and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Massachusetts Senate
Debate on Income Tax Rollback
May 24, 2006

State House News Service
Senate Session - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Senate convened at 11:06 am, Sen. Moore presiding.

RECESSES: The Senate recessed immediately. Sen. Moore said the time for returning would be left to the call of the chair.

RETURNS: The Senate returned at 11:26 am, Sen. Travaglini presiding. . . .

FISCAL 2007 BUDGET: Question came on a Ways and Means amendment substituting S 3 for the House-approved fiscal 2007 budget. The Senate Ways and Means budget totals $25,434,192,006. . . .

TAX ROLLBACK: Lees amendment 10 tax rollback three-year plan REJECTED

TAX ROLLBACK TIED TO LOCAL AID: Question came on Lees amendment 11 tax rollback. Senators and staff flocked to the rostrum for a large conference.

Sen. Panagiotakos and Havern offered an amendment to the amendment.

Sen. Panagiotakos said this amendment decreases the income tax rate to 5.0 when fiscal 2002 local aid levels are reached for Chapter 70, additional assistance and the Lottery. It would be 5.2 percent in fiscal 2007, 5.1 in fiscal 2008 and 5.0 for fiscal 2009. This would cost $325 million in fiscal 2008 and $517 million in fiscal 2009.

We thought it was prudent to use the same trigger as last year. In this budget we have reached those levels for Chapter 70 and the lottery but not for additional assistance.

The Senate has been very, very proactive in tax cuts over the last few years. We did an investment tax credit, a sales tax holiday, R&D tax credit transfer, a low-income housing credit, a computer tax deduction, a second sales tax holiday, heating and energy relief, motion picture industry tax credits and increasing personal exemptions and the Peterson case.

The economy is not kicking up the way it was in the 90s. We do want to get the income tax reduced. The important thing is we have hospitals and schools and local cities and towns crying out for more revenue to provide services we need them to provide. Until we get to those numbers, especially with local aid, itís imprudent to go right from 5.3 to 5.0.

Sen. Tisei said this is the same amendment Sen. Tarr and myself filed last year that the Senate ended up supporting. I would love to see it reduced immediately. There are a lot of cities and towns going through some difficult times. This budget does an awful lot for communities to get them back on their feet. You do have a lot of communities that are not at the 2002 level that do need to get back there. There are still police, fire and teachers being laid off.

Our partners in government need to be able to get back on their feet and get healthy and not increase property taxes every year and cut back on things that really are essential services.

Sen. Tisei requested support for a roll call. It was there.

Sen. Tarr said this amendment moves us down the path toward reducing the income tax and responding to all the individual interests and the people who pay the bill through their taxes.

This is an innovative mechanism that evolved in this chamber and which I hope will spread to our colleagues in the other chamber. We are balancing municipal interests and the constituency we all serve, the taxpayers.

This is a bipartisan effort and I think itís one where we will be in good stead in terms of tax policy and the prosperity of the Commonwealth.

Sen. Montigny said itís not often that I echo anyone to my right here. I will not cede this issue to the Republicans but thank them for their cooperation.

We will get to 5.0. The best way to do it is reasonably and responsibly and in a bipartisan way.

During the gubernatorial campaign, there might be revisionist history from the Republican nominee and our candidates. This majority in the Senate with the House brought responsible and extensive tax cuts forward through the 90s. Revenue were exceedingly strong and we look at ways to cut taxes in progressive ways and we cut them by billions of dollars.

The governor at the time after working to cut billions of dollars decided that in the middle of a revenue crisis Ė revenues literally fell off a cliff Ė the governor said donít worry we can cut this rate and we wonít hurt local aid or health care and your property taxes wonít go up.

Every member of the Senate has listened to people affected adversely, particularly middle class taxpayers. If you look at the triggers in this amendment, I think we have done the right thing. If you look at revenues now, we are not out of the woods if you look at the cuts but we are doing very well and if the trends continue, we are going to see a significant surplus in this fiscal year and next fiscal year. That is the time you restore essential programs and return this money to the taxpayers. The responsible place to do tax-cutting policy is in this body and our sister branch and to do it in a responsible way.

Sen. Brown said the voters spoke loud and clear with respect to reducing the income tax. I am not necessarily happy with the amendment but will support it. Anything is better than nothing at this point.

Being a business owner, more money in peopleís pockets begets more money in the stateís coffers. To move on for today, I want to congratulate the meeting of the minds to get this done in some respect. I am disappointed we didnít adhere to the will of the voters.

Sen. Lees said itís a little bittersweet here. This is a little bit of a chicken way out of this. At least we have a vote in this chamber. This is better than nothing.

The Republicans are all on board on this. I think the voters are getting a little bit angry seeing record revenue and if we do not do something now Ė this is a baby step as opposed to a step in my mind Ė when can we be trusted?

They took a vote and it was overwhelming. I donít understand how you can say to the voters of your district we donít care what you think.

We will be ruled out of order on some amendments. This is a baby step, not a real big step. I disagree with some organizations out there.

In this case, CLT is absolutely right to be steadfast. I am not their poster child. They pick on me more than anyone in this chamber and thatís fine. People lined up to lower the income tax. Record amounts of income are coming in and we ought to do it. I donít like that we added the word inflation.

Itís bittersweet but we will take any victory we can take. At least we are getting somewhere.

Sen. Creedon of Brockton said this is really a crowning achievement and a tribute to his bipartisanship. The senator from Quincy and I have been greatly concerned about the impact of the property tax on the elderly. We agreed that another amendment was better than ours. The amendment here really gets at the heart of the matter. I urge our conference committee to be fierce in their defense of this amendment.

Sen. Morrissey said MTF is non-partisan and down the middle. They recently said in regard to the governorís plan to get to 5 percent there are concerns about the stateís ability to manage the $700 million impact of this cut.

This addresses those concerns. They note that state finances are getting stronger. It may be possible to provide relief sooner than under the 2002 law and this amendment does that. It also provides fiscal protections. Many of us have amendments that spend money. They take money away from potential tax relief. Last year we spent more than $100 million on tax relief. We have to be mindful of striking that balance.

Sen. Murray said she hopes the amendment is adopted. We have to remember that this does it in the right way by not harming anybody or programs or services or the North Shore hit very hard by storms.

Some stabilization money is going to have to come out. About 45 bridges and roads must be reconstructed. About 10,000 people will have to get money from FEMA. Their homes have been destroyed. This is the right way to do this. Be cautious that there are going to be a lot of requests for monies in the stabilization fund with these natural disasters that are afflicting us, including the one last year in the western part of the state. There are a lot of people in need.

Sen. Tolman said we have to get to 5 percent in a responsible manner. We have done that with this amendment. We make sure important programs are in place and donít just take $700 million in the budget.

It troubles me when people say we donít respect the votersí will. We have to do that while using our judgment. Municipalities have talked about one thing: more local aid. We are acting very responsible. I applaud all parties for reaching a resolution.


Amendment, as amended, ADOPTED.

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