacting to Snyder's testimony, Rodrigues said, "I've never seen this large of a range before in forecasts."

The DOR forecasts are based on projections from economic vendors and tax collections for the first three months of fiscal 2021 -- $7.27 billion through September. The range Snyder offered would represent a drop of anywhere from 4.1 percent to 12.4 percent from fiscal 2020 collections, or $2.764 billion to $5.233 billion below initial fiscal 2021 estimates.

Like Snyder, others who testified stressed that the pandemic and efforts to control the virus will be major drivers of the economy's path going forward.

"If we can't get the spread of the virus down, we cannot maintain much confidence that we can safely return to a full-throated economic activity," said Jeffrey Thompson of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Mass. Taxpayers Foundation

Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Eileen McAnneny said she expected economic recovery to be "up-and-down and perhaps spotty" until the pandemic is controlled. She projected tax revenues would land at $27.27 billion this fiscal year, $3.9 billion or 12.5 percent below the initial consensus estimate. While still a "sizeable" shortfall, McAnneny said, it's lower than the $6 billion figure her organization offered in June.

"For the first quarter of FY21, the Massachusetts' economy has been propped up by various forms of federal financial assistance," she said in written testimony. "As these sources of income are exhausted amidst growing uncertainty, the state's fiscal situation is expected to deteriorate."

MTF projected that "stalled employment growth" through the rest of the fiscal year would lead to a $1.27 billion or 8.8 percent decline in withholding income tax, and a $940 million or 12.7 percent decline in sales tax revenues.

Beacon Hill Institute

Testifying after both McAnneny and Snyder, David Tuerck of the Beacon Hill Institute described his forecast as "considerably more optimistic than our predecessors." He projected a tax haul of $29.214 billion in fiscal 2021, and $30.07 billion in fiscal 2022.

"We understand that whatever number is chosen could have political implications," he said. "We feel confident in our number. We think that it's as important not to underestimate the tax revenues as it is not to overestimate."

Tuerck noted that Massachusetts "does continue to have a relatively big problem in terms of its unemployment rate," which stood at 11.3 percent in August.

Center for State Policy Analysis

The Center for State Policy Analysis, at Tufts University's Tisch College, is anticipating about $29.6 billion in fiscal 2021 revenues, representing a drop of $1.6 billion below initial estimates. Evan Horowitz, the center's director, said his estimate is based on a predictive model that uses the national gross domestic product.

"If actual tax collections do match these estimates, as they have through September... it doesn't seem like the FY '21 budget will require dramatic actions on either side of the ledger, be it spending cuts or tax increases."

Horowitz said a $1.6 billion gap "could comfortably be filled" with money from the state's $3.5 billion stabilization fund.

He described the outlook for fiscal 2022 as "relatively bright" and said he did not "see any evidence of a substantial gap in FY '22 at this point."

"Obviously all the normal caveats apply -- it's a long way away, a lot of bad things can happen, but there's also a lot of upside potential, and I think of FY '22 as either near or certainly approaching the old levels of state tax revenue."

Alan Clayton-Matthews

Northeastern University Professor Alan Clayton-Matthews also presented budget-writers with a range of estimates, saying he projected this year's tax collections to end up somewhere between $29.324 billion and $29.834 billion.

Clayton-Matthews said federal stimulus initiatives so far have "lifted incomes, and that has both direct and indirect effects on tax revenues."

Mass. Budget and Policy Center

The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center decided not to prepare a revenue estimate number for this hearing, said its president, Marie-Frances Rivera, citing "all the uncertainty and variables."

In April, MassBudget said that if patterns from prior recessions hold and there is some limited growth, fiscal 2021 collections could land between $5 billion and $5.7 billion shy of the estimates budget writers agreed to in January.

"We think that there's a budgetary crisis that's happening and we all have to be just fully aware and eyes-open about that," Rivera said Wednesday. "There's danger because all of the public goods that we're relying on to guide us through this public health economic crisis, whether it's health care, whether it's housing people, whether it's educating our young people, a lot of these are in jeopardy and the needs are growing."


State House News Service
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
State's economic outlook still murky
Sales tax revenues expected to take $900M hit this fiscal year
By Christian M. Wade, Statehouse Reporter


Economists painted a murky picture of the state's pandemic-battered economy on Wednesday, saying the depth of a revenue shortfall will depend on relief from Washington.

State budget writers, economists and legislative leaders said fallout from COVID-19 continues to dampen state revenues despite recent upticks in tax collections.

Revenue Commissioner Geoffrey Snyder told lawmakers during a live-streamed hearing that the Baker administration projected state revenues will decline between $2.8 billion to $5.2 billion this fiscal year. He said there is "considerable uncertainty" in the estimates.

He cited the timing of a COVID-19 vaccine, whether the coronavirus can be contained and uncertainty around Congress and the White House as factors that "have combined to create unprecedented challenges in revenue forecasting."

In Washington, a new relief package is tied up amid partisan disagreements. President Donald Trump issued conflicting statements this week about whether the White House will walk away from negotiations with Democrats.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Aaron Michlewitz, D-Boston, said the collapse of talks and a lack of progress on federal aid to state and local governments will have a "drastic, negative impact" on the state's finances.

"I think I speak for all of us in the Legislature when I call on Congress and the president to get back to the negotiating table and strike a deal that helps all 50 states," he said.

Eileen McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, predicted a $3.9 billion drop in state tax revenues, which will grow without federal relief.

"Even if there is a fiscal aid package, the proposed funding may be insufficient, especially if it's not properly targeted to sustain the economy," she said.

Sales tax collections — a major source of state revenue — will take a projected $900 million hit in this fiscal year, she said. Virus-wary consumers are putting off major purchases such as homes and cars.

"There's a lot of political uncertainty and social unrest," McAnneny said. "That's also contributing to people's unease about the future."

David Tuerck, president of the conservative Beacon Hill Institute, offered a more optimistic outlook, suggesting a decline in tax revenues of only around $1.3 billion.

Economists noted that conditions have gradually improved as businesses reopen and more people return to work, but that's not been enough to offset overall tax revenue losses.

The state is running on a three-month, $16.5 billion budget signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in August. It will keep the government funded until Oct. 31, when the Legislature is expected to consider a final spending plan for fiscal 2021.

Baker filed a preliminary $44.6 billion budget in January, months before the virus forced the state to shutter the economy.

Uncertainty over the budget has created fiscal problems for a host of entities that depend on state funding, from nonprofits to health care providers. Meanwhile, city and town leaders struggling to finalize their budgets worry there will be deep cuts to local aid and school funding.


The Boston Herald
Friday, October 9, 2020
A Boston Herald editorial
Revenue shortfalls call the shots as Mass. moves forward


The coronavirus pandemic has cratered revenue for Massachusetts, and funding programs and making necessary changes are slamming into the hard wall of reality.

In one instance, a state agency is finding new ways to raise cash — which may not please Boston drivers.

A proposal by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation to add parking meters to certain neighborhoods could up the ante on the frustration of finding a spot.

According to its web site, the department wants to expand curbside meters along certain parkways and parking areas in metro Boston.

The sites targeted by the DCR include:

• The Fenway, Boylston Street to Avenue Louis Pasteur
• Park Drive, Peterborough to Beacon streets
• Charlesgate East, Boylston to Newbury streets
• Memorial Drive, Cambridge, 1 Memorial Drive to Fowler Street
• Cambridge Parkway, Cambridge
• Dealtry Pool, Watertown
• Revere Beach Boulevard, Revere, Eliot Circle to Carey Circle

Parking rates will run $1.25 per hour.

On the one hand, for non-residents vexed by streets taken up by resident-only parking, the chance to find a metered spot could count as a win. But for residents, the loss of any parking real estate is a cause for concern.

The department will put its case before the people at a virtual public meeting Oct. 14.

But why even propose such a plan, sure to be decried as a cash grab?

It is, but not unexpected considering the economic gut-punch of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the agency, a significant portion of revenues collected under the meter program, which the DCR has targeted to launch in late spring of next year, will be earmarked to support the statewide park system.

It’s hard to knock the necessity of Massachusetts’ parks, but it’s also difficult to feel good about any loss of residential parking.

But as life goes on amid virus-induced revenue shortfalls, this sort of funding solution may be the new normal.

One thing that the pandemic brought into stark relief is the disproportionate impact it had across different demographics. As the State House News Service reported, the Health Equity Task Force, a panel of public health experts and elected officials is looking at legislative action to address the inequities, but the Bay State’s bruised budget may have the last word.

Jeffrey Sanchez, an adviser at Rasky Partners who previously served as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, urged the task force to underscore which ideas are most achievable when it publishes its report next week.

“This end of the year, $700 million in the hole, up to $4 billion going into next year — so there’s not going to be that much money,” Sanchez said. “Where’s the opportunity to highlight, right now, for Oct. 14, what can we do?”

Among its suggestions, the task force is looking at enacting emergency paid sick leave legislation to help employees not covered by a similar COVID-era federal program and continuing funding for “isolation hotels.”

Several lawmakers asked the task force to develop cost estimates. There was pushback.

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz noted, “The charge to this task force is not for the public health experts here to tell us what we can afford as a state.

“The Legislature stood up this task force in order to get public health advice from public health experts about what it will take to close these disparities,” Chang-Diaz said. “The Legislature will have to make those difficult decisions.”

True. But presenting affordable solutions may be the only way to get to “yes” in these cash-strapped times.


State House News Service
Friday, October 9, 2020
Data Shows Many in Mass. Have Left the Workforce
Departures Don't Show Up in Improving Unemployment Rate
By Chris Lisinski


The number of Massachusetts workers counted as unemployed dropped by more than 250,000 over the past two months, a decline of more than a third that helped the state escape from a short streak of owning the worst jobless rate in the country.

About 114,000 more workers became employed in that span, too, a sign of continued steps toward recovery following the pandemic-related recession's low point in the spring.

But the improving jobs numbers and unemployment rate likely mask deeper, more lasting damage at both the state and federal level: many people are dropping out of the workforce altogether, hinting that some -- particularly women, who disproportionately fill caretaker roles -- have given up attempts to find employment amid slow hiring and uncertainty about the COVID-19 health outlook.

"It's a significant problem," Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President and CEO Eric Rosengren said in a speech on Thursday. "The longer the pandemic goes on, the more you're going to see people leaving the labor force, not only because they can't find a job, but because they have to care for either elderly parents, people that are sick because of the pandemic, or children that are not able to go to school because schools have been closed and there is not availability of daycare."

The trend, according to economist Alicia Sasser Modestino, indicates that the recent improvement in the state's unemployment situation might be "not as rosy as it might seem."

Between January and August, the working-age population in Massachusetts grew 13,400, according to data published by state labor officials based on a household survey. In that same span, the labor force -- which counts both people who are employed and those who are unemployed but actively seeking work -- shrunk by 290,000.

The drop was not limited to the earlier days of the COVID-19 crisis, when job cuts were severe. In July and August, a span in which the employed population grew and the unemployed population shrunk, the labor force declined by 138,500 -- more than the 114,000 jobs added.

While both Massachusetts and the country as a whole have seen workers depart the market, the trends have taken different patterns.

Nationally, the rate of working-age adults participating in the labor force has been slowly but steadily climbing, reaching 61.7 percent in August after dropping to 60.2 percent in April. In Massachusetts, the rate fell to 60.3 percent in April, rebounded to 65.1 percent in June, and then fell back down again to 62.6 percent in August, household survey labor data show.

"We seem to be moving in the opposite direction from the country in terms of the number of people who are participating in the labor force, which means that our improvement in the unemployment rate is maybe not as rosy as it might seem," Modestino, who is associate director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, told the News Service. "If some of that improvement is coming from people dropping out of the labor force, that's not how we usually like to improve the unemployment rate during a recession."

Both the fluctuating pattern and the scale of the changes are unusual. In general, the labor force shrinks during recessions and grows during expansions, but -- like so much else about the pandemic -- this economic slowdown is unprecedented.

Alan Clayton-Matthews, another Northeastern professor who is a senior research associate at the Dukakis Center, said the more acute labor-force changes in recent months reflect the new reality of the pandemic.

"In some sectors, you know you can't get a job right now," Clayton-Matthews said in an interview. "In a normal recession, you might have stayed in the labor force, but in this one where, because of COVID, there's a virtual certainty that you're not going to be able to get a job, you drop out of the labor force."

Another factor, he said, was the now-expired increase in unemployment aid offered through federal programs to blunt the impact of massive layoffs.

While experts said the volatility in the labor force figures raises red flags, they stressed that the state-level data do not offer a clear picture of why workers have departed.

Some could have opted to halt working over health concerns, some could have resigned themselves to not finding a job in the current strained economy, some might need to shift their focus to caretaking, and some might have simply retired during the pandemic.

Many experts agree, though, that the employment impacts have been disproportionately concentrated among people of color, who are more likely to work low-wage jobs prone to disruption, and among women, who often perform a larger share of parenting and caretaking duties.

A survey Modestino conducted found that 13 percent of working parents either reduced their hours or lost their jobs because they had to take on child care duties during the pandemic. The effects were more concentrated among women, she said.

"Among women who became unemployed during the pandemic, 25 percent of them said it was solely due to child care," Modestino said.

In February, about 31 percent of Massachusetts claimants seeking unemployment benefits were women, according to Modestino. By July, that rate had jumped to more than 56 percent, "a tremendous shift."

A similar trend is occurring nationally. Between February and September, the percent of men aged 25 to 54 participating in the labor force dropped 1.6 percentage points, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data based on the Current Population Survey. For women in the same age range, the labor force participation rate dropped 2.8 percentage points over that span.

"In a pandemic, where many schools are closing, when many people in the 25 to 54 age bracket are having children, many families have to make a choice of whether or not they can continue to work because they have children at home," Rosengren said in his remarks. "Sometimes, that is borne by the husband, but frequently it is borne by the wife."

The long-term effects of discouraged workers may not become clear for months or years, particularly amid enormous uncertainty over the public health outlook.

Key questions remain unanswered, such as when consumers will feel comfortable resuming pre-pandemic routines, when a vaccine or treatment will be available, and whether Congress will approve another stimulus package -- that appears less likely after President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would withdraw from negotiations.

Clayton-Matthews described the risk of federal aid falling through as "the biggest sword of Damocles hanging over us."

"The economy seems to be weakening, and without another stimulus, I don't see how it's going to get by until there's a vaccine widely available," he said. "We could see a prolonged recession if there's not more support for incomes like there was in the beginning of this pandemic."


State House News Service
Friday, October 9, 2020
Weekly Roundup - In the Red
Recap and analysis of the week in state government
By Katie Lannan


It's raining. But is it pouring?

Literal weather-wise, it's still dry, with a critical drought declared Friday in the southeastern part of the state and significant drought levels elsewhere. On the fiscal front, though, it's time for budget managers to figure out just how much the climate has dampened since Gov. Charlie Baker filed a $44.6 billion spending plan in January, way back when the anticipated 2.8 percent growth was considered modest after a couple years that ended with surpluses.

By the time Ways and Means Chairs Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Sen. Michael Rodrigues and Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan convened economic experts on Wednesday -- their third such huddle of this budget cycle (December, April and October) -- any expectation for the $31.15 in revenue collections that Baker built his budget around had evaporated.

Instead, the revenue projections that were described as "optimistic" during the summit were those that, if you were more a glass half-empty type, could also be called "least bleak."

That includes the $29.6 billion estimate put forth by Tufts University's Center for State Policy Analysis, and the $29.2 billion offered by the Beacon Hill Institute. The Beacon Hill Institute's number, representing a decline over last year's tax haul, could perhaps only be deemed optimistic in comparison to the forecasts already shared earlier in the day -- $27.27 billion from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, and a range of $25.9 billion to $28.37 billion from the state Department of Revenue.

However big the gap is, it'll be up to Michlewitz and Rodrigues to figure out how to plug it in the budget proposals they ultimately put forward for their respective branches to vote on. Whenever that ends up happening.

Their main choices: cutting spending to match available revenues, raising taxes -- an idea Heffernan threw cold water on, saying the administration doesn't see a need for tax hikes right now -- or dipping into the state's $3.5 billion rainy day fund.

Evan Horowitz, from the Center for State Policy Analysis, said the $1.6 billion hole he was projecting was small enough to "comfortably be filled" with money from the stabilization fund, buying time until the relatively sunnier days he envisions in fiscal 2022.

Treasurer Deb Goldberg, though, suggested some caution around tapping the rainy day fund as a first resort. Credit rating agencies, Goldberg said, want to see other steps taken before the umbrellas come out.

"Clearly, we're in a rainy day. However, we do not know how long that rainy day is going to last," she said. "And so, consequently, the way that the rating agencies look at that is, yes, it is quite possible that spending from the rainy day fund will be appropriate. However, simultaneously, they want to see other budget considerations on the spending side. So if one were to not do any cuts or adjustments on the spending side and solely spend from the rainy day fund, then that would be viewed very adversely."

Technically, whatever tool budget-writers ultimately deploy, it won't be their first move. The initial strategy of waiting to see definitive aid numbers from the federal government hasn't so far borne fruit, and the end-of-month expiration date for the state's current temporary budget is inching closer.

But, when it comes to stimulus talks in Washington, D.C. lately, negotiations can restart as quickly as they're called off, and stall as suddenly as they pick up speed.

President Donald Trump, back in the White House after being hospitalized last weekend with COVID-19 and still infected with the virus, said in a Tuesday tweet that he'd "instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business."

By Thursday, he told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo that talks were now "starting to work out" and becoming "very productive." Speaking to the same cable news channel Friday, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said the president had signed off on a "revised" stimulus package and "would like to do a deal."

The sides do appear getting closer to a number in the middle, but what happens next is anyone's bet.


State House News Service
Friday, October 9, 2020
Advances - Week of Oct. 11, 2020


Gov. Charlie Baker faces a deadline Thursday to mark down expected tax revenues and begin the process of bringing state spending in line with expected receipts, which may yet still be impacted by the on-again-off-again federal talks over economic stimulus measures.

While an annual budget was due July 1 and people are now looking to see if the Corner Office next week will seek a third temporary budget to keep government operating in November, Baker budget chief Michael Heffernan on Wednesday said it was "still early" when asked if the governor would file an entirely new fiscal 2021 budget plan to take the place of the obsolete $44.6 billion budget he filed in January.

If Baker officially writes down state revenue expectations by Thursday, he has 15 days, or until the end of October, to publicly submit to the Legislature "corrective amendments" to his January budget. State finance law requires the administration to not only update state tax revenue expectations, but also expectations of federal receipts.

The amount of federal aid Massachusetts will receive this fiscal year is tied up in a perfect storm of pre-election Washington politics marked by continuing discussion of a stimulus bill, next week's vetting of a nominee who could shift the balance of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the fight for the presidency between Trump and Democrat Joseph Biden....

Decision Time Again on Budget

The Baker administration is required by statute to determine by Oct. 15 whether to revisit the state budget's consensus revenue estimate, which set the expectation that Massachusetts would collect $31.151 billion in tax revenue this fiscal year.

That pre-pandemic estimate is outdated and the Department of Revenue this week said it now expects fiscal year 2021 tax revenues will total between $25.918 billion and $28.387 billion -- between $2.76 billion and $5.23 billion below the assumption agreed to before the pandemic upended the economy. For comparison's sake, the state collected $29.596 billion in taxes in fiscal 2020.

Section 5B of Chapter 29 of the Mass. General Laws requires the secretary of administration and finance, with the governor's approval, to "prepare estimates of budgeted revenues which in the secretary's judgment will be available for both the current year and for the annual budget for the ensuing fiscal year" on or before Oct. 15 each year. In a typical year, a lowering of the estimate would trigger unilateral budget cuts under the governor's special executive "9C" powers, but this year is different since the Legislature has not yet even debated a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

An alteration this year is more likely to kick-start the budget process, which has been on ice since Baker proposed a $44.6 billion spending plan for fiscal 2021 back in January.

Instead, a revision of revenue estimates from Baker and A&F Secretary Michael Heffernan this year could trigger a provision of Section 7H of Chapter 29 of the Mass. General Laws that calls for the governor to update his budget proposal if he determines "that the tax revenues or non-tax revenues supporting the general appropriation bill have materially decreased."

The law requires Baker to "submit to the general court by message recommended corrective amendments to the governor's original budget submission" within 15 days of his determination. That means Beacon Hill could have a fresh budget proposal to read the weekend of Halloween and that the Legislature could begin debating sometime after all 200 seats are on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Heffernan said Wednesday that the administration is still charting its path forward. State government has run on a series of temporary budgets since FY21 began July 1 and the current budget is expected to expire at the end of this month. Baker could file a third temporary budget for this fiscal year, in tandem with or before his potential filing of corrective amendments later this month. - Colin A. Young

Voting Continues, Accelerates

Mail-in voting has already begun and Massachusetts on Saturday, Oct. 17 commences an early voting period that runs through Oct. 30. Four days of weekend voting will be held in every community during that period.

"Those planning to vote in person do not need to submit their Vote by Mail applications," Secretary of State William Galvin's office clarified in a Sept. 11 press release advising voters about vote-by-mail applications. Citing advice from the U.S. Postal Service, the secretary has asked voters to submit their vote-by-mail applications no later than Oct. 20. Mail-in ballots that are not received by local election officials on or before Election Day (Nov. 3) must arrive no later than Nov. 6 and be postmarked by Nov. 3 in order to be counted.

Elected officials in Massachusetts have defended the massive mail-in system as a properly functioning one, rejecting the claims of President Donald Trump who is trying to sow doubt about the integrity of mail-in voting and its expanded use across the nation. - Michael P. Norton


The Boston Herald
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
No ruling yet on federal suit challenging Charlie Baker’s coronavirus restrictions
By Erin Tiernan


A federal court judge held off a ruling on a lawsuit that challenges a string of executive orders by Gov. Charlie Baker in response to the coronavirus pandemic and could have broad implications for governors’ actions across the nation.

Massachusetts District Court Judge William Young said he is “taking this matter under advisement” following a 35-minute virtual bench trial on Monday. Young did not say when he would render an opinion.

“Whatever I declare in this case, one would think that a like case could be brought three months, six months from now because there is no end in sight,” Young said during proceedings.

Baker declared a state of emergency on March 10, and has issued dozens of executive orders in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus in Massachusetts. His evolving orders have ranged from ordering businesses deemed nonessential to shutter physical operations to closing public schools to limiting how many people can gather in one place.

The 82-page complaint argues that the governor overstepped his authority by invoking the Civil Defense Act to justify his shutdown of businesses, schools and churches and placing restrictions on public gatherings at the onset of the pandemic in March.

The suit calls Baker’s order requiring people to wear masks “irrational, arbitrary and capricious.” His lawyers’ argument purports the governor’s mask mandate and restrictions on assembly, particularly in churches, violate the First-Amendment rights of Vincent Delaney, a Peabody man who initiated the lawsuit.

“We risk suspending our constitutional liberties. This is not a minor issue that has been laid out here. This is a fundamental bedrock right about our country,” said attorney Thomas Mason.

The state’s lawyer Amy Spector argued Delaney’s rights haven’t actually been violated because “he’s never been denied entry or right to communion.”

Many of the orders referenced in Delaney’s complaint have changed as the pandemic has evolved in Massachusetts and are likely to change again.

Delaney is leading the charge in a second suit seeking to curb the Baker administration’s coronavirus response. On Friday, a group of 11,000 Massachusetts residents filed a lawsuit challenging the flu shot mandate.

Protesters crowded outside the Moakley Courthouse in Boston’s Seaport on Monday as the bench trial for Delaney’s initial suit carried on via live stream.

Baker’s coronavirus response faces a similar challenge in the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.

State officials have contended that Baker was within his authority to lean on the Civil Defense Act when he declared a public health emergency on March 10. Although the order does not use the word “pandemic” outright, state lawyers argue it grants broad authority for the governor.


The New Boston Post
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
CATO Institute Gives Charlie Baker A Poor Mark For Fiscal Responsibility


Is Charlie Baker a fiscal conservative?

Not really, according to a new report from the CATO Institute.

CATO put out its annual fiscal policy report card for each of the 50 state’s governors. Baker received a D.

After a career in the health care industry and state government, Charlie Baker was elected governor in 2014. He ran as a fiscal moderate and a social liberal.

He scored poorly on the CATO report mainly because of his support for a payroll tax to fund a new family medical and paid leave program.

When running for office in 2014, Baker said that he would not raise taxes, but he has broken that promise several times. Baker signed into law a tax on short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, and he has approved increases in online sales taxes. He has proposed increasing taxes on ride-sharing services, such as Uber. And in 2020, Baker proposed ‘real-time’ sales tax remittance to boost state revenues $300 million while raising compliance costs on businesses.

Baker’s largest tax increase came in July 2018, when he approved a 0.63 percent payroll tax on private employers to fund a new paid leave benefit. The law increased taxes on workers in the state by $750 million or more a year.

For reference, Republican governors Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and Phil Scott of Vermont earned an A and B, respectively.

A spokesman for Governor Baker could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday, October 7.

Paul Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said Baker’s grade from the CATO Institute reflects the state’s misplaced priorities.

“Cato’s study examines a wide variety of tax and spending choices governors have made in recent years,” Craney said in an email statement. “Cato’s ‘D’ grade for Governor Baker once again demonstrates the need for Massachusetts to cut low value state spending programs and pursue more growth enhancing tax reforms. Unfortunately, those conversations rarely, if ever, take place at the State House.”


The Boston Globe
Thursday, October 1, 2020
Divided between Baker and Trump, Mass. GOP tries to avoid sliding into triviality in November
By Matt Stout


Its fund-raising has dwindled. Its share of registered voters statewide is at a seven-decade low. Its membership in the 40-seat state Senate is (back) down to four.

And looming above those Republican Party regressions is the schism between Charlie Baker, its popular second-term governor, and Jim Lyons, its staunchly pro-Trump party chairman.

Long the minority, the Massachusetts Republican Party is trying to avoid shrinking toward triviality this fall.

In a presidential election year when record numbers of people are expected to vote, the state GOP is hoping to protect its small delegation at the State House, but hasn’t grown its slate of challengers beyond those of recent years. How it ultimately fares Nov. 3 could help tip the direction of a state party whose divisions start at its very top.

“2020 is not the ideal year for Republicans to run races in Massachusetts," said Tom Mountain, the state party’s vice chairman. Drafting more candidates is a challenge, he acknowledged, but added: “We don’t like to recruit people."

“Recruiting people means you’re basically convincing people to run,” he said. "We want people to come to us. We want people to show initiative, to show enthusiasm.”

Never a true threat to Democrats' grip on political power here, the state GOP also is battling within itself. Its top elected official, the moderate Trump critic Baker, has been at odds with a party leadership that’s adopted the president’s combative, more conservative tone, diverging on everything from fund-raising to the reopening of the state’s economy amid the pandemic.

Trump last month directly attacked Baker as a “RINO" (Republican in name only) after the governor bucked the president’s monthslong criticisms of mail-in balloting. The Massachusetts GOP later issued a statement backing Trump’s concerns by citing local criticisms of a newly launched ballot application portal.

The divide has meant Baker has all but disconnected from the state party apparatus he once led. He and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, for example, are planning their own virtual fund-raisers for individual legislative candidates this fall while the party’s basic infrastructure is in flux. One of its accounts is on pace for its worst fund-raising cycle since 2008; it currently doesn’t have an executive director, and it’s short a full slate of 80 state committee members.

The situation has prompted bubbling frustration within the party ranks about its ability not just to help down-ballot candidates this November, but to expand the party beyond the conservative corners Lyons has solidified since winning the chairmanship in 2019.

“I don’t understand the methodology and the overall game plan that the party has been going after," said state Representative Shawn Dooley, a Republican from Norfolk who’s also a state party committeeman. "It doesn’t seem to be strategic. It doesn’t seem to be targeted in particular areas. It’s more pandering to the echo chamber.”

Party leaders reject that, saying messaging, in particular, is left to the individual candidates.

“Some have distanced themselves from whatever Trump-related messaging, and other candidates have embraced it. That’s their choice to make,” said Janet Fogarty, the party’s national committeewoman. “Our intent is to grow the party from all different viewpoints.”

It has nevertheless raised the question: Should Trump lose in November, what’s next for a state party whose leadership has embraced Trump’s views over those of Baker, who has not said whether he’ll seek a third term in 2022?

Lyons, who is up for reelection as chairman in January, did not respond to requests for comment.

“This is an odd situation to be in,” said Rob Gray, a veteran Republican consultant. “I imagine the results of the presidential election will be a reckoning, one way or another.”

The state GOP has fielded candidates for the US Senate, where Kevin O’Connor is challenging Senator Edward Markey, as well as for five of the state’s nine congressional seats. That includes the Ninth District, where its nominee, Helen Brady, lives 40 miles outside its borders. (Members of Congress have to live in the state they represent, but not the district.)

Within the state’s 200-seat Legislature, Republicans are challenging Democratic incumbents in 19 races, and the party has candidates running for seven open seats. They include Matt Kelly, who’s challenging Senator Becca Rausch in a district previously held by Republicans, and Susan Smiley, a state committeewoman, vying in an open Worcester County race.

It’s the same number of nonincumbent Republicans running as in 2016, and a drop from 2018′s midterm elections, which are generally viewed as more favorable to the GOP, when the party put up 24 challengers and 13 open-seat candidates.

While Baker easily won reelection by 33 percentage points that year, the party actually lost ground on Beacon Hill after a Democrat flipped an open Republican district, and two Republican incumbents lost, including Lyons, who served four terms in the House.

The results reignited intraparty criticisms that holding the governor’s office came at the expense and focus of down-party contests, where the GOP’s gubernatorial coattails have rarely extended.

This year, Republican candidates are generally promoting the effort of “getting our schools open completely" amid the pandemic, said Mountain, the party vice chairman, and supporting police amid a nationwide movement, including in Massachusetts, to tighten accountability for law enforcement.

The party also has adopted the catch phrase “Had enough?” in social media posts — a campaign mantra Baker used in his unsuccessful 2010 gubernatorial effort that even supporters said came off as “angry."

So far this year, Republicans have largely faced losses. The GOP’s state Senate caucus, which counted seven members as recently as 2018, was slashed to four in the spring after Democrats won special elections in Republican-held districts. The party also lost a seat in the House, where its caucus sits at 31 members in the 160-seat body.

Democrats view Republican Senator Dean A. Tran of Fitchburg as vulnerable this fall after an ethics investigation found he intertwined his public and political work, and his Senate colleagues took the extraordinary step of barring him from interacting with his taxpayer-funded staff except through official e-mails.

Tran, who has denied wrongdoing, faces a challenge from Democrat John Cronin, a 30-year-old West Point graduate and Army combat veteran who has both outraised the Republican and poured $30,000 of his own money into the race. (Tran did not respond to a request for comment.)

“I don’t know how you can run a high-functioning Senate office if you’re not allowed to speak with your staff,” said Cronin, of Lunenberg. “I think ethical leadership and integrity are on the ballot.”

The party is, to a degree, removed from the representative pits it found itself in after the 2006 election, when it was on the wrong end of what was the biggest political monopoly by either party in any state. But after doubling, from 16, the number of Republican state representatives it had in 2010 — the same year Scott Brown won and for three years afterward held a US Senate seat — the party has struggled to make significant gains beyond Baker’s two victories.

As of August, the Massachusetts GOP this cycle had pulled $1.55 million into its federal account, which it can use for party operations. It’s an amount well behind the $5 million it raised during 2017 and 2018, and, party leaders say, tied to limitations brought on by the pandemic.

Compounding the money crunch, just 3,300 voters have registered with the GOP since Lyons was elected chairman, pushing its total to roughly 460,000 statewide. That’s less than 9.9 percent of all Massachusetts voters, the party’s lowest share since at least 1948.

“I didn’t like the direction that [the party] took after Jim Lyons took over,” said state Representative Randy Hunt, who is not seeking reelection to his seat on Cape Cod. “I understand that the committee is committed to Republicans. I get that. I just don’t think being a Republican in Massachusetts, this year in 2020, that there’s an advantage of being out there and being a 100-percent Trump person.”


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