Beacon Hill Roll Call: April 25 to April 29, 2022

  • The House, 32 to 124, rejected an amendment that would have suspended the state’s 24-cents-per-gallon gas tax for 60 days. The measure also requires the state to use money from its General Fund to cover transportation costs, normally funded by the gas tax, such as road and bridge maintenance, during the two-month holiday. Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group/TNS

Published: 5/6/2022 3:35:08 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of April 25 to April 29.

Approve $49.7 billion fiscal year 2023 state budget (H 4700)

The House, 155 to 0, approved and sent to the Senate a $49.7 billion fiscal year 2023 state budget after adding nearly $130 million in spending during three days of debate. The House version now goes to the Senate, which will approve a different version. A House-Senate conference committee will eventually craft a plan that will be presented to the House and Senate for consideration and sent to the governor.

Provisions include $18.4 billion to fully fund MassHealth caseloads; $70 million in rate increases for subsidized child care providers; $3 million for early childhood mental health grants; $110 million for a year-long extension of universal school meals; $243 million for charter school aid; $60 million for adult education to support English language learners and adults working toward their GED; $15 million to support teachers of color, including $7.5 million for the Tomorrow’s Teachers program to provide scholarships to people committed to teaching in public schools and $7.5 million for loan repayment for teachers of color; $188.6 million for the Bureau of Substance Addiction Service; and $653 million for the University of Massachusetts system.

Another provision would require the Department of Correction (DOC), sheriffs and the Department of Youth Services (DYS) to provide phone calls free of charge to persons receiving and initiating phone calls and other services such as video or electronic communications, who are currently paying $14.4 million per year to communicate.

The package also would outlaw child marriage of children under the age of 18 and empower minors currently in marriages to seek divorce or annulment on their own.

“The House budget responds to the economic challenges currently facing Massachusetts residents by balancing a focus on immediate needs such as workforce development, with a focus on long-term investments that are designed to grow our economy in a sustainable way,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano, D-Quincy.

A Yes” vote is for the budget.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Prescription rebate for seniors over 67 (H 4700)

The House, 28 to 127, rejected an amendment making seniors, ages 67 or older, who are at or below 300% of the federal poverty guidelines, eligible for a prescription drug rebate on their total out-of-pocket expenses of up to $2,500 for the 12 months from July 1, 2022 until June 30, 2023.

Amendment supporters said this rebate will help low-income seniors on fixed incomes. They noted some of these seniors currently have to choose between paying for prescription drugs, food and heating costs.

Amendment opponents said there are several bills being worked on that would help seniors pay for their prescription drugs. They said this proposal should be filed as a separate bill to hold public hearings on the measure.

Reps. Nick Boldyga, R-Southwick, sponsor of the amendment, and Tom Stanley, D-Waltham, the main opponent of the amendment, did not respond to repeated requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call for a comment.

A “No” vote is against the up to $2,500 rebate.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Farm fuel tax rate (H 4700)

The House, 29 to 127, rejected an amendment that would provide a tax rebate to farmers for the cost of fuel taxes paid for the operation of farm equipment from July 1, 2022 through Dec. 31, 2022.

Amendment supporters said the rebate will help hardworking farmers during this difficult economic time. They noted it will also help combat food shortages.

Amendment opponents said this rebate is a new idea and should be filed as a separate bill to hold public hearings on the measure.

Reps. Nick Boldyga, R-Southwick, the sponsor of the amendment, and Mark Cusack, D-Braintree, the main opponent of the amendment, did not respond to repeated requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call for a comment.

“Farmers, like everyone in this ‘Bidenflation’ economy, are struggling to survive, and with the state’s historic surplus revenue bonanza (aka over-taxation), the state can certainly afford to lighten some of their burden easily,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “Every small savings for producers will reduce the inflated end cost for beleaguered consumers.”

A “No” vote is against the rebate.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Reduce estate/death tax (H 4700)

The House, 30 to 126, rejected an amendment that would exempt the first $2 million of the value of a person’s estate from the state’s estate/death tax that a person is required to pay following their death before distribution to any beneficiary. Under current law, only the first $1 million is exempt. Under the current $1 million threshold and under the proposed $2 million threshold, the tax on anything over the threshold is a graduated one that ranges from 0.8% to 16%. This tax applies to the entire estate value, not just the portion above the threshold.

Most Republicans are against any such tax and coined the name “death tax” to imply that the government taxes you even after you die. Most Democrats support the tax and call it an “estate tax” to imply that this tax is only paid by the wealthy.

Amendment supporters said that in light of the rising value of houses, with the average home price more than $500,000, the $1 million threshold of this unfair regressive tax is too low and noted the federal tax exempts the first $12 million. They noted that Massachusetts is losing many residents, who move to other states where this tax does not even exist.

“Massachusetts has the most aggressive estate tax in the entire country,” said Paul Craney, executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “This tax is very unpopular in every state that still has it and many states are eliminating it completely. The estate tax drives people out of the state and even President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware recently repealed it completely. Only the Massachusetts Legislature would be willing to keep the country’s most aggressive estate tax, which hurts our elderly population the most.”

Amendment opponents said this proposed tax reduction is one of many that are included in a separate stand-alone piece of legislation filed by Gov. Charlie Baker. They argued the amendment is premature and that the House should not act on this or any other tax reduction piecemeal in the state budget, but rather should wait until the Revenue Committee holds a public hearing on the governor’s package as a whole.

Reps. Nick Boldyga, R-Southwick, the sponsor of the amendment, and Mark Cusack, D-Braintree, the main opponent of the amendment, did not respond to repeated requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call for a comment.

A “No” vote is against exempting the first $2 million of the value of a person’s estate from the state’s estate/death tax.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Reduce capital gains tax from 12% to 5% (H 4700)

The House, 29 to 127, rejected an amendment that would reduce the short-term capital gains tax from 12% to 5%.

Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, said anything that can help the investors in Massachusetts keep up with mounting inflation is a positive step for the economy.

“Why should the capital gains or any tax imposed be charged at a higher rate than earned income, especially considering the multi-billions in historic revenue surpluses?” Ford asked.

“The Massachusetts Legislature had a great opportunity to lower the capital gains tax, which taxes economic growth,” said Paul Craney, executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “Unfortunately they refused to lower it and in fact, their Legislature’s ballot question this November hopes to increase the tax from 12% to 17% for some earners. It’s clear the Legislature wants to bring us back to Taxachusetts.”

Amendment opponents said that this amendment is premature and urged the House not to act on tax reductions one at a time, but instead to wait and consider Gov. Baker’s comprehensive tax reduction package that might be voted on in a few weeks.

Reps. Nick Boldyga, R-Southwick, the sponsor of the amendment, and Rep. Mark Cusack, D-Braintree, the main opponent of the amendment, did not respond to repeated requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call for a comment.

A “No” vote is against reducing the capital gains tax from 12% to 5%.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Increase tax break for seniors (H 4700)

The House, 31 to 125, rejected an amendment that would increase by $1,005 (from $750 to $1,755) the maximum tax credit that seniors over 65 who qualify can receive under the Senior Circuit Breaker Tax Credit Law. The law applies to seniors with homes valued at less than $884,000 and who earn $62,000 or less for a single individual who is not the head of a household; $78,000 for a head of household; and $93,000 for married couples filing a joint return.

Also to qualify, if you are a homeowner, your property tax payments, together with half of your water and sewer expense, must exceed 10% of your total Massachusetts income for the tax year. If you are a renter, 25% of your annual Massachusetts rent must exceed 10% of your total Massachusetts income for the tax year.

Amendment supporters said this will help seniors on fixed incomes who are having a difficult time as inflation and the cost of food and gas soar.

Amendment opponents said that this amendment is premature and urged the House not to act on tax reductions one at a time, but instead to wait and consider Gov. Baker’s comprehensive tax reduction package that might be voted on in a few weeks.

A “No” vote is against the increased tax credit of $1,005.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Gas tax suspension (H 4700)

The House, 32 to 124, rejected an amendment that would have suspended the state’s 24-cents-per-gallon gas tax for 60 days. The measure also requires the state to use money from its General Fund to cover transportation costs, normally funded by the gas tax, such as road and bridge maintenance, during the two-month holiday.

“The gasoline tax relief would help individuals with the rising costs of transportation, groceries, goods and services,” said sponsor Rep. Paul Frost, R-Auburn. “Democrats and Republicans came together in Connecticut to temporarily eliminate their state gasoline tax and there is no reason we can’t provide that immediate relief for the residents and businesses here in Massachusetts.”

Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, said the tax is currently paid by distributors, not directly by consumers at the pump. He noted that the amendment does not assure that the tax cut will be passed along to consumers.

“If Rep. Straus is claiming the savings won’t be passed down to the consumer, then that can be addressed through the attorney general or Rep. Straus could’ve offered a further amendment to address the issue when it was on the floor instead of making it an excuse not to vote for it,” Frost responded. “Rep. Straus wasn’t interested in making it work for Massachusetts residents or businesses, but rather chose to grandstand against much-needed tax and cost relief.”

A “No” vote is against the suspension of the gas tax.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Reduce gaming tax (S 2844)

The Senate, 4 to 35, rejected an amendment that would reduce from 20% to 10% the gaming excise tax for in-person betting, and from 35% to 12.5% the tax for mobile bets and daily fantasy sports.

“This amendment creates a much more practical accounting for taxes that reflects the market realities that are present in the sports wagering industry across the nation,” said amendment sponsor Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester. “If you want to have a successful sports wagering business in the commonwealth, then the tax rates in the bill have to be more realistic and practical.”

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Mike Rodrigues, D-Westport, urged senators to defeat the amendment.

“One of the missions of this particular bill was to provide the best benefit for the commonwealth’s citizens and taxpayers, not the best benefit for the online gaming operators that want to work here,” Rodrigues said.

A “No” vote is against the reduction.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — No

Sen. Anne Gobi — No

Sen. Adam Hinds — No

Prohibit credit card use for sports betting (S 2844)

The Senate, 39 to 0, approved an amendment to a section of the sports betting bill that prohibits a credit card from being used to place bets. The amendment clarifies that any use of credit, whether the credit card itself or some other third party, is prohibited.

Amendment supporters said that without the amendment, a consumer could link a credit card to an online payment system, such as PayPal, or use a credit card to purchase sports betting gift cards at retailers like 7-Eleven, Walmart and various gas stations.

“Prohibiting credit card use, particularly for those with a gambling addiction, will prevent consumers from going into insurmountable debt,” said amendment sponsor Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford. “If the commonwealth is going to allow this form of gambling, then we have a responsibility to protect the public by ensuring all forms of credit are not allowed. We cannot leave significant consumer protections in the hands of a profit-driven industry, and this amendment ensures there are no credit loopholes for third-party payment methods like gift cards or online payment systems.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Also up on Beacon HillSunscreen (S 309)

On its way to a study committee is a bill that would allow any person — including students, parents and school personnel — to possess and use a topical sunscreen product without a physician’s note or prescription while on school property or at a school-related event or activity to avoid overexposure to the sun if the product is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration for over-the-counter use.

“Melanoma is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in children ages 15 to 19,” said sponsor Sen. Julian Cyr, R-Truro. “Routine application of sunscreen has proven to significantly reduce young people’s risk of developing this cancer. Sunscreen is essential to protecting the health of adolescents, so it makes good sense that sunscreen is accessible in schools and can be applied without the undue burden of obtaining a prescription.”

Bring your own car

The Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) announced that beginning May 2, applicants taking the road test to obtain their driver’s license are required to bring their own vehicle for the road test.

Two years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the implementation of health and safety protocols under which the RMV deployed a fleet of state-owned vehicles for road tests, which were cleaned and sanitized on a regular basis. Applicants now scheduled for testing through a driving school should confirm they have access to the school’s vehicle for their road test.


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