Senate Democrats rammed through $1.2 billion in tax hikes
yesterday, easily steamrolling Republican protests.
The tax package closely resembles one recently passed by the
House, and has an apparent "supermajority" in both branches that renders irrelevant acting Gov. Jane M. Swift's veto
Among the five tax hikes are two that reverse voter-approved
initiatives - the income tax rollback and tax deductions for charitable donations.
The vastly outnumbered Senate Republicans went down kicking
and screaming, protesting that Democratic lawmakers ought to pass an amendment entitled, "it doesn't matter anyway."
"How many times are we going to say to the voters, 'We don't
care what you say?'" asked Senate Minority Leader Brian P. Lees (R-East Longmeadow). "That's why people have a
mistrust for some members of the Legislature - because we can't keep our
The tax-hike scuffles unfolded on day two of debate over the
Senate's $23.2 billion spending plan.
The Senate chamber was sparsely populated throughout the
day, as Republicans unsuccessfully made attempt after attempt to prevent the tax hikes or mitigate them with
non-tax revenue-raisers such as casinos, curtailing Lottery payouts and
dipping deeper into state reserves.
In addition to freezing the income tax cut and postponing
the charitable deductions, the Senate tax package reinstates taxes on capital gains, tacks another 75 cents onto the
cigarette tax, and halves the 1998 doubling of the personal exemption.
Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham (D-Chelsea) made a
rare descent from the rostrum to fend off GOP accusations that he was reneging on the personal exemption, which he
championed and routinely touts on the gubernatorial campaign trail.
With the state facing a growing deficit now pegged at $2.5
billion, Birmingham said the $500 million personal exemption was a necessary tradeoff to protect education and health care.
"This is not a tax increase I would have chosen," Birmingham
said. "But we are in a true fiscal crisis."
While causing a ruckus over the personal exemption and
capital gains taxes, the GOP threw in the towel on freezing the income tax cut without even making a token protest.
Democrats also turned back GOP attempts to bring casino
gambling to the Bay State - either through tribal casinos or slot machines at racetracks.
Sen. Susan Tucker (D-Andover) led the opposition with a
litany of gambling-related social ills. "This is not free money," she said.
Meanwhile, senators also quietly approved amendments to
allow Boston to jack towing fees up to $75 a pop, from the current $12 rate, and to allow all cities and towns to increase
the meals tax.
As the tax hikes rolled in, the Swift administration
announced it was lopping another $541 million off this year's revenue projections, to accommodate huge tax collection crashes
in April and May.
Neither lawmakers nor the Swift administration have figured
out what to do about the half-billion-dollar deficit in the current year, which ends in two weeks.
Senators cut off debate late last night, with a potentially
explosive debate still looming over the voter-approved clean elections law. A pending amendment would direct $9.6 million to
candidates, but would also send the law back to the ballot.
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The Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Wednesday, June 12, 2002
Unlike the Massachusetts Legislature, lawmakers in most
states are addressing the post-recession revenue crunch without massive tax hikes.
The $23.2 billion spending plan the Senate is debating this
week makes significant cuts in some areas, but its centerpiece is the $1.2 billion increase in taxes and fees, the biggest in
state history. In a year of budget austerity, the Senate proposes a $332 million rise in
The recession has affected virtually every state. Yet all
but a handful of the 20 most populous states have avoided broad-based tax hikes, according to the Nelson A. Rockefeller
Institute, which tracks local and state government policy. It reports that governors and legislatures
elsewhere are finding other ways to close revenue gaps.
A case in point: California -- with a budget four times as
large as Massachusetts' and a revenue gap 10 times as large -- seeks a comparatively modest $2 billion in tax hikes.
The Massachusetts Legislature, compounding the offense, is
nullifying two tax-relief referendums: the rollback of the "temporary" income tax rate hike and the deduction for
charitable giving. It is counterproductive to raid taxpayers' pocketbooks just as the economy
begins to recover. Moreover, taxes have a way of lingering in Massachusetts long after their
justification has vanished.
Quizzed by reporters, gubernatorial candidate Thomas M.
Birmingham, who as Senate president is the chief architect of the tax package, replied deadpan that lawmakers intend to
resume the income-tax rollback and other cuts when the economy recovers.
Bay State taxpayers, who were fooled when the Legislature
boosted the tax rate by 20 percent during the last downturn, are justifiably skeptical.
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The Patriot Ledger
Wednesday, June 12, 2002
A virtual Senate budget debate
As the Senate takes up the state budget, it's unclear
whether the exercise can be called a deliberation at all, or simply a fait accompli.
The Senate president has spoken; will the remaining 39 find
The choice before the Senate is to recognize the state's
financial crisis and respond with reason, or to simply raise as much new revenue while pleasing as many constituencies as
possible - thus leaving a financial mess to be cleaned up in six or nine months, and for years
Since the House passed its budget last month, state tax
receipts have plunged further, yet there's no sign senators recognize that reality. The Senate Ways and Means Committee
budget calls for an additional $200 million in spending.
The proposed Senate budget includes all the tax hikes passed
by the House and then some. Some senators are still thinking about returning the income tax rate to 5.6 percent, which
would be a further break with the public sentiment, expressed in a referendum, for rolling
back the rate to 5 percent. The House has approved freezing the rate at 5.3 percent, which
is reasonable, considering the budget shortfall.
There remain many ways to decrease state spending that
Democrats refuse to countenance - reducing lottery payouts, for example. It is incredible that the Senate thinks it preferable
to cut court budgets even further than the House did, and raise fees even for obtaining a
restraining order, while members won't discuss changing the idiotic state requirement that
police be assigned to road construction sites. The money to be saved by using flaggers
instead of police - $12 to $16 million a year - is not significant against the backdrop of the
budget as a whole. But it is symbolic of the kinds of change that legislators refuse even to
Another is increasing the amount state employees pay for
health insurance, from 15 to 20 percent. That's a $50 million item. Or curbing the new senior pharmacy program so that only
low- or moderate-income seniors would benefit. The Legislature embarked on this program
with no idea of how much it would cost and now finds it impossible to review this benefit
despite the drastically changed condition of the commonwealth's financial
health. While helping seniors, legislators plan to cut reimbursements to pharmacies that fill Medicaid
prescriptions, a move that could cause serious hardship for community pharmacies. Some
folks count, others don't.
Examining budget details indicates just how little genuine
deliberation went into the document. This year's budget debate is occurring in daylight rather than at the witching hour, but
that's the best that can be said for the process.
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