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CLT UPDATE
Monday, October 19, 2020

Baker's $900M Budget Increase


Jump directly to CLT's Commentary on the News


Most Relevant News Excerpts
(Full news reports follow Commentary)

Sooner or later California’s public unions had to hit up the hoi polloi to pay for their pensions after soaking what’s left of the state’s millionaire class, and here they come.

On Nov. 3, Californians will vote on a “split roll” ballot initiative (Prop. 15) that seeks to enact the biggest tax hike in state history. In 1978 voters enshrined protections against runaway property taxes in the state Constitution (Prop 13). Prop. 15 would abolish those protections for businesses while maintaining limitations—at least for now—on homes....

California’s home prices have increased ninefold since 1978, and commercial real estate has also appreciated enormously, especially in coastal areas. Unions say their initiative will only hit wealthy corporations, but not even the Democratic-friendly NAACP believes that whopper, which is why it and minority business groups are campaigning against the initiative. Anyone who owns a couple of fast food franchises would get walloped. Ditto small dairies, wineries, orchards and manufacturers, though Democrats in the Legislature have charitably proposed to exempt solar farms.

Small businesses that rent space note that landlords would pass on the tax hike in lease agreements. Less affected will be tech titans that recently purchased properties or are planning to down-size office space as they allow more employees to work remotely. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is Prop. 15’s second biggest donor.

Perhaps he’s trying to atone for his wealth, but as the NAACP and minority business groups explained in a letter to him in August: “Unlike Facebook, restaurants, dry cleaners, nail salons and other small businesses can’t operate right now and many may never open again. The last thing they need is a billionaire pushing higher taxes on them under the false flag of social justice.” ...

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office forecasts Prop. 15 would raise property taxes by $8.5 billion to $12.5 billion a year by 2025, which is about twice as much as the state’s 2012 tax hike on high earners. Unlike that referendum, Prop. 15 revenues would supposedly go directly to schools and local governments, which have been struggling amid swelling pension payments.

Since 2013, pension costs have grown 130% for teachers and doubled for other local public employees. Rising retirement costs are limiting wage increases at the bargaining table, and Prop. 15 is the union answer to keep the cash flowing. United Teachers Los Angeles says passing Prop. 15 “is key to winning the aggressive, comprehensive demands we will bring forward in 2022”—and as long into the future as their political dominance allows.

The Wall Street Journal
Thursday, October 14, 2020
Opinion | Review & Outlook
California’s Next Big Tax Gulp
A ballot measure would repeal the business half of legendary Prop. 13


Despite the pandemic-related recession and high unemployment rates, and an expected drop in state tax revenues, Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday released a budget proposal for the current fiscal year that is actually higher than the budget he proposed in January.

Baker, a Republican, is recommending a fiscal 2021 budget of $45.5 billion, or 3.8 percent more than was spent in fiscal 2020. The budget he released in January would have spent $44.6 billion, or 2.3 percent more than in the prior fiscal year.

The high budget is largely driven by excessive spending in MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program. It would be paid for with an influx of federal money as well as a $1.3 billion draw from the state’s $3.5 billion rainy day fund.

“The rainy day fund is there to support services when it’s raining, and I think most people would agree it’s raining,” Baker said at a State House press conference....

Baker said he expects to submit another temporary budget to keep government running through November, and he hopes lawmakers can return a budget bill to his desk by Thanksgiving. With the process likely to go past the election, that means state lawmakers will be voting on the budget in an unusual lame duck session.

Baker does not plan to raise taxes and would allow the income tax rate to drop to 5 percent, the final drop approved two decades ago in a 2000 ballot question.

“The idea of going back to taxpayers given their own situation just didn’t seem like the right thing to do,” Baker said.

Baker does want to delay implementing a state charitable deduction, which was scheduled to go into effect this year and would have cost the state $64 million in tax revenue. Baker is also proposing “modernizing” the collection of sales taxes by requiring large businesses to remit sales taxes to the state more quickly. This is estimated to bring in $267 million in one-time revenue, primarily by collecting in this fiscal year money that would otherwise have come in next year. It is a proposal he has made before, which has never been approved by the Legislature.

CommonWealth Magazine
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Despite pandemic, Baker proposes higher spending
Total expenditures more than what he proposed pre-COVID in January


One of the state's largest and most influential business groups urged Beacon Hill lawmakers on Tuesday to take tax increases off the table as they consider how to put together a state budget that accounts for major declines in revenue, but doesn't dismantle critical state services.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts, in a message posted to its website, suggested that it would be more appropriate at this moment to dip into the state's $3.5 billion reserve fund, or even utilize low-interest borrowing to keep programs running and employees on the payroll as they wait for Congress to provide states with financial relief.

"Tax increases now would further destabilize businesses, many of which are already on the edge of collapse," AIM President John Regan was quoted saying in the blog post....

AIM's position on taxes echoed that of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, which last week warned that if policy leaders turn quickly to tax increase to stabilize state finances it would send the wrong message to employers. But unlike AIM, the High Tech Council said it could eventually support temporary tax hikes as part of a multi-faceted strategy to get through the recession. [See excerpt below: SHNS - Oct 7]

State House News Service
Tuesday October 13, 2020
Tax Hikes Could Push Biz Out of State, AIM Says
Remote Work Seen Loosening Ties Between Companies, Employees


. . . [Michael Goodman from UMass Dartmouth's Department of Public Policy] suggested the idea of temporary tax hikes to maintain state programs that help people through the pandemic. That notion might have more support than others. The business-backed Massachusetts High Technology Council has long resisted efforts to impose new or higher taxes at the state level, but it acknowledged as recently as Wednesday morning that it is not entirely opposed to tax increases.

"Temporary revenue raising options may be necessary and could attract significant support from business leaders -- including the High Tech Council -- provided they are coupled with a combination of prudent and forward-looking approaches that optimize 'rainy day fund' resources, budget reductions, public procurement reforms, state borrowing and federal aid," Christopher Anderson wrote in his August bulletin. The same language was repeated in a memo sent to state legislators Wednesday morning. . . .

State House News Service
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
[Excerpt]
Budget Managers Still Sizing Up Depth of Problems
Big Tax Slide Envisioned Under Even Optimistic Scenarios
By Colin A. Young


Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday he understands why lawmakers are taking a long time to negotiate the bills currently pending in conference committees, covering topics from police reform to economic development to health care to transportation.

“They all passed bills that were conceptually consistent with each other but had a heck of a lot of details in each of them that were different,” Baker said. While he would “love to see many enacted sooner,” the governor said he respects the “difficult conversations.”

But that doesn’t mean Baker plans to wait for those bills to get his policy priorities passed. Instead, he’s pinning his hopes on the state budget.

When Baker announced his revised fiscal 2021 budget proposal Wednesday, he included 118 “outside sections,” policy proposals inserted into the budget.

CommonWealth Magazine
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Baker budget packed with policy proposals


A reimagined $45.5 billion spending plan that relies heavily on the state’s rainy-day fund to balance the state budget in an era of freefalling tax revenues could be setting the state finances up for a “challenging” fiscal storm in the future, budget watchdogs warned.

To help make up for a gaping $3.6 billion shortfall in anticipated tax revenues spurred by widespread business shutdowns amid the pandemic, Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposed budget would drain $1.35 billion from the state’s rainy-day fund — a move he says is necessary to avoid cuts in services and layoffs.

“This budget plan reflects the new realities associated with COVID-19, but it continues to make significant investments in education and economic development and it does not raise taxes,” Baker said, speaking at the State House on Wednesday.

Baker’s plan actually represents a 3.8% — nearly $1 billion — funding boost over his initial January budget....

With anticipated tax revenues coming in $3.6 billion under early-year predictions, Baker’s plan would balance the budget by drawing on $1.35 billion in rainy-day funds, roughly $830 million in federal Medicaid reimbursements, $550 million in federal coronavirus aid, and using $422 million that rolled over from last year’s budget.

The governor said his plan allows “significant investments” while avoiding any broad-based tax increases, layoffs, or cuts to social and health safety net programs, and level-funds local aid, consistent with an agreement announced with the Legislature in July.

But budget watchdogs disagree.

Eileen McAnneny of the centrist Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation warned of “challenging” times to come in the next fiscal year. The “vast majority” of one-time funding the governor relies on to balance this year’s budget is “not replicable,” she said.

“The state will have to hope for further federal assistance, an economic rebound and strong tax revenue growth because the $2.2 billion remaining in the Stabilization or Rainy Day Fund is not sufficient to weather this storm,” she said.

The plan still needs the sign-off from lawmakers, and legislative leaders on Wednesday shed little light on what’s sure to be agonizing and abbreviated deliberations.

The Boston Herald
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Budget watchdog warns reliance on coronavirus rainy day fund
to balance $45.5B budget could set Massachusetts up for fiscal storm


Despite falling state tax revenues and a budget that has been redrawn to reflect the havoc of a pandemic, the Baker administration confirmed Wednesday that Massachusetts will stick to the aggressive plan to chip away at the state's pension liabilities.

The Legislature and administration agreed before the pandemic to hike the state's annual pension payment by more than 9.6 percent each year -- and by more than 30 percent over the three-year period -- as it works to stash away money to cover the $41 billion unfunded portion of the expected pension liability of more than $96 billion....

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation on Wednesday cited the Baker administration's decision to honor the pension funding schedule it previously agreed to as one example of why the Baker revised budget "is not as austere as some would have anticipated."

State House News Service
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Baker Budget Retains Nearly 10 Percent Pension Funding Hike


House and Senate leaders on Beacon Hill chose not to intervene Thursday to block the expiration this weekend of the state's moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, despite the efforts of one Democrat to force an emergency extension of the ban through the end of the year.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday put forward an eviction diversion plan that allows the moratorium to expire on Saturday, but also pumps $171 million into rental assistance and other measures to try to keep people facing economic hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic in their homes.

Baker said his approach was preferable to allowing renters and homeowners to fall deeper into debt, but many advocates and lawmakers said the initiative was insufficient to meet the need and prevent a housing crisis at a time when coronavirus infection rates are rising.

Rep. Michael Connolly, a Cambridge Democrat, showed up during a lightly attended informal session of the House on Thursday to file an emergency petition that would extend the moratorium until Jan. 1, 2021....

The House admitted Connolly's petition and referred it to the Joint Committee on Housing, but further action required concurrence from the Senate, which had already adjourned for the day....

Connolly said that despite voting in July to extend the legislative session until the end of the year lawmakers have "ceded our responsibility for policy making in this critical moment of pandemic and economic meltdown" to the governor.

"When you think about the concerns of our constituents, the challenges facing the commonwealth, I would like us to actually utilize the abilities we have to make policy and pass legislation," Connolly said.

State House News Service
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Legislature Leaves Eviction Crisis to Baker, Courts
Opts Against Intervening With Moratorium About to End


The House and Senate Ways and Means committees will hold a virtual hearing featuring invited testimony next week on Gov. Charlie Baker's revised $45.5 billion budget, which the Republican filed on Wednesday and said he hopes to see completed and returned to him before Thanksgiving.

Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Sen. Michael Rodrigues will host the noon hearing next Wednesday from the State House, and said they look forward to hearing from "members of the Administration, our colleagues, and the general public."

The committee chairs did not release a list of who will be invited to speak, but said guests will participate remotely via video or audio conference.

State House News Service
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Invite-Only Hearing on Baker Budget Set for Wednesday


It's easier to understand now why Gov. Charlie Baker didn't want to cancel Halloween. He had his costume all picked out. And no he's not dressing as Donald Trump.

Whether by sleight of hand or happenstance, Baker, the budgetary magician, managed to take a lot of the sting this week out of an exercise in fiscal obligation that legislators had been wringing their hands over for months, spooked by the pain it would inflict.

The longer Washington took to fight over the next stimulus package, the longer Beacon Hill could put off its inevitable need to pass a balanced budget for the year. Even, and maybe most importantly, if that meant waiting until after the election.

That can-kicking stopped Wednesday.

Baker waved his wand and updated the state's revenue forecast to reflect a $3.6 billion drop in tax collections compared to what had been projected back in January. It was better than the $5 billion to $8 billion once feared, but it wasn't couch change either. Then for his next act, Baker submitted a revised state budget to the Legislature that actually increased proposed spending by about $900 million from his January plan, tipping the scales at $45.5 billion for the year.

"Pretty neat trick, huh?" Baker said, smiling wryly at a question about how he accomplished that feat....

The governor's budget did not raise any new broad-based taxes and incorporated the final, mandated drop in the income tax to 5 percent in January, but he also delayed a charitable giving tax deduction and reproposed an accelerated method for collecting sales taxes that would net the state $267 million in one-time revenue, but has been rejected as unworkable by the Legislature more than once....

Needless to say, Baker's updated budget recommendation was just the start of the process, and one the governor optimistically said he'd like to see wrapped up by Thanksgiving.

While that may take another act of magic to accomplish, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues called it a "responsible" plan that gives the Legislature a "good foundation" to build their own budgets - even if that foundation is built on one-time money....

Prepared to let the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures expire on Saturday, the administration released a plan Monday that it developed with Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey to try to stem the rising tide of eviction proceedings by increasing rental assistance by $100 million and bolstering landlord-tenant mediation and other supports....

Rep. Mike Connolly of Cambridge even tried Thursday to force passage of an emergency petition to extend the moratorium until January, but the furthest he got was getting the bill admitted to the House....

"When you think about the concerns of our constituents, the challenges facing the commonwealth, I would like us to actually utilize the abilities we have to make policy and pass legislation," Connolly said, expressing his frustration that neither the House nor the Senate has met in a formal session since July 31, despite voting to extend formal sessions beyond that date in part to deal with pandemic-related issues....

Baker won't be voting for Trump, which the governor confirmed this week to the surprise of no one.

Baker, however, did not endorse Joe Biden and suggested he might not vote at all.

State House News Service
Friday, October 16, 2020
Weekly Roundup - Neat, But Not Tidy


The historic turnaround time for an annual budget will only be accomplished with a rare level of harmony between House and Senate Democrats on Beacon Hill, whose intraparty troubles agreeing on major priorities this year are on par with the more common partisan divisions that are the primary obsessions of media and election year activity....

With an annual budget already well more than three months overdue, lawmakers this week quickly scheduled a hearing on Baker's massive plan for next Wednesday at noon. But with the elections coming up in just over two weeks, Beacon Hill's unspoken plan to push all of its remaining controversial and complex work off, including the budget, until after the elections is appearing more likely by the day.

State House News Service
Friday, October 16, 2020
Advances - Week of Oct. 18, 2020


New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu plans to take Massachusetts to court over the Bay State’s policy taxing the income of out-of-state residents telecommuting for Bay State companies amid the pandemic.

Sununu announced plans Friday to sue the Baker administration in the U.S. Supreme Court over the policy he called a “direct attack” on New Hampshire.

“The Commonwealth has launched a direct attack on the New Hampshire Advantage, attempting to pick the pockets of our citizens,” Sununu said in a statement. “We are going to fight this unconstitutional attempt to tax our citizens every step of the way, and we are going to win.”

The latest salvo in the ongoing income-tax border battle comes as the Massachusetts Department of Revenue on Friday finalized a temporary rule that imposes the state’s 5% income tax on employees of Massachusetts companies living and working remotely in other states as the public health crisis wears on.

“Within five minutes of learning of this rule change, I immediately directed the Department of Justice to file a lawsuit in the United States Supreme Court on Monday,” Sununu said....

Paul Craney of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance said in a statement Friday that the policy was “especially cruel” for residents of New Hampshire, where there is no state income tax, and warned it might prompt companies to leave Massachusetts.

“These workers are no longer using our state’s resources to do their jobs,” Craney said. “Taxing them at this point is a blind money grab with no fee for use aspect.”

The Boston Herald
Friday, October 16, 2020
Gov. Chris Sununu plans to sue Massachusetts over policy taxing N.H. telecommuters
Sununu: Tax on remote workers a ‘direct attack’ on N.H.


Joe Biden ought to be like Charlie Baker when it comes to packing the court.

Because there is a difference between “packing” and “stacking.”

Biden wants to pack U.S. Supreme Court. Baker wants to stack the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

In only a matter of weeks, Baker, the RINO (Republican in name only) governor of Massachusetts, will have named all seven members of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and, unlike in Washington, no one is complaining.

One reason for the lack of critical commentary is that Baker’s appointees to the high court reflect Baker’s liberal views. Massachusetts is an overwhelmingly liberal, Democratic state that has grown increasingly progressive, as has Baker. He is the type of Republican that Democrats love.

Another reason is that Baker is not really “packing” his high court by increasing the number of justices, the way the Democrats want to do to the nine-member Supreme Court in Washington.

Instead of “packing,” Baker is “stacking.” You might even say he is “stocking,” as in stocking the shelves of the court with liberals who are just like him....

The Boston Herald
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Charlie Baker packs the SJC with his picks – and no pushback
By Peter Lucas


Massachusetts officials warned Wednesday that a Supreme Court decision allowing the Trump administration to halt the census count early could result in a botched final tally, even as federal officials asserted that the vast majority of households in the state had already been counted.

The disagreement underscored the high stakes of the most logistically challenging and politically contentious count in recent memory. The census is used to calculate federal funding and determine congressional seats; for Massachusetts, roughly $16 billion is on the line....

The Census Bureau has said that while only 69 percent of households in the state “self-reported” online, by phone or mail, census employees successfully counted the rest by going door to door, achieving a 99.9 percent completion rate. But local officials and census experts believe that number is far too optimistic because, they say, federal officials are purposefully painting a too rosy picture and because in-person counting is much less reliable than self-responses.

“It’s fictional to talk about 99.9 percent,” said Secretary of State William F. Galvin, the state’s official liaison to the 2020 Census, who has been involved in two previous counts. “The whole concept of short-circuiting this thing and ending it early when it’s had so many problems is so transparently deceitful.” ...

Galvin said census officials have declined to provide municipal-level data to the state about where people had responded and where the gaps were. This makes it impossible to determine where more outreach is necessary, or even how many of the 30 percent of people who did not self-respond were legitimately counted by census officials, he said.

Galvin is also skeptical of the high number touted by the Census Bureau because his office has been working to address some of the challenges to in-person counting — like getting access to apartment buildings — even as federal officials said the counting was finished....

Federal census officials disputed that notion. Jeff T. Behler, regional director of the census, said that it was too labor intensive to provide municipal-level data to the state but that he was confident the count had been comprehensive.

“We have knocked on every address. We have gotten a response from nearly all of the addresses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Behler said in an interview.

In the absence of specific data, state officials and advocates fear tallies will be low in such historically hard-to-count communities as Lawrence and Chelsea, which have high populations of renters, immigrants, and college students. The same cities have been hardest hit by the coronavirus and rely the most on federal aid distributed using census data.

“We are very concerned,” said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and chairwoman of the state’s 2020 Complete Count Committee. “It’s about resources. It’s about political power.”...

Galvin said the Census Bureau told him that door knocking will end at 11 p.m. on Thursday, while self-responses will end early Friday. The state had planned census outreach at early voting sites this weekend, Galvin said, but was required to cancel those events.

“Any day, they’ll have a balloon drop to say they’re finished,” he said. “Even though we know we’re not.”

The Boston Globe
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
‘So transparently deceitful.’ Ending census early
will leave parts of Boston uncounted, possibly resulting in less aid


With voting set to end in Massachusetts in 22 days, three prominent state Republicans announced on Tuesday that they had formed a political action committee to support GOP candidates for state, local and county offices.

Republican National Committee Treasurer Ron Kaufman and Janet Fogarty, the state's other RNC member, said that every dollar donated to The Fund for Massachusetts Future PAC, outside of small administrative expenses, would go to supporting local candidates.

The focus, they said, could potentially open the door to donors who might want to support local Republicans, but don't want to contribute to federal candidates in a cycle when attitudes toward President Donald Trump and Congress are a motivating factor.

"Everyone talks about how critical of an election this is. Our candidates on the ground deserve support, and we needed to develop a giving strategy that keeps all dollars here in Massachusetts. It's what's best for donors and what's best for candidates," Kaufman said.

The paperwork for the PAC was filed with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance on Oct. 1, and lists the promotion of "fiscal conservatism and job growth in the commonwealth" as its objective. The committee will be chaired by Michael Sullivan, a former state lawmaker and U.S. Attorney who has also run for U.S. Senate....

Sullivan compared the Legislature on Beacon Hill, where Democrats control 164 of 200 seats in the House and Senate, to a monopoly, which he said is not good for business or public policy.

"Successful campaigns need great candidates, grassroots, and financial support," Sullivan said. "The narrative needs to be kept on why our Republican candidates for state and local offices are better for the taxpayers, better for public policies, better for education, and better for attracting and retaining good jobs and businesses." ...

Not counting candidates for federal office, there are 66 Republicans on the ballot this fall, with just 19 challenging Democratic incumbents in the Legislature and almost as many defending their seats from challenges from Democrats.

The state party's fundraising has also lagged in the midst in the pandemic, and without any real support from the de-facto leader of the party Gov. Charlie Baker. As the party has moved toward Trump under the stewardship of MassGOP Chair Jim Lyons, Baker has moved away from the president and national politics, despite his endorsement of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in Maine.

Baker has said that outside of that endorsements he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito intended to keep their politicking confined to campaigning for some legislative candidates, though that has yet to really happen....

A separate super PAC run by allies of Gov. Baker - Massachusetts Majority super PAC - has spent nearly $230,000 in 2020 to support local and state candidates, including Democrats and Republicans.

State House News Service
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
GOP Leaders Form PAC in Election Stretch Run
Kaufman: Strategy Creates New Outlet to Help GOP Candidates


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

I just did a remote Zoom interview with Mary Saladna of WCVB TV-5 for my take on New Hampshire Gov. Sununu's lawsuit against Massachusetts.  (See The Boston Herald report below:  "Gov. Chris Sununu plans to sue Massachusetts over policy taxing N.H. telecommuters")  You might catch it on the news this evening.  (Read more about it below.)


http://cltg.org/cltg/clt2020/images/Howard-Jarvis.jpg

As we prepare to celebrate 40 years of Proposition 2½ in just two weeks (passed overwhelmingly by voters on the 1980 ballot) it's important to recognize that it was inspired by California's Proposition 13, also passed overwhelmingly by the Golden State's voters —two years prior to Prop 2½ in 1978. The property tax limitation movement spearheaded by Howard Jarvis (photo left) was launched in California, moved next to Massachusetts, then spread around the country to one degree and form or another.

In recognition of her success leading our own property and other tax limitations in Massachusetts, during the National Taxpayers Union's 1999 annual convention in Washington D.C. Barbara Anderson was awarded The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association's National "Lifetime Taxfighter Award" (photo beneath — click on it to enlarge). It was the fifth such recognition by the California taxpayers association. The first bronze Howard Jarvis bust was awarded to Ronald Reagan.

As you know, our Proposition  2½ is yet again under assault — its fate still pending in the Transportation Bond Conference Committee. But what is happening in California may again be a precursor of what will come to Massachusetts soon. The Wall Street Journal editorialized on Thursday ("California’s Next Big Tax Gulp — A ballot measure would repeal the business half of legendary Prop. 13"):

Sooner or later California’s public unions had to hit up the hoi polloi to pay for their pensions after soaking what’s left of the state’s millionaire class, and here they come.

On Nov. 3, Californians will vote on a “split roll” ballot initiative (Prop. 15) that seeks to enact the biggest tax hike in state history. In 1978 voters enshrined protections against runaway property taxes in the state Constitution (Prop 13). Prop. 15 would abolish those protections for businesses while maintaining limitations—at least for now—on homes....

California’s home prices have increased ninefold since 1978, and commercial real estate has also appreciated enormously, especially in coastal areas. Unions say their initiative will only hit wealthy corporations, but not even the Democratic-friendly NAACP believes that whopper, which is why it and minority business groups are campaigning against the initiative. Anyone who owns a couple of fast food franchises would get walloped. Ditto small dairies, wineries, orchards and manufacturers, though Democrats in the Legislature have charitably proposed to exempt solar farms.

Small businesses that rent space note that landlords would pass on the tax hike in lease agreements. Less affected will be tech titans that recently purchased properties or are planning to down-size office space as they allow more employees to work remotely. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is Prop. 15’s second biggest donor....

Perhaps he’s trying to atone for his wealth, but as the NAACP and minority business groups explained in a letter to him in August: “Unlike Facebook, restaurants, dry cleaners, nail salons and other small businesses can’t operate right now and many may never open again. The last thing they need is a billionaire pushing higher taxes on them under the false flag of social justice.” ...

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office forecasts Prop. 15 would raise property taxes by $8.5 billion to $12.5 billion a year by 2025, which is about twice as much as the state’s 2012 tax hike on high earners. Unlike that referendum, Prop. 15 revenues would supposedly go directly to schools and local governments, which have been struggling amid swelling pension payments.

Since 2013, pension costs have grown 130% for teachers and doubled for other local public employees. Rising retirement costs are limiting wage increases at the bargaining table, and Prop. 15 is the union answer to keep the cash flowing. United Teachers Los Angeles says passing Prop. 15 “is key to winning the aggressive, comprehensive demands we will bring forward in 2022”—and as long into the future as their political dominance allows....

The left-wing Takers — both in California and Massachusetts, and everywhere else — detest statutory and constitutional tax limitations on their insatiable lusts, especially taxes on other people's property and income.  For decades they've strived to crack and ultimately shatter tax limitations.  In Massachusetts, decades of trying to crack the Commonwealth's flat income tax, replace it with a "progressive" graduated income tax, is another example.  Their current, sixth attempt is called their "Fair Share Amendment," aka their "Millionaires Tax" — "just on the wealthy" they claim.  For a start, or as the Wall Street Journal put it, "at least for now."


Last Wednesday CommonWealth Magazine noted:

Although legislative leaders had at one point floated the idea of having a joint budget between the governor, House and Senate, Baker’s decision to release his own budget proposal indicates that this will not happen. His proposal now goes to the House.

On Thursday it added:

Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday he understands why lawmakers are taking a long time to negotiate the bills currently pending in conference committees, covering topics from police reform to economic development to health care to transportation.

“They all passed bills that were conceptually consistent with each other but had a heck of a lot of details in each of them that were different,” Baker said. While he would “love to see many enacted sooner,” the governor said he respects the “difficult conversations.”

But that doesn’t mean Baker plans to wait for those bills to get his policy priorities passed. Instead, he’s pinning his hopes on the state budget.

When Baker announced his revised fiscal 2021 budget proposal Wednesday, he included 118 “outside sections,” policy proposals inserted into the budget.

The State House News Service reported on Thursday:

House and Senate leaders on Beacon Hill chose not to intervene Thursday to block the expiration this weekend of the state's moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, despite the efforts of one Democrat to force an emergency extension of the ban through the end of the year.

On Friday in its Advances, the News Service added:

Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday put forward an eviction diversion plan that allows the moratorium to expire on Saturday, but also pumps $171 million into rental assistance and other measures to try to keep people facing economic hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic in their homes.

It its Weekly Roundup it noted:

With an annual budget already well more than three months overdue, lawmakers this week quickly scheduled a hearing on Baker's massive plan for next Wednesday at noon. But with the elections coming up in just over two weeks, Beacon Hill's unspoken plan to push all of its remaining controversial and complex work off, including the budget, until after the elections is appearing more likely by the day.

Whether by sleight of hand or happenstance, Baker, the budgetary magician, managed to take a lot of the sting this week out of an exercise in fiscal obligation that legislators had been wringing their hands over for months, spooked by the pain it would inflict.

The longer Washington took to fight over the next stimulus package, the longer Beacon Hill could put off its inevitable need to pass a balanced budget for the year. Even, and maybe most importantly, if that meant waiting until after the election.

That can-kicking stopped Wednesday.

Baker waved his wand and updated the state's revenue forecast to reflect a $3.6 billion drop in tax collections compared to what had been projected back in January. It was better than the $5 billion to $8 billion once feared, but it wasn't couch change either. Then for his next act, Baker submitted a revised state budget to the Legislature that actually increased proposed spending by about $900 million from his January plan, tipping the scales at $45.5 billion for the year.

"Pretty neat trick, huh?" Baker said, smiling wryly at a question about how he accomplished that feat.

I appears that the Legislature is making itself less and less relevant by the day.  Gov. Baker has taken the reins as the unilateral power on Beacon Hill and I suppose who can blame him if nobody else wants to get anything constructive accomplished.  Remember back in late July, when the Legislature decided it was necessary to overturn its own longstanding rule and extend its session until the next elected Legislature is seated in January?  On August 16 I predicted that the Legislature would be in re-election hibernation until at least after the November election:

There's nothing like a deadline to focus attention, and there's nothing like extending a deadline to feed procrastination.  Remember a month ago when everything on Beacon Hill was about getting so much accomplished before the July 31 recess deadline?  Now that they've agreed to ignore their own rule and remain in session interminably the pressure is off the pols; it's back to business-as-usual.  Nothing has come out of any of the numerous conference committees, and nothing likely will until the next deadline, after they are safely re-elected.

The Massachusetts Great and General Court remains "The Best Legislature Money Can Buy."


Baker waved his wand and updated the state's revenue forecast to reflect a $3.6 billion drop in tax collections compared to what had been projected back in January. It was better than the $5 billion to $8 billion once feared, but it wasn't couch change either. Then for his next act, Baker submitted a revised state budget to the Legislature that actually increased proposed spending by about $900 million from his January plan, tipping the scales at $45.5 billion for the year.

"Pretty neat trick, huh?" Baker said, smiling wryly at a question about how he accomplished that feat.

CommonWealth Magazine reported on Wednesday ("Despite pandemic, Baker proposes higher spending"):

Despite the pandemic-related recession and high unemployment rates, and an expected drop in state tax revenues, Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday released a budget proposal for the current fiscal year that is actually higher than the budget he proposed in January.

Baker, a Republican, is recommending a fiscal 2021 budget of $45.5 billion, or 3.8 percent more than was spent in fiscal 2020.  The budget he released in January would have spent $44.6 billion, or 2.3 percent more than in the prior fiscal year.

In Massachusetts, nothing — not a thing — ever gets in the way of spending increases.  I noted in the January 25 CLT Update:

This week the governor proposed spending $44.6 billion in the upcoming fiscal 2021 budget — an additional $1.3 billion over this fiscal year's record budget spending.

According to the Baker administration, "the governor's budget would increase overall state spending by 2.3 percent above the current fiscal year."

Stop right here and think of this:  Just 2.3 percent of the current fiscal year's spending amounts to $1.3 billion.

Just ten years ago the Legislature passed its FY 2011 budget for $27.6 billion.  That was $17 billion less than Gov. Baker's proposed spending, only ten years later.  2.3 percent of that FY 2011 budget would have been $635 million.  2.3 percent today is $1.3 billion.

This is what happens when unfettered spending incrementally increases by more than a billion taxpayers' dollars piled on year after year.

"'Pretty neat trick, huh?' Baker said."  There's nothing special about it, Charlie.  That's an increase of some $900 million above his January plan, bringing the total to $45.5 billion for the fiscal year already four months gone by.  That brings the increase over his last state budget (Fiscal Year 2020) to $2.2 Billion more spending.

Remember back on June 21 after the governor's first "interim" spending bill to keep the government open I commented:

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

CommonWealth Magazine noted:

Baker said he expects to submit another temporary budget to keep government running through November, and he hopes lawmakers can return a budget bill to his desk by Thanksgiving. With the process likely to go past the election, that means state lawmakers will be voting on the budget in an unusual lame duck session.

The State House News Service reported:  "Baker said he'd like to see a budget back on desk before Thanksgiving so that planning can begin for fiscal 2022."

Expect at least another billion or two more spending in the next one.


Though Baker's FY20 Budget 2.0 contains no direct tax hikes there are a number of revenue raisers.  The State House News Service reported in its Weekly Roundup:

The governor's budget did not raise any new broad-based taxes and incorporated the final, mandated drop in the income tax to 5 percent in January, but he also delayed a charitable giving tax deduction and reproposed an accelerated method for collecting sales taxes that would net the state $267 million in one-time revenue, but has been rejected as unworkable by the Legislature more than once.

Hiking the income tax rate again which finally made it back down to 5 percent just this year after our decades-long battle  has been left for others to suggest.  The State House News Service reported on Tuesday ("Tax Hikes Could Push Biz Out of State, AIM Says"):

"Tax increases now would further destabilize businesses, many of which are already on the edge of collapse," AIM [Associated Industries of Massachusetts] President John Regan was quoted saying in the blog post....

AIM's position on taxes echoed that of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, which last week warned that if policy leaders turn quickly to tax increase to stabilize state finances it would send the wrong message to employers. But unlike AIM, the High Tech Council said it could eventually support temporary tax hikes as part of a multi-faceted strategy to get through the recession.

On October 7 the News Service reported ("Budget Managers Still Sizing Up Depth of Problems"):

. . . [Michael Goodman from UMass Dartmouth's Department of Public Policy] suggested the idea of temporary tax hikes to maintain state programs that help people through the pandemic. That notion might have more support than others. The business-backed Massachusetts High Technology Council has long resisted efforts to impose new or higher taxes at the state level, but it acknowledged as recently as Wednesday morning that it is not entirely opposed to tax increases. . . .

"But unlike AIM, the High Tech Council said it could eventually support temporary tax hikes as part of a multi-faceted strategy to get through the recession."

"'Temporary revenue raising options may be necessary and could attract significant support from business leaders -- including the High Tech Council -- provided they are coupled with a combination of prudent and forward-looking approaches that optimize 'rainy day fund' resources, budget reductions, public procurement reforms, state borrowing and federal aid,' Christopher Anderson wrote in his August bulletin. The same language was repeated in a memo sent to state legislators . . ."

I was shocked, stunned and disappointed to see that the Massachusetts High Tech Council was floating another "temporary" income tax hike like the one in 1989 in the very year we've finally gotten it back down to 5 percent, where it was thirty years ago when CLT began fighting to roll it back.  MHTC used to be one of CLT's best allies especially fighting to pass Proposition 2½ while Howard Foley was its executive director.  Since Chris Anderson replaced him the support disappeared.

Can Chris Anderson and the Mass High Tech Council possibly be so naive, so uninformed? Haven't the high tech titans recognized that there is no such thing as a "temporary" tax increase?

So very disappointing.

Chip Ford
Executive Director


Full News Reports Follow
(excerpted above)

The Wall Street Journal
Thursday, October 14, 2020
Opinion | Review & Outlook
California’s Next Big Tax Gulp
A ballot measure would repeal the business half of legendary Prop. 13.

Sooner or later California’s public unions had to hit up the hoi polloi to pay for their pensions after soaking what’s left of the state’s millionaire class, and here they come.

On Nov. 3, Californians will vote on a “split roll” ballot initiative (Prop. 15) that seeks to enact the biggest tax hike in state history. In 1978 voters enshrined protections against runaway property taxes in the state Constitution (Prop 13). Prop. 15 would abolish those protections for businesses while maintaining limitations—at least for now—on homes.

Under current law, tax rates on residential and commercial property are capped at 1% of their assessed value—i.e., the purchase price—and can increase by no more than 2% annually. If the property values of homes or businesses rapidly inflate, owners won’t see their bills increase by more than 2% per year.

This is the only balm in California’s oppressive tax climate and acts as a modest restraint on the government spending ratchet. Unions know that attempting to repeal this entirely would spur a homeowner revolt, so they are targeting businesses.

Their split roll initiative would allow commercial property with a current market value of more than $3 million to be reassessed every year. If commercial property values rapidly increase, tax bills will too. Taxes on business property—including equipment—that hasn’t changed hands for decades would also balloon.

California’s home prices have increased ninefold since 1978, and commercial real estate has also appreciated enormously, especially in coastal areas. Unions say their initiative will only hit wealthy corporations, but not even the Democratic-friendly NAACP believes that whopper, which is why it and minority business groups are campaigning against the initiative. Anyone who owns a couple of fast food franchises would get walloped. Ditto small dairies, wineries, orchards and manufacturers, though Democrats in the Legislature have charitably proposed to exempt solar farms.

Small businesses that rent space note that landlords would pass on the tax hike in lease agreements. Less affected will be tech titans that recently purchased properties or are planning to down-size office space as they allow more employees to work remotely. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is Prop. 15’s second biggest donor.

Perhaps he’s trying to atone for his wealth, but as the NAACP and minority business groups explained in a letter to him in August: “Unlike Facebook, restaurants, dry cleaners, nail salons and other small businesses can’t operate right now and many may never open again. The last thing they need is a billionaire pushing higher taxes on them under the false flag of social justice.”

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office forecasts Prop. 15 would raise property taxes by $8.5 billion to $12.5 billion a year by 2025, which is about twice as much as the state’s 2012 tax hike on high earners. Unlike that referendum, Prop. 15 revenues would supposedly go directly to schools and local governments, which have been struggling amid swelling pension payments.

Since 2013, pension costs have grown 130% for teachers and doubled for other local public employees. Rising retirement costs are limiting wage increases at the bargaining table, and Prop. 15 is the union answer to keep the cash flowing. United Teachers Los Angeles says passing Prop. 15 “is key to winning the aggressive, comprehensive demands we will bring forward in 2022”—and as long into the future as their political dominance allows.


CommonWealth Magazine
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Despite pandemic, Baker proposes higher spending
Total expenditures more than what he proposed pre-COVID in January
By Shira Schoenberg


Despite the pandemic-related recession and high unemployment rates, and an expected drop in state tax revenues, Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday released a budget proposal for the current fiscal year that is actually higher than the budget he proposed in January.

Baker, a Republican, is recommending a fiscal 2021 budget of $45.5 billion, or 3.8 percent more than was spent in fiscal 2020. The budget he released in January would have spent $44.6 billion, or 2.3 percent more than in the prior fiscal year.

The high budget is largely driven by excessive spending in MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program. It would be paid for with an influx of federal money as well as a $1.3 billion draw from the state’s $3.5 billion rainy day fund.

“The rainy day fund is there to support services when it’s raining, and I think most people would agree it’s raining,” Baker said at a State House press conference.

Although legislative leaders had at one point floated the idea of having a joint budget between the governor, House and Senate, Baker’s decision to release his own budget proposal indicates that this will not happen. His proposal now goes to the House.

Catherine Williams, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Robert DeLeo said only that the House Committee on Ways and Means has been in discussions with the administration and the Senate regarding the fiscal 2021 budget “and will review the budget filed by the Administration today.”

A spokesman for the Senate Ways and Means Committees did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Baker said he expects to submit another temporary budget to keep government running through November, and he hopes lawmakers can return a budget bill to his desk by Thanksgiving. With the process likely to go past the election, that means state lawmakers will be voting on the budget in an unusual lame duck session.

Baker does not plan to raise taxes and would allow the income tax rate to drop to 5 percent, the final drop approved two decades ago in a 2000 ballot question.

“The idea of going back to taxpayers given their own situation just didn’t seem like the right thing to do,” Baker said.

Baker does want to delay implementing a state charitable deduction, which was scheduled to go into effect this year and would have cost the state $64 million in tax revenue. Baker is also proposing “modernizing” the collection of sales taxes by requiring large businesses to remit sales taxes to the state more quickly. This is estimated to bring in $267 million in one-time revenue, primarily by collecting in this fiscal year money that would otherwise have come in next year. It is a proposal he has made before, which has never been approved by the Legislature.

Baker also wants to push off implementation of the Student Opportunity Act, a major revamping of the state’s education funding formula, that was initially scheduled to go into effect this year. While the budget proposal includes a $108 million increase in Chapter 70 funding, that is mainly to keep pace with inflation and enrollment changes. In comparison, Baker’s January budget would have included $355 million in new education spending to conform with a new education funding formula – and some advocates had said even that was not enough.

Schools, however, are benefitting from an extra $442 million from various federally funded coronavirus-related grants. The governor called it “quite an achievement” that schools overall will get more money than anticipated – counting federal dollars – despite the pandemic.

Baker’s release of a budget proposal in October – for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2020 – is in itself unprecedented.

Adhering to the traditional budget schedule laid out in state law, Baker released a budget proposal in January. But by March, Baker’s budget had become hopelessly outdated as the coronavirus pandemic forced the state to shut down virtually its entire economy. Since July, the Legislature has funded state government with a series of temporary budgets, the latest of which expires at the end of October.

At a recent hearing, the Department of Revenue estimated that the tax revenue assumption Baker used to build his budget in January – that the state would take in $31.15 billion in tax revenue – was now too high, by between $2.7 and $5.2 billion. Baker’s latest budget proposal counts on getting $3.2 billion less in tax revenue than his January proposal, or $27.59 billion. That is a 6.8 percent drop compared to tax revenues in fiscal 2020.

The proposal does not count on getting any additional federal stimulus money, since it remains unclear whether Congress will pass another stimulus bill. It does include $550 million in coronavirus relief money the state already received.

Overall, health care spending is the clear budget driver. MassHealth gross spending will be $1.49 billion higher than Baker had anticipated in January, or an 8.9 percent spending increase, due to COVID-19-related spending. Overall, the Baker administration projects MassHealth spending of $18.2 billion, of which the state’s share is $6.6 billion – a 10 percent increase from fiscal 2020.

Most commercial insurers actually profited this past year, since medical procedures were pushed off when doctors’ offices shuttered to non-emergency care. But MassHealth had a major increase in enrollment as people who lost jobs have migrated from commercial plans, and new federal rules mean the state cannot deem someone ineligible for MassHealth during the state of emergency, even if their financial situation changes.

Enhanced federal reimbursements for Medicaid during the pandemic means Massachusetts will get $824 million in extra federal money to pay for the increased health care spending.

Non-health care spending will be just 0.9 percent higher than last year. Secretary of Administration and Finance Michael Heffernan said agency heads were asked to craft a budget based on the lower number of either the prior year’s spending or the spending included in Baker’s January budget.

One major area with increased discretionary spending is in a $101 million small business recovery plan that Baker is proposing. Most of this money would go towards grants and technical assistance to small businesses, with a focus on minority, veteran and women-owned companies.

Money is included for housing support, in line with a program Baker announced Monday to prevent evictions. As he previously announced, Baker would level-fund local aid.

The Department of Children and Families budget is lower than Baker anticipated in January, primarily due to caseload declines. There are slightly lower budget recommendations than in January for a range of departments and programs, including substance abuse programs, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the Department of Conservation and Recreation and others. The State Police would get $411.4 million, compared to $413.1 billion envisioned in January.

The MBTA would get a $64 billion budget increase over fiscal 2020, for a total of $1.269 billion. That includes $1.142 billion in a routine transfer based on sales tax revenue and another $40 million from the sales tax acceleration proposal.

Similar to Baker’s January budget proposal, the budget would fund several recommendations of Baker’s Black and Latino advisory commission, primarily related to workforce development and training. It would allocate $8.4 million for a new job training program in skilled trades like plumbing and manufacturing, using vocational high schools to offer afternoon and evening classes.

Baker is proposing the same fee hike for ride-hailing services that he proposed in January, from 20 cents to $1 per ride, but delaying implementation so that no new revenue is gained this year.

“This revised proposal enables the commonwealth to make significant investments in our recovery while continuing to fund key services that support our continued fight against the virus,” Baker said.

Eileen McAnneny, president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said the governor’s approach makes sense, in funding social safety net programs while not raising taxes. “You have to recognize the fragility of the economy and not add taxes or do anything that could further jeopardize our recovery,” she said. “At the same time, you have to recognize there are people who are hurting.”

Paul Craney, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a conservative fiscal policy group that does not disclose its backers, criticized Baker’s plan to accelerate the sales tax collection and raise fees on Uber and Lyft, saying it will hurt businesses already hit by the pandemic and demonstrates “a tone deafness that only could live in the narrow confines of our statehouse.”

Marie-Frances Rivera, president of the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, said while the budget does protect core state services, it “fails to make the swift and at-scale policy solutions needed to support the hundreds of thousands of families in our state that can’t afford to put food on their table or keep their families safe and housed.”

MassBudget has been pushing for tax increases on wealthy individuals and profitable corporations. Baker on Wednesday said he would veto any new taxes that the Legislature passes right now. Rivera said the governor’s promise to veto new taxes “will not help us fully address the urgent needs of communities, much less invest in an equitable and strong recovery.”


State House News Service
Tuesday October 13, 2020
Tax Hikes Could Push Biz Out of State, AIM Says
Remote Work Seen Loosening Ties Between Companies, Employees
By Matt Murphy


One of the state's largest and most influential business groups urged Beacon Hill lawmakers on Tuesday to take tax increases off the table as they consider how to put together a state budget that accounts for major declines in revenue, but doesn't dismantle critical state services.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts, in a message posted to its website, suggested that it would be more appropriate at this moment to dip into the state's $3.5 billion reserve fund, or even utilize low-interest borrowing to keep programs running and employees on the payroll as they wait for Congress to provide states with financial relief.

"Tax increases now would further destabilize businesses, many of which are already on the edge of collapse," AIM President John Regan was quoted saying in the blog post.

The message from the group that represents more than 3,500 employers in Massachusetts came after the Department of Revenue and other economists predicted that revenues this fiscal year could fall roughly $1.6 billion to $5 billion below initial projections due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Charlie Baker is expected to update the state's official revenue estimate this week, and he and lawmakers will use that new number to build a budget for the rest of the fiscal year. The governor's budget chief Michael Heffernan said last week that the administration does not think tax increases should be in the mix right now, but legislative leaders were more circumspect about ruling anything out.

Baker said last month that he believed it would be possible to "work our way through" fiscal 2021, but added that he was concerned about fiscal 2022 if Congress and the White House did not deliver another round of stimulus.

AIM's position on taxes echoed that of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, which last week warned that if policy leaders turn quickly to tax increase to stabilize state finances it would send the wrong message to employers. But unlike AIM, the High Tech Council said it could eventually support temporary tax hikes as part of a multi-faceted strategy to get through the recession.

AIM said a new survey of Bay State employers found that two-thirds of companies had sales below their 2020 expectations, and many were planning layoffs, furloughs, reduced hours and pay reductions, despite surviving this long through a pandemic shutdown and gradual reopening of the economy.

Regan also said that the shift to remote work means that companies are no longer as strongly tethered to Massachusetts as they once were, and could elect to leave the state if business tax increases create a competitive disadvantage to staying.

"Just as online commerce removed the geographic bond between sellers and customers, telecommuting has loosened the geographic ties between companies and workers. Employers concerned about tax increases in Massachusetts may now elect to locate elsewhere. The barriers for businesses to leave Massachusetts have never been lower," Regan said.

According to AIM, the financial struggles facing businesses in their eighth month of operating in the midst of a global health crisis exceed the added costs of supplying workers with personal protective equipment and adapting to new rules and regulations.

The trade group noted that employers are contributing $1 billion to the state's new paid family and medical leave program and face a looming bill coming due next year from increased unemployment insurance rates due to the state's 11.3 percent unemployment rate.

The state's minimum wage, which is currently at $12.75 per hour, is also slated to increase automatically on Jan. 1, 2021 to $13.50.

"The current crisis provides state and local governments the opportunity to find innovative ways to reform themselves, just as the business community has done, so that they can continue to deliver vital resources and services to the people of the Commonwealth," Regan said.


CommonWealth Magazine
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Baker budget packed with policy proposals
By Shira Schoenberg


Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday he understands why lawmakers are taking a long time to negotiate the bills currently pending in conference committees, covering topics from police reform to economic development to health care to transportation.

“They all passed bills that were conceptually consistent with each other but had a heck of a lot of details in each of them that were different,” Baker said. While he would “love to see many enacted sooner,” the governor said he respects the “difficult conversations.”

But that doesn’t mean Baker plans to wait for those bills to get his policy priorities passed. Instead, he’s pinning his hopes on the state budget.

When Baker announced his revised fiscal 2021 budget proposal Wednesday, he included 118 “outside sections,” policy proposals inserted into the budget.

Some relate to budget initiatives – increasing ride-hailing fees, delaying the implementation of a state charitable deduction, accelerating sales tax collections, and establishing a tax credit for businesses that hire people with disabilities. But they also include a potpourri of other policy proposals, many of which were pulled from earlier bills that were never enacted.

Secretary of Administration and Finance Michael Heffernan said some came from the governor’s health care bill and others from his transportation bond bill, versions of which are pending in conference committees. A lot were left over from the governor’s January budget bill, and others are perennial initiatives the governor has never previously been able to get passed.

Some have potential – if tenuous – budgetary ties, like letting the state charge the decommissioned Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station for costs related to radiation monitoring and emergency planning, or increasing penalties on natural gas companies for safety violations. Others, less so.

On health care, Baker is reviving proposals to let MassHealth negotiate more drug rebates, to prohibit insurers from charging more because a medical or behavioral health service took place the same day as another visit, to penalize drug manufacturers that raise prices excessively, and to create a universal application for health care providers to join the networks of MassHealth and commercial insurers. A provision included in another bill related to the Department of Children and Families would restructure a team examining child fatalities.

Baker is reprising a provision from an old road safety bill to let the Department of Transportation set speed limits in construction zones and increase related fines. Also transportation-related, he wants to create metrics to standardize how Regional Transit Authorities are funded.

Heffernan described some of the new items as urgent matters – presumably things like Baker’s proposal to give the Department of Public Health more authority over nursing home licensing or to create a COVID-19 recovery fund for early education providers.

But others seem far from urgent: Repealing a blue law to “allow the hunting of deer by bow and arrow on Sundays” or repealing a prohibition on catching edible crabs from coastal waters between January and April.

Others are perennial retreads that appear no more likely to pass this year than previously. A 15 percent excise tax on manufacturers of opioid medications got a lot of attention when Baker introduced it in 2019. But lawmakers declined to pass it then, and although it is included in an outside section in this year’s budget, it did not merit a mention in Baker’s press conference, and the budget does not rely on any revenue from it.

When Baker first tried to cap sick time accruals for state employees to 1,000 hours in 2016, it created controversy and got strong union pushback. By now, the pattern has been established over several years: Baker repeatedly introduces the proposal, as he did again this week, and lawmakers repeatedly ignore it.


The Boston Herald
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Budget watchdog warns reliance on coronavirus rainy day fund
to balance $45.5B budget could set Massachusetts up for fiscal storm
By Erin Tiernan


A reimagined $45.5 billion spending plan that relies heavily on the state’s rainy-day fund to balance the state budget in an era of freefalling tax revenues could be setting the state finances up for a “challenging” fiscal storm in the future, budget watchdogs warned.

To help make up for a gaping $3.6 billion shortfall in anticipated tax revenues spurred by widespread business shutdowns amid the pandemic, Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposed budget would drain $1.35 billion from the state’s rainy-day fund — a move he says is necessary to avoid cuts in services and layoffs.

“This budget plan reflects the new realities associated with COVID-19, but it continues to make significant investments in education and economic development and it does not raise taxes,” Baker said, speaking at the State House on Wednesday.

Baker’s plan actually represents a 3.8% — nearly $1 billion — funding boost over his initial January budget. Budget Chief Michael Heffernan blamed the increased spending on the strain coronavirus has placed on the state’s Medicaid system, which has seen thousands flock to enroll amid mass unemployment.

Baker is also proposing $101 million in new grants, loans and resources for the state’s struggling small businesses.

With anticipated tax revenues coming in $3.6 billion under early-year predictions, Baker’s plan would balance the budget by drawing on $1.35 billion in rainy-day funds, roughly $830 million in federal Medicaid reimbursements, $550 million in federal coronavirus aid, and using $422 million that rolled over from last year’s budget.

The governor said his plan allows “significant investments” while avoiding any broad-based tax increases, layoffs, or cuts to social and health safety net programs, and level-funds local aid, consistent with an agreement announced with the Legislature in July.

But budget watchdogs disagree.

Eileen McAnneny of the centrist Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation warned of “challenging” times to come in the next fiscal year. The “vast majority” of one-time funding the governor relies on to balance this year’s budget is “not replicable,” she said.

“The state will have to hope for further federal assistance, an economic rebound and strong tax revenue growth because the $2.2 billion remaining in the Stabilization or Rainy Day Fund is not sufficient to weather this storm,” she said.

The plan still needs the sign-off from lawmakers, and legislative leaders on Wednesday shed little light on what’s sure to be agonizing and abbreviated deliberations.

A spokeswoman for Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo would only say the Joint Committee on Ways and Means has “been in discussions” with administrative leaders and “will review the budget.”

The left-of-center Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center criticized the budget that level-funds most services as not going far enough, saying it “fails … to support the hundreds of thousands of families in our state that can’t afford to put food on their table or keep their families safe and housed.”

Paul Craney of the conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, however, criticized the failure to cut spending saying the state “continues to head in the wrong direction.”


State House News Service
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Baker Budget Retains Nearly 10 Percent Pension Funding Hike
By Colin A. Young


Despite falling state tax revenues and a budget that has been redrawn to reflect the havoc of a pandemic, the Baker administration confirmed Wednesday that Massachusetts will stick to the aggressive plan to chip away at the state's pension liabilities.

The Legislature and administration agreed before the pandemic to hike the state's annual pension payment by more than 9.6 percent each year -- and by more than 30 percent over the three-year period -- as it works to stash away money to cover the $41 billion unfunded portion of the expected pension liability of more than $96 billion.

The $3.115 billion transfer to the pension fund in the fiscal year 2021 budget, an increase of roughly $274 million or about 9.6 percent over the fiscal 2020 contribution, and the triennial schedule that it is part of means the state's annual pension contribution will have to grow at a clip far more rapid than what is forecasted for state tax revenue in order to remain on track to fully fund the liability by 2036.

State tax revenue was initially projected to grow by 2.8 percent in fiscal year 2021, but now the administration is expecting it will actually come in 6.8 percent below fiscal year 2020 actual collections.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation on Wednesday cited the Baker administration's decision to honor the pension funding schedule it previously agreed to as one example of why the Baker revised budget "is not as austere as some would have anticipated."

Though it was not a main topic of discussion Wednesday when Gov. Charlie Baker held a press conference to unveil his revised budget, the governor mentioned that his new budget "keeps to the pension schedule that we announced back in January."

The funding schedule will limit other options for lawmakers as they craft the state's annual budget, but it also impacts the approximately 314,637 retired or active state employees and municipal teachers who are part of the Massachusetts State Employees' Retirement System or the Massachusetts Teachers' Retirement System.


State House News Service
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Legislature Leaves Eviction Crisis to Baker, Courts
Opts Against Intervening With Moratorium About to End
By Matt Murphy


House and Senate leaders on Beacon Hill chose not to intervene Thursday to block the expiration this weekend of the state's moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, despite the efforts of one Democrat to force an emergency extension of the ban through the end of the year.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday put forward an eviction diversion plan that allows the moratorium to expire on Saturday, but also pumps $171 million into rental assistance and other measures to try to keep people facing economic hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic in their homes.

Baker said his approach was preferable to allowing renters and homeowners to fall deeper into debt, but many advocates and lawmakers said the initiative was insufficient to meet the need and prevent a housing crisis at a time when coronavirus infection rates are rising.

Rep. Michael Connolly, a Cambridge Democrat, showed up during a lightly attended informal session of the House on Thursday to file an emergency petition that would extend the moratorium until Jan. 1, 2021.

Connolly said that the extension would give Baker more time to get the pieces of his eviction diversion plan in place, and also allow the Legislature to continue to work on legislation he filed with Housing Committee Chairman Kevin Honan and dozens of other Democrats in the Legislature to extend the moratorium for much longer.

"Most of the key pieces of the governor's initiative that will help tenants and even help landlords aren't in place yet, the legal representation, the community mediation," Connolly said after the session.

The House admitted Connolly's petition and referred it to the Joint Committee on Housing, but further action required concurrence from the Senate, which had already adjourned for the day. Connolly ultimately doubted the presence of a quorum to force the House to end its session Thursday, though it was unclear whether the House had any business left on its agenda for the day. Both branches plan to return on Monday.

"I think it's a matter of the action that we need to take requires a quorum and we haven't had a formal legislative session in two and half months, which is frankly disappointing to me," Connolly said about the actions he took.

While Connolly was inside the State House, demonstrators had planned a march from the Brooke Courthouse in Boston to the State House to protest the expiration of the moratorium, which some advocates have estimated could lead to the evictions of 80,000.

Homes for All Massachusetts and the Massachusetts COVID-19 Response Alliance also demonstrated outside the governor's house in Swampscott on Wednesday to seek his support for the Honan-Connolly bill (H 5018) that would keep an eviction and foreclosure moratorium in place until one year after the COVID-19 state of emergency ends, freeze rent during that time, and create a fund to help distressed small landlords.

The COVID-19 Housing Stability Act has cleared the Housing Committee, but Honan said this week it requires more time and work and he had hoped Baker would extend the moratorium to allow that work to happen.

Connolly said that despite voting in July to extend the legislative session until the end of the year lawmakers have "ceded our responsibility for policy making in this critical moment of pandemic and economic meltdown" to the governor.

"When you think about the concerns of our constituents, the challenges facing the commonwealth, I would like us to actually utilize the abilities we have to make policy and pass legislation," Connolly said.


State House News Service
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Invite-Only Hearing on Baker Budget Set for Wednesday
By Matt Murphy


The House and Senate Ways and Means committees will hold a virtual hearing featuring invited testimony next week on Gov. Charlie Baker's revised $45.5 billion budget, which the Republican filed on Wednesday and said he hopes to see completed and returned to him before Thanksgiving.

Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Sen. Michael Rodrigues will host the noon hearing next Wednesday from the State House, and said they look forward to hearing from "members of the Administration, our colleagues, and the general public."

The committee chairs did not release a list of who will be invited to speak, but said guests will participate remotely via video or audio conference. Baker filed an updated budget plan that relies on $1.8 billion in federal relief funding and $1.35 billion in reserves to cover up a $3.6 billion decline in anticipated tax revenue.

"In order to proceed in an open and transparent manner, we feel that it is vital that this revised budget receive a public hearing. By doing so, members of the Legislature, and the public as a whole, will have a chance to get a better understanding of the budgetary decisions that are before the Commonwealth in the coming weeks," Michlewitz and Rodrigues said in a joint statement.

The fiscal 2021 budget is more than three months late after state officials elected to use interim budgets to start the fiscal year in July while waiting to see how the economy rebounded from the early effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Baker said he'd like to see a budget back on desk before Thanksgiving so that planning can begin for fiscal 2022. Rodrigues called Baker's budget "very good" Thursday and said the House and Senate would pass a budget "over the next few weeks."

The committees early this year heard from several Baker administration officials at hearings on the initial budget filed he filed in January, but those hearings were cut short March 11 with the last two hearings, including one for the general public, postponed indefinitely.


State House News Service
Friday, October 16, 2020
Weekly Roundup - Neat, But Not Tidy
Recap and analysis of the week in state government
By Matt Murphy


It's easier to understand now why Gov. Charlie Baker didn't want to cancel Halloween. He had his costume all picked out. And no he's not dressing as Donald Trump.

Whether by sleight of hand or happenstance, Baker, the budgetary magician, managed to take a lot of the sting this week out of an exercise in fiscal obligation that legislators had been wringing their hands over for months, spooked by the pain it would inflict.

The longer Washington took to fight over the next stimulus package, the longer Beacon Hill could put off its inevitable need to pass a balanced budget for the year. Even, and maybe most importantly, if that meant waiting until after the election.

That can-kicking stopped Wednesday.

Baker waved his wand and updated the state's revenue forecast to reflect a $3.6 billion drop in tax collections compared to what had been projected back in January. It was better than the $5 billion to $8 billion once feared, but it wasn't couch change either. Then for his next act, Baker submitted a revised state budget to the Legislature that actually increased proposed spending by about $900 million from his January plan, tipping the scales at $45.5 billion for the year.

"Pretty neat trick, huh?" Baker said, smiling wryly at a question about how he accomplished that feat.

But it didn't take David Copperfield to unravel how he did it. A combination of federal relief money and tapping the state's "rainy day" savings fund to the tune of $1.35 billion got the budget almost all the way back to black. Add in another $515 million in savings squeezed out of agency budgets by asking them to forgo increases from fiscal year 2020 and voila.

The governor's budget did not raise any new broad-based taxes and incorporated the final, mandated drop in the income tax to 5 percent in January, but he also delayed a charitable giving tax deduction and reproposed an accelerated method for collecting sales taxes that would net the state $267 million in one-time revenue, but has been rejected as unworkable by the Legislature more than once.

The MBTA also continues to contemplate major service reductions as MassHealth, the state's Medicaid program, consumes much of the proposed spending growth in the budget, and schools are being told to wait on the full funding promised in last year's Student Opportunity Act.

Needless to say, Baker's updated budget recommendation was just the start of the process, and one the governor optimistically said he'd like to see wrapped up by Thanksgiving.

While that may take another act of magic to accomplish, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues called it a "responsible" plan that gives the Legislature a "good foundation" to build their own budgets - even if that foundation is built on one-time money.

A virtual hearing on the governor's revised budget has been planned for next Wednesday, and the timeline after that remains anyone's guess. The budget revision came on the heels of Baker throwing more money at another problem: housing stability.

Prepared to let the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures expire on Saturday, the administration released a plan Monday that it developed with Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey to try to stem the rising tide of eviction proceedings by increasing rental assistance by $100 million and bolstering landlord-tenant mediation and other supports.

Without knowing exactly how many residents are at risk of losing their homes, Baker said it was too risky to let tenants continue to accumulate debt if they can't afford to pay their rents. Many advocates applauded the direction the proposal took, but some said the governor's $171 million plan won't address the true needs.

Demonstrators and political leaders, from state Rep. Kevin Honan to U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Attorney General Maura Healey, continued to pressure Baker all week to extend the moratorium, at least until he could get his own program up and running. But they did so in the face of overwhelming evidence that the governor had no intention of taking that step.

Rep. Mike Connolly of Cambridge even tried Thursday to force passage of an emergency petition to extend the moratorium until January, but the furthest he got was getting the bill admitted to the House.

Connolly said at the very least his petition would give Baker more time to get the tenant and landlord support services that are part of his own plan up and running, which they won't be by Monday.

And at most, it would give legislators like him and Honan more time to convince leadership on Beacon Hill to pass a popular housing stability bill that would not only extend the moratorium until a year after the health emergency is lifted, but also freeze rents during that time.

As it stands, the moratorium is set to lift this weekend. But that doesn't preclude legislative action in the days or weeks to come.

"When you think about the concerns of our constituents, the challenges facing the commonwealth, I would like us to actually utilize the abilities we have to make policy and pass legislation," Connolly said, expressing his frustration that neither the House nor the Senate has met in a formal session since July 31, despite voting to extend formal sessions beyond that date in part to deal with pandemic-related issues.

Now the middle of October, Massachusetts has seen its average daily COVID-19 case rate over the past two weeks climb to 8.7 cases per 100,000, which would put it in the state's own highest risk "red" category if it were a city or town.

But Massachusetts is not a town. And Baker made clear that he's not putting much stock in where Massachusetts stands collectively on the virus transmission scale, just where communities stand. Because, he said, there continue to be many, many municipalities where COVID-19 is contained.

Still, 27 more cities and towns moved into the highest risk category this week, bringing the total to 64 of the 351 municipalities, including many of the the state's largest cities.

"There's no question that there will be more cases this fall," Baker said.

Good thing Massachusetts is prepared, according to the governor.

Sandwiched between his housing announcement on Monday and his budget rollout on Wednesday, Baker staged a press conference with the lieutenant governor and multiple cabinet secretaries to tick through everything the state has done since March to respond to the pandemic, and how that experience has prepared the government to deal with a fall surge, if it arrives.

Adequate supplies of personal protective equipment are on hand, hospitals stand ready to quickly build out ICU capacity and the state's testing and tracing program is no worse than second to one, the governor assured.

"We've done the work. We're prepared to respond to this virus like never before," Baker said. "But our preparations are of little use without the people of Massachusetts continuing to do their part."

In Massachusetts, that part involves wearing a mask, which President Trump continued to equivocate on the value of this week after recovering himself from COVID-19. Trump's attitude toward COVID-19 and Baker's opinion of the federal government's response to the pandemic are undoubtedly part of the reason Baker won't be voting for Trump, which the governor confirmed this week to the surprise of no one.

Baker, however, did not endorse Joe Biden and suggested he might not vote at all.

He could always follow the lead of his good friend and fellow anti-Trump Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, who, according to the Washington Post, wrote in Ronald Reagan on his ballot when he voted early.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Filling a $3.6 billion budget hole...


State House News Service
Friday, October 16, 2020
Advances - Week of Oct. 18, 2020


While Beacon Hill points its collective finger at the partisan sniping and stimulus bill failures in Washington, it's ironically $1.8 billion in federal funds that are backstopping the $45.5 billion state budget proposal that will occupy the Legislature's attention over the next several weeks.

"It's our hope that we'll get this back before Thanksgiving," Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday as he submitted to the Legislature a new version of the fiscal 2021 budget that he first filed back in January.

The historic turnaround time for an annual budget will only be accomplished with a rare level of harmony between House and Senate Democrats on Beacon Hill, whose intraparty troubles agreeing on major priorities this year are on par with the more common partisan divisions that are the primary obsessions of media and election year activity.

Baker padded his spending plan with an extra $900 million compared to his initial budget, proposing to drain more than $1.3 billion from the state's reserves to offset a sharp decline in tax collections that state officials believe will materialize in the coming months as economic growth decelerates and the grip of COVID-19 again intensifies. The use of more than $3 billion in one-time revenues may hold this year's budget together, but could turn into a risky gambit if the economy does not bounce back in time to shore up the tax base in fiscal 2022.

Legislative leaders have not said whether they agree with the governor's fiscal 2021 revenue markdown and they are now being watched closely to see whether they delve into any of the areas that Baker avoided in his budget - raising taxes, borrowing, and major spending cuts - and whether they object to his use of so much one-time revenue.

With an annual budget already well more than three months overdue, lawmakers this week quickly scheduled a hearing on Baker's massive plan for next Wednesday at noon. But with the elections coming up in just over two weeks, Beacon Hill's unspoken plan to push all of its remaining controversial and complex work off, including the budget, until after the elections is appearing more likely by the day.

Before the Legislature dives into its lame-duck session, action is possible before the Nov. 3 election on a $424 million spending bill (H 5014) to close the books on fiscal 2020, which could require a formal session unless Democrats can get complete buy-in from all House and Senate members.

That piece of important business, which relies on spending capital gains revenues rather than dumping them into the rainy day fund, looms as early voting begins on Saturday, Oct. 17 ahead of the Oct. 24 deadline for would-be voters to register if they wish to participate in this year's elections. The early in-person voting period ends Oct. 30.

Wednesday's budget hearing punctuates a week with other storylines that are already in progress ...

Rising community transmission of COVID-19 and red zone anxiety are spurring increased talk about when the second surge will come, how bad it will be, and whether economic and school reopenings will need to be scaled back ...

State health care officials hold their annual hearing on cost trends, but this year it's a half-day affair on Tuesday with a particular focus on COVID-19 impacts ...

An eviction watch is underway, with supporters of Gov. Baker's diversion plan hoping it will provide enough aid to keep people housed despite unpaid rent during the pandemic and critics still calling for an extension of the eviction moratorium that is set to end Saturday ...

And as a massive amount of voting appears to have occurred already or is occurring through a new mail-in voting option, the week ahead brings another new option that will reduce lines on Nov. 3 and get even more of the vote in before election day: early in-person voting.

The two-week period of early voting begins Saturday, Oct. 17, the earliest that the state has ever offered in-person voting before an election. Early voting expansion was one of the features in the election reform package lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker approved this year, which also authorized no-excuse mail-in voting, to help mitigate risks of COVID-19 transmission at polling places.

Each city and town must make at least one location available for in-person voting on Saturday and Sunday this weekend and next weekend, plus host early voting during normal business hours Monday through Friday.

Early voting runs through Oct. 30, the Friday before the Nov. 3 general election. Locations will also function as ballot drop-off centers for any voters who requested a mail-in ballot and would prefer to return it in person.

More than 208,000 people in Massachusetts voted early in-person ahead of the Sept. 1 primary election, representing about 12 percent of all ballots cast, according to Secretary of State William Galvin's office. It was the first time the state offered early in-person voting before a primary election. A list of each municipality's early voting locations and hours is available here.


The Boston Herald
Friday, October 16, 2020
Gov. Chris Sununu plans to sue Massachusetts over policy taxing N.H. telecommuters
Sununu: Tax on remote workers a ‘direct attack’ on N.H.
By Lisa Kashinsky


New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu plans to take Massachusetts to court over the Bay State’s policy taxing the income of out-of-state residents telecommuting for Bay State companies amid the pandemic.

Sununu announced plans Friday to sue the Baker administration in the U.S. Supreme Court over the policy he called a “direct attack” on New Hampshire.

“The Commonwealth has launched a direct attack on the New Hampshire Advantage, attempting to pick the pockets of our citizens,” Sununu said in a statement. “We are going to fight this unconstitutional attempt to tax our citizens every step of the way, and we are going to win.”

The latest salvo in the ongoing income-tax border battle comes as the Massachusetts Department of Revenue on Friday finalized a temporary rule that imposes the state’s 5% income tax on employees of Massachusetts companies living and working remotely in other states as the public health crisis wears on.

“Within five minutes of learning of this rule change, I immediately directed the Department of Justice to file a lawsuit in the United States Supreme Court on Monday,” Sununu said.

The regulation published Friday extends the temporary rule through Dec. 31 or 90 days after Gov. Charlie Baker lifts the commonwealth’s COVID-19 state of emergency — whichever comes first.

Under the policy, employees who live outside Massachusetts are only taxed for the number of days during week they would have physically commuted into the Bay State for work, which the state Department of Revenue said aligns with pre-pandemic taxation rules. Nearly 100,000 Granite Staters normally commute to work in Massachusetts, according to a 2017 study.

Department of Revenue spokeswoman Naysa Woomer defended the policy in a statement saying, “The Commonwealth has implemented temporary regulations that are similar to those adopted by other New England states.” The administration said it would not comment on pending lawsuits.

Sununu, the Republican New Hampshire governor, had threatened to sue over what he called the “unconstitutional taxation” of Granite Staters back in August, when the extension of the policy was first proposed.

The Republican New Hampshire governor’s Justice Department reviewed the proposed rule at the time and found it “raised various legal concerns.”

Paul Craney of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance said in a statement Friday that the policy was “especially cruel” for residents of New Hampshire, where there is no state income tax, and warned it might prompt companies to leave Massachusetts.

“These workers are no longer using our state’s resources to do their jobs,” Craney said. “Taxing them at this point is a blind money grab with no fee for use aspect.”


The Boston Herald
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Charlie Baker packs the SJC with his picks – and no pushback
By Peter Lucas


Joe Biden ought to be like Charlie Baker when it comes to packing the court.

Because there is a difference between “packing” and “stacking.”

Biden wants to pack U.S. Supreme Court. Baker wants to stack the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

In only a matter of weeks, Baker, the RINO (Republican in name only) governor of Massachusetts, will have named all seven members of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and, unlike in Washington, no one is complaining.

One reason for the lack of critical commentary is that Baker’s appointees to the high court reflect Baker’s liberal views. Massachusetts is an overwhelmingly liberal, Democratic state that has grown increasingly progressive, as has Baker. He is the type of Republican that Democrats love.

Another reason is that Baker is not really “packing” his high court by increasing the number of justices, the way the Democrats want to do to the nine-member Supreme Court in Washington.

Instead of “packing,” Baker is “stacking.” You might even say he is “stocking,” as in stocking the shelves of the court with liberals who are just like him.

Either way Baker is keeping the number of justices on the high court in Massachusetts at seven. Biden and the posse of progressives surrounding him want to load up the U.S. Supreme Court with Democrats, perhaps even making Sen. Elizabeth Warren chief justice.

Baker, anyway, will have stacked or stocked, the state SJC will all seven members by the end of 2020 or early 2021. Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, where members serve for life, in Massachusetts SJC justices face mandatory retirement at age 70.

Baker appointed five associate justices to the court during his first term as governor. They are Frank Gaziano, David Lowly, Kimberly Budd, Elspeth Cypher and Scott Kafker.

He will shortly make two more appointments, one to fill the vacancy left by the recent death of Chief Justice Ralph Gants and the pending retirement of Justice Barbara Lenk, who shortly turns 70.

The turnover in the court has generally been viewed in a positive light. Former SJC Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, in an interview on WCVB-TV’s “On the Record,” said it was something that Washington should look into.

Marshall, who retired in 2010, also said that the packing U.S. Supreme Court “should be looked at very carefully,” although she was not opposed to it.

Turning political, Marshall accused U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of attempting to “hijack” the court by pushing through President Trump’s appointment of Amy Coney Barrett just before the election.

“I think there has been an attempt by the current majority leader of the Senate — I regret to say so — to hijack the court and push through the people he wants in a way we have not seen before,” she said.

“The Supreme Court is not a political football and should not be a political football,” she said.

What is ironic about this is that the appointment of Marshall to the SJC by Republican Gov. Bill Wed in 1996 was something of a political football in and of itself.

Back then, Weld, coming off a smashing re-election victory over Democrat Mark Roosevelt — Weld got an astonishing 71% of the vote to Roosevelt’s 28% — wanted to go national. U.S. Sen. Bob Dole was the frontrunner for the 1996 GOP presidential nomination.

Weld held a series of strategy meetings to work out a national strategy, which included raising his national profile.

As part of that media strategy, Weld wanted to curry favor with the national press, starting with the late Cambridge-based Anthony Lewis, then a highly influential and respected Harvard intellectual and national columnist at The New York Times.

Lewis was married to Margaret Marshall who was special counsel at Harvard University. And Weld just happened to have an opening on the SJC.

“Wouldn’t it be a good idea to appoint Margaret Marshall,” an aide suggested, even though she had not applied.

Although she had no experience as a judge, Marshall was a partner at the prestigious law firm of Choate, Hall & Stewart and had been president of the Boston Bar Association.

It was a twofer. Weld filled the vacancy with Marshall and befriended Lewis. Weld’s national ambitions never got off the ground, though, then or later.

Marshall was subsequently promoted to chief justice by then Gov. Paul Cellucci in 1999. After serving with distinction, Marshall retired in 2010 to care for Lewis who had Parkinson’s disease. He died in 2013.


The Boston Globe
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
‘So transparently deceitful.’ Ending census early
will leave parts of Boston uncounted, possibly resulting in less aid
By Zoe Greenberg


Massachusetts officials warned Wednesday that a Supreme Court decision allowing the Trump administration to halt the census count early could result in a botched final tally, even as federal officials asserted that the vast majority of households in the state had already been counted.

The disagreement underscored the high stakes of the most logistically challenging and politically contentious count in recent memory. The census is used to calculate federal funding and determine congressional seats; for Massachusetts, roughly $16 billion is on the line.

“We have parts of our city that are going to be undercounted,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a phone interview on Wednesday, adding that a low count would curtail funds for housing and food aid in the city.

The Census Bureau has said that while only 69 percent of households in the state “self-reported” online, by phone or mail, census employees successfully counted the rest by going door to door, achieving a 99.9 percent completion rate. But local officials and census experts believe that number is far too optimistic because, they say, federal officials are purposefully painting a too rosy picture and because in-person counting is much less reliable than self-responses.

“It’s fictional to talk about 99.9 percent,” said Secretary of State William F. Galvin, the state’s official liaison to the 2020 Census, who has been involved in two previous counts. “The whole concept of short-circuiting this thing and ending it early when it’s had so many problems is so transparently deceitful.”

Census experts agreed that the high completion rate didn’t present the full picture.

“Does it mean they have knocked on every door, they have talked to somebody in that household, and gotten responses from everyone living there? Absolutely not,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a longtime census consultant based in Connecticut.

Lowenthal pointed out that just because a household has been “counted” doesn’t mean it has been counted accurately. For example, instead of direct interviews, census employees can rely on proxies, like neighbors or landlords, as well as administrative data, both of which are more likely to result in incorrect information.

Galvin said census officials have declined to provide municipal-level data to the state about where people had responded and where the gaps were. This makes it impossible to determine where more outreach is necessary, or even how many of the 30 percent of people who did not self-respond were legitimately counted by census officials, he said.

Galvin is also skeptical of the high number touted by the Census Bureau because his office has been working to address some of the challenges to in-person counting — like getting access to apartment buildings — even as federal officials said the counting was finished.

“The numbers have been very erratically rising,” he said.

Federal census officials disputed that notion. Jeff T. Behler, regional director of the census, said that it was too labor intensive to provide municipal-level data to the state but that he was confident the count had been comprehensive.

“We have knocked on every address. We have gotten a response from nearly all of the addresses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Behler said in an interview.

In the absence of specific data, state officials and advocates fear tallies will be low in such historically hard-to-count communities as Lawrence and Chelsea, which have high populations of renters, immigrants, and college students. The same cities have been hardest hit by the coronavirus and rely the most on federal aid distributed using census data.

“We are very concerned,” said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and chairwoman of the state’s 2020 Complete Count Committee. “It’s about resources. It’s about political power.”

From the start, the 2020 Census has been marred by political interference and hampered by the pandemic. First, the Trump administration’s failed effort to add a citizenship question sent terror through immigrant communities already wary of sharing information with authorities. Then the coronavirus forced a massive national operation to rapidly transition from in-person to digital.

The most recent obstacle arose after the Trump administration sought to end the count a month early, claiming that the Census Bureau needed extra time to deliver results by the end of December. A collection of local governments and civil rights groups sued, but on Tuesday the Supreme Court said that the administration could halt the tally ahead of schedule.

Governor Charlie Baker said at a news conference Wednesday that “getting the census count right is critically important.”

“This is one where a few extra weeks of collection, especially given the impact of the pandemic and people’s ability to do door-to-door work, would always be better,” Baker said.

Galvin said the Census Bureau told him that door knocking will end at 11 p.m. on Thursday, while self-responses will end early Friday. The state had planned census outreach at early voting sites this weekend, Galvin said, but was required to cancel those events.

“Any day, they’ll have a balloon drop to say they’re finished,” he said. “Even though we know we’re not.”


State House News Service
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
GOP Leaders Form PAC in Election Stretch Run
Kaufman: Strategy Creates New Outlet to Help GOP Candidates
By Matt Murphy


With voting set to end in Massachusetts in 22 days, three prominent state Republicans announced on Tuesday that they had formed a political action committee to support GOP candidates for state, local and county offices.

Republican National Committee Treasurer Ron Kaufman and Janet Fogarty, the state's other RNC member, said that every dollar donated to The Fund for Massachusetts Future PAC, outside of small administrative expenses, would go to supporting local candidates.

The focus, they said, could potentially open the door to donors who might want to support local Republicans, but don't want to contribute to federal candidates in a cycle when attitudes toward President Donald Trump and Congress are a motivating factor.

"Everyone talks about how critical of an election this is. Our candidates on the ground deserve support, and we needed to develop a giving strategy that keeps all dollars here in Massachusetts. It's what's best for donors and what's best for candidates," Kaufman said.

The paperwork for the PAC was filed with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance on Oct. 1, and lists the promotion of "fiscal conservatism and job growth in the commonwealth" as its objective. The committee will be chaired by Michael Sullivan, a former state lawmaker and U.S. Attorney who has also run for U.S. Senate.

Sullivan compared the Legislature on Beacon Hill, where Democrats control 164 of 200 seats in the House and Senate, to a monopoly, which he said is not good for business or public policy.

"Successful campaigns need great candidates, grassroots, and financial support," Sullivan said. "The narrative needs to be kept on why our Republican candidates for state and local offices are better for the taxpayers, better for public policies, better for education, and better for attracting and retaining good jobs and businesses."

The treasurer of the new PAC is Michael Valanzola, a one-time candidate for state Senate who worked in the Baker administration in the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Valanzola was forced to resign amid a scandal over whether his cousin had tried to pressure the husband of one of his employees not to run against a Republican senator.

The formation of the new PAC by the party leaders comes during a cycle in which many in the MassGOP admit that it's a difficult election for Republicans with President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, given the president's unpopularity.

Not counting candidates for federal office, there are 66 Republicans on the ballot this fall, with just 19 challenging Democratic incumbents in the Legislature and almost as many defending their seats from challenges from Democrats.

The state party's fundraising has also lagged in the midst in the pandemic, and without any real support from the de-facto leader of the party Gov. Charlie Baker. As the party has moved toward Trump under the stewardship of MassGOP Chair Jim Lyons, Baker has moved away from the president and national politics, despite his endorsement of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in Maine.

Baker has said that outside of that endorsements he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito intended to keep their politicking confined to campaigning for some legislative candidates, though that has yet to really happen.

Without Baker and with COVID-19 inhibiting more traditional fundraising efforts, the state party's finances have taken a hit. Through the end of August, the party reported raising just over $1.5 million this cycle for its federal account, which can be used for party operations, compared to more than $5 million in 2017 and 2018.

Asked if the Fund for Massachusetts Future PAC was created because the party was struggling to adequately support its candidates, Kaufman said it was intended to lure donors who might be hesitant to give because of the national climate.

In addition to state legislative and county candidates, the MassGOP has five candidates running for Congress and one challenging for the U.S. Senate.

"This PAC is dedicated to putting resources in the hands of Massachusetts candidates directly, a prospect that more Massachusetts Republican supporters are willing to contribute to, especially given the national climate. We see this PAC as different in function than the state party, which directs resources to national issues, federal candidates, and staff in addition to local and state candidates. We believe our support will help our candidates be successful," Kaufman said.

No one involved with the PAC plans to take a salary. As of Tuesday, the PAC had not yet filed any reports on spending or fundraising.

A separate super PAC run by allies of Gov. Baker - Massachusetts Majority super PAC - has spent nearly $230,000 in 2020 to support local and state candidates, including Democrats and Republicans.


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


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