and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Massachusetts Senate
Dodges Debate on Income Tax Rollback
April 25, 2005

State House News Service
Senate Session - Monday, May 23, 2005

CONVENES:  The Senate convened at 12:04 pm, Sen. Travaglini presiding. The Pledge of Allegiance was recited....

TAXATION:  At 3:17 pm, Sen. Travaglini said we are going to get into the taxation piece....


Sen. Travaglini said a ruling by Senate counsel on several amendments in the tax category references the constitution and says all money bills shall originate in the House and Senate counsel advises that a bill that reduces or increases tax revenue is a money bill. The position has been taken since 2003. The parliamentary precedence requires that I as president preserve the constitutional prerogatives of the House and we must not originate a money bill in violation of the constitution. A pending amendment would then be out of order. No tax provision in the House bill took effect until further legislation is enacted.

Sen. Lees said we are talking about all amendments dealing with decreasing or raising taxes. Quite frankly I am a little disturbed about this latest twist here. You have ruled that any amendment affecting tax revenues is out of order because the House did not include any and the House bill is not a money bill. For the moment I would agree. I draw your attention to amendment 6 House language. The language is identical to the language in the House budget adopted as an amendment on April 26. It states the income tax will be lowered to 5 percent

Sen. Murray requested a brief recess and it was granted. She crossed the chamber to speak to Sen. Lees at his desk.

Sen. Lees said let me make one explanation here so you know where I am coming from. Not this year, but previously the Senate counsel has made a determination Ė one I donít totally agree with Ė that unless a bill comes over from the House in some way or form indicating a tax increase or decrease for all people in Massachusetts Ė that the Senate by law cannot offer any tax changes because we donít have a vehicle in front of us that allows us to raise or lower revenues. You could have a minor tax on food that would make it a tax or money bill.

The Senate president has now ruled that all tax matters before us Ė increases or decreases Ė are ruled out of order because this bill sent over by the House Ė one of the first times ever since Iíve been a member Ė has not had any increases or decreases across the board. Thatís the counselís ruling. I am now speaking on that issue.

The House did something that puts us at a disadvantage potentially. I have an amendment that has the same language of the House. If the Senate president is ruling that amendment 6 is out of order, then he is ruling that the House budget contained provisions affecting tax revenues because it is the exact same language. The Senate canít have it both ways. If the House budget does not affect tax revenues, then my amendment should be in order. Or if amendment 6 affects tax revenues, then the House budget affected tax revenues and all amendments should be accepted.

This amendment 6 is the tax cut to bring taxes back to 5 percent, which the voters voted on. The amendment added by Democrats in the House asked for a report from the Department of Revenue. When we appoint the conference committee, they could go in and take out that amendment.

Under President Bulger, we rewrote statutes and added language in conference. When you go into conference, anything that is not exactly the same is called conferenceable. This provision is conferenceable because it is already in the House budget.

A few years ago everyone in the chamber voted on an economic stimulus package and it came over from the House with all kinds of language about spending money. We made it a tax bill by adding a tax-free day. That is tax policy. That went into law. Should we send a letter to everyone who bought a high-ticket item and say you owe us money?

That tax policy was reviewed by counsel here. Itís important to get to the issue of reducing the income tax. I agree there are tax vehicles that will eventually come over here at some point, including changes in corporate tax structure. The Senate, to give up its ability to have a discussion of having more money to spend or less, is absolutely ridiculous.

The minority has a counsel and he disagrees 100 percent, as do most outside counsels I talk to. He is totally totally out of sync with what most people think. You have the votes Mr. President. I want to get to this issue at some point this legislative year. All I will say is I donít agree with this ruling. We are setting the Senate up in the future for potential problems. The public has a right to at least hear where we stand on the income tax. They have voted on it. I know some of you would vote on it.

Sen. Lees said how can you rule item number 6 is out of order when the exact same language is in the House?

Sen. Travaglini said there is no hesitation on the part of this body to discuss and argue fully the merits of a tax increase or tax cut. We have done that repeatedly. There is a respect for the constitution and the relationship between the branches. The minority leader is mistaken. The language is not identical. The House was involved in an action that made it clear that it was not their intent to pass that amendment or offer a tax cut. They said no tax provision shall take effect until further legislation is enacted. That language is missing from your version. Since that is the case, I canít act on it.

Sen. Lees read from the House journal, referencing a Binienda amendment.

Sen. Travaglini said the reference was a subsequent third reading amendment that negated everything that happened before it.

Sen. Lees said I am only reading what they have printed is part of their budget.

Sen. Travaglini said the third reading amendment negated everything that your are now reading.

Sen. Lees said let me read it.

Sen. Travaglini said Iíd prefer you not.

Sen. Lees said the section is printed in the House journal. I am reading it and it says the tax cut shall not take effect until the DOR has completed a study. That is in there. That is the wording. You have to explain this to me further. They say it wonít take effect until the amendment is first implemented. What is so difficult for everyone to understand here? I follow the rules and have been in the job for a long time. I think your ruling is wrong in this case. Explain what I donít understand.

Sen. Travaglini said you donít agree with the ruling and you are refusing to acknowledge it was the intent of the House that none of the actions they took at the time were to be taken seriously and none of the actions would take effect until further action by the DOR.

Sen. Lees said I am not a lawyer but intent doesnít count. I have the exact same language. I have not changed a word. You are a crystal ball reader I guess. They voted for it.

Sen. Travaglini said section 41 highlights inclusive of this act nothing shall take effect until legislation is filed.

Sen. Lees said right.

Sen. Travaglini said which negates sections 35 to 40 and thatís why itís not a money bill.

Sen. Lees said itís printed in the journal and itís part of a large amendment. I guarantee the clerk in the House would not rule in the same manner. We are going down a slippery slope and you get in trouble by plucking stuff out of the air and saying this is what I want and I donít care. You won. I wonít doubt the ruling of the chair. This is just a study anyway. I respect the opinion of the chair of Ways and Means but she could technically insist that the language be dropped and that the tax cut go into effect. Weíve got to do some homework after this. This is going to catch up with you and itís not a pleasant sight.

Sen. Murray said first what can potentially happen in conference is not relevant in front of this body. He is reading section 40 but section 41 negates the five House sections previous. Section 41 says 35-40 shall not take effect until legislation is filed and passed. I believe that is why Senate counsel has made this ruling.

Sen. Lees said I donít disagree with one thing she said. It negates it. You are right. It is still in the House budget and if you take it out, then in the House budget would be a tax cut. Itís an amendment that could be dropped and all of the tax cut would be in the budget Ė it is printed in the document. I am right on this point. You donít want to drop the amendment and thatís fine. We have dropped all kinds of language in conference and added study language to amendments in the budget. You can take away study language just as easily.

Sen. Walsh said I was hoping to discuss tax policy in the budget. I accept and respect the ruling of the chair. Because we have wandered into that path, in fairness to those I filed this amendment for, I want to lay out principles to consider.

This is one of the oldest deliberative bodies. We appreciate being deliberative. Among the things on my short list is the problem in neighborhoods, such a major problem that we created a committee on substance abuse. I know from our budget that we have a major problem with addiction and lack of treatment. In our $24 billion budget, we call some costs budget busters. If you look at DSS and the DYS, they are two of our so-called budget busters. Look at the courts and Medicaid and workersí comp and every big rock in the budget, what do you find? The debris from addiction and lack of treatment. If you spend time in district courts, 88 percent of cases involve a perpetrator with an addiction problem. We intellectually recognize it but we have cut resources 50 percent. We have eight beds for addicted women. We talk about the importance of health care. It is the largest employer. Talk to any ER physician or hospital CEO and you will find the biggest problem we can help them with is addiction treatment.

As long as we believe Massachusetts is Taxachusetts, then we canít look at any policy. I asked just to take that premise away and open up our minds and hearts to see if itís true. For some here, it does not matter that we are 38th nationally in fees and taxes. Forty-three states have a sales tax on packaged sales transactions such as a six-pack or a bottle of wine. That includes New Hampshire Ė Live Free or Die. We have a law against it, against allowing a sales tax on package store transactions. A third of adults choose not to drink alcohol. Five percent who choose to drink drink 50 percent of what is sold. We are approaching $4 billion on the debris left by people who are addicted and canít get their lives together. I am just asking to lift that exemption and direct the money to the General Fund and to addiction treatment programs. You all know how crime is up and alcohol and drug addiction is the most important factor. We donít have enough drug testing equipment. Look at our excise tax. We have not touched it on alcohol since 1976. We care so much about health care. We have started to amend the constitution and make it a right. The number one issue we have done this year is stem cell. And we have 100,000 people go to emergency rooms and we donít treat them because the cost of treatment is very expensive. We can redirect the $4 billion and put it back to making people productive again. Itís a full debate we canít have. A glass of wine would be one cent more and a glass of hard liquor two cents more. I hope when the debate is right we can pursue it.

Sen. Lees said several members are concerned, some Republicans and Democrats. My amendments has the negating language in it as well. It is exactly the same. Verbatim. Word for word. Exactly what the House has I have. In a House outside section, Section 41 talks about sections 35-40 inclusive and they refer back. Itís a separate section that is conferenceable. An outside section cannot amend something inside. Itís related to it. Under the rules of the Senate, something that is related to is something that is separately conferenceable. There is no way that the outside separate section is not conferenceable. The whole tax cut with the negating language, I filed it together. The House did a subsequent outside section that referred to the section but did not amend it. That could result in a potential tax cut. This was the most bizarre ruling quite frankly that I have ever seen here. A lot of people are surprised by what happened here today.

Sen. Murray said these are outside sections that we are referring to. The Senate frequently uses outside sections. I donít think this is a fast one being pulled on anybody. I look forward when the tax loophole bill comes before us to debating this.

RECESSES:  The Senate recessed at 5:36 pm.

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:

Return to CLT Updates page

Return to CLT home page