Beacon Hill Roll Call: June 12 to June 16, 2023

Published: 6/23/2023 7:39:28 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of June 12-16. There were no roll calls in the House last week.

Senate approves $590 million tax reduction package (S 2397)

Senate 39-0, approved a package that provides $590 million in tax relief. The House has already approved its own tax reduction package and a House-Senate conference committee will hammer out a compromise version.

Key provisions of the Senate package include raising the earned income tax credit from 30% of the federal credit to 40%; raising the cap on the rental deduction from $3,000 to $4,000; increasing from $1 million to $2 million the value of a person’s estate that is exempt from the state’s estate/death tax that a person is required to pay following their death before distribution to any beneficiary; increasing from $1,200 to $2,400 the maximum senior circuit breaker credit; increasing the statewide cap for the dairy tax credit from $6 million to $8 million; and doubling the credit for lead paint abatement to $3,000 for full abatement and $1,000 for partial abatement.

The package also provides that student loan payment assistance offered by employers will not be treated as a taxable salary and gives cities and towns the option to adopt a local property tax exemption for real estate that is rented to a person below a certain area-dependent income level.

“As I have said from the outset, tax relief should go to the workers, families and elderly residents of the commonwealth who need it most,” said Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland. “Massachusetts doesn’t need just any tax reliefl; we need permanent, progressive, smart and sustainable tax relief. Too many families have been caught between the rising costs of health care, housing, education and basic goods.”

“Consistent with the views of the Senate membership, our Senate tax package is forward-looking, fiscally sustainable, comprehensive and progressive,” said Sen. Mike Rodrigues, D-Westport, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “It puts money back into the pockets of our residents, providing permanent tax cuts for low-income workers, families, renters, seniors and persons with disabilities, while focusing on the largest issue that is undercutting our commonwealth’s overall competitiveness — which is the affordability and availability of housing.”

“Working families aren’t leaving the commonwealth because of taxes on day-traders,” said Sen. Susan Moran, D-Falmouth, Senate chair of the Committee on Revenue. “They are leaving because they can’t find housing they can afford. This package aimed at growing housing will also grow our workforce and the commonwealth’s competitiveness.”

A “Yes” vote is for the $590 million tax reduction package.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi has resigned

Sen. Paul Mark — Yes

25% must be affordable housing (S 2397)

Senate 9-30, rejected an amendment to a section of the bill that funds the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP). The amendment would require that HDIP projects make 25% of their units affordable.

HDIP, according to its state website, “provides Gateway Cities with a tool to develop market-rate housing while increasing residential growth, expanding diversity of housing stock, supporting economic development and promoting neighborhood stabilization in designated areas.”

“This amendment ensures that HDIP leads to construction of units for everyone,” said amendment sponsor Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton. “It ensures that HDIP is not exclusively used for high-rent luxury apartments. And this is not a theoretical concern. An excellent report from the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute explains that [while] HDIP is titled a market-rate credit, the rents usually exceed prevailing rents and prices, some by 50% to 70% with no limit on future increases. Rents in many HDIP subsidized developments are excessively high cost as described in current apartment advertisements.”

“The HDIP program is the primary tool for Gateway Cities to expand housing stock, revitalize downtowns and attract and retain a middle class in cities where low rents do not support new housing development projects,” said Sen. John Cronin, D-Fitchburg, who opposed the amendment. “While affordability requirements may work in some communities, forcing a one-size-fits-all requirement on others will diminish the program’s utility by disincentivizing development — completely contrary to the objective of the program. The Senate got this vote right.”

A “No” vote is against the amendment requiring that 25% of the units be affordable.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — No

Sen. Anne Gobi has resigned

Sen. Paul Mark — No

File taxes jointly (S 2387)

Senate 33-5, approved an amendment that would require Massachusetts couples who file income tax returns jointly at the federal level to do the same at the state level.

Supporters said this amendment will close a loophole that allows some married couples to file individually — an action that could be used to minimize or avoid the person’s state tax obligations under the newly approved 4% surtax, which is in addition to the current flat 5% one, on taxpayers’ earnings of more than $1 million annually.

Opponents said if filers are forced to file jointly at the state level, the 4% surtax will apply to many more filers, which is not what the voters approved on the November 2022 ballot question imposing the 4% surtax.

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment requiring joint filing.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi has resigned

Sen. Paul Mark — Yes

Reduce short-term capital gains tax (S 2397)

Senate 5-32, rejected an amendment to reduce the short-term capital gains tax from 12% to 5%.

Amendment supporters said there are 26 states that currently tax short-term capital gains at a rate of 5% or lower, including all of our surrounding states. They noted that both the House and the governor favor the reduction. They asked why the capital gains tax or any tax imposed should be charged at a higher rate than earned income.

Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, the sponsor of the amendment, did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking him to comment on his amendment.

Amendment opponents said the state cannot afford the $117 million loss in revenue that this tax cut would cost this year. They argued the cut would do nothing to help the costs of housing and living.

Senate Ways and Means Chair Sen. Mike Rodrigues. D-Westport, did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking him to comment on his opposition to the amendment.

A “No” vote is against the reduction to 5 percent.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — No

Sen. Anne Gobi has resigned

Sen. Paul Mark — No

Increase estate/death tax exemption (S 2397)

Senate 5-33, rejected an amendment that would increase from $1 million to $5 million the amount of money that is exempt from 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. The increase to $5 million would be implemented over 10 years.

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.

“You work hard and earn money, it’s taxed,” said amendment sponsor Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Sutton. “You save and invest your money, it’s taxed. You spend your money, it’s taxed. You own property, it’s taxed. Only in Massachusetts and Oregon, after working your whole life, do you get taxed at the highest rate in the country after your death. My amendment sought to shed the ‘Taxachusetts’ mentality. … Our residents should want to spend their golden years in Massachusetts, but our tax policy makes it unaffordable to die in Massachusetts. Middle and upper-middle-class families should not have to worry about the government taking what they have worked so hard [to provide] for future generations of their family.”

Amendment opponents said the proposed bill already raises the exemption from $1 million to $2 million and noted that will cost $185 million. They said a hike to $5 million is excessive and unaffordable and will cost hundreds of millions of dollars more. They noted that lowering the estate tax is not the only way to help seniors and their families.

Senate Ways and Means Chair Sen. Mike Rodrigues, D-Westport, did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call asking him to comment on his opposition to the amendment.

A “No” vote is against increasing the exemption to $5 million.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — No

Sen. Anne Gobi has resigned

Sen. Paul Mark — No

Also up on Beacon Hill ‘Meet the Media’ event

Join MASSterList and the State House News Service for a discussion with leading local journalists about the Massachusetts political and policy landscape at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, June 29, at Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) at 10 Winter Place (Downtown Crossing) in Boston. Topics will include competitive pressures, transparency in state and local government, and developing relationships with government sources and communications professionals. Tickets/more info:

The panel includes: Matt Stout, reporter, the Boston Globe; Azita Ghahramani, senior editor for politics, WGBH News; James “Jimmy” Hills, host, Java With Jimmy; Jennifer Smith, staff reporter, Commonwealth Magazine; Steph Solis, reporter, Axios Boston; Colin Young, reporter, State House News Service. Moderator: Adam Reilly, reporter, WGBH News.

Sales tax holiday on Aug. 12 and 13

The House and Senate set Saturday, Aug. 12 and Sunday, Aug. 13 as this year’s sales tax holiday. This will allow consumers to buy most products that cost under $2,500 on those two days without paying the state’s 6.25% sales tax. This annual sales-tax-free weekend was made permanent in 2018 and gives the Legislature the authority to set the dates by June 15 each year.

Supporters of the holiday say it has been in effect for many years, would boost retail sales and noted that consumers would save millions of dollars. They argue that the state’s sales tax revenue loss would be offset by increased revenue from the meals and gas tax revenue generated by shoppers on those two days.

Opponents of the bill say the state cannot afford the up to $30 million estimated revenue loss and argued the holiday actually generates little additional revenue for stores because consumers typically buy the products even without the tax-free days. They say that the Legislature should be looking at broader, deeper tax relief for individuals and businesses and not a tiny tax-free holiday.

Prohibit requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination (H 734)

The Emergency Preparedness and Management Committee held a hearing on legislation that would prohibit the state, cities and towns from requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of entry to any public buildings, including state and local government buildings, all public and private schools, and colleges and private businesses.

“We put the bill forward to prevent public entities from requiring vaccination for entry into public buildings,” said sponsor Rep. Peter Durant, R-Spencer. “This includes schools of any types. We have heard from a number of concerned parents that their children were not being allowed to attend college or other schools unless they were vaccinated. This created a devastating situation in which students and parents had to make a choice between getting something they may not have wanted and getting an education that they need. We believe that this creates a problem within the 14th Amendment Privileges and Immunity Clause, as well as the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

Allow alcohol sales on Thanksgiving (H 353)

The Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee held a hearing on a proposal that would allow for the sale of alcohol on Thanksgiving.

“Currently, 33 states already allow Thanksgiving alcohol sales including Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and New Jersey,” said sponsor Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick. “Prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Thanksgiving likely dates back to colonial times when drinking alcohol on holidays was considered ‘unholy.’ [The bill] would not require that a liquor store be open on Thanksgiving, but rather would give them that option. Notably, a majority of liquor stores that are open in states [that] do allow sales on Thanksgiving are closed by midday. This gives last-minute shoppers the opportunity to purchase alcohol as they would any other item at the grocery store, while still allowing employees to celebrate Thanksgiving.”

Financial scams against seniors, people with disabilities (H 613)

The Elder Affairs Committee held a hearing on a measure that would impose an additional $2,500 fine on anyone who is convicted of perpetrating a financial or other fraud against a person if the person is a senior or disabled individual. The bill would also create a special account to distribute educational materials to seniors and people with disabilities on how to be on the lookout for frauds or scams, and would fund seminars to better inform them of their rights as a consumer.

“I filed this bill after hearing from many constituents over the years who were concerned with deceptive actions being perpetrated against seniors or people with disabilities,” said sponsor Rep. Bruce Ayers, D-Quincy. “Those who perpetrate fraud against seniors and disabled individuals are constantly changing their methods to try and find new ways of committing fraud. We need to adjust our efforts for prevention to be proactive in protecting our vulnerable residents from scams and financial abuse.”

Loan repayment assistance for human service workers (H 214)

The Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities Committee held a hearing on legislation that would provide financial assistance to some human service workers to repay their student loans. Under the program, human service workers who work 12 consecutive months for a minimum of 35 hours per week and who have an individual income of no more than $50,000 can qualify for loan repayment of up to $150 per month for up to 48 months.

“Human service workers perform an extremely difficult job for woefully low wages,” said Rep. Jeff Roy, D-Franklin. “Assisting with repayment of student loans could help alleviate some of the financial burdens that new graduates face when choosing to work in their field of study. Given the cost of living in Massachusetts and the value added by ensuring that those who are in need receive the best care the commonwealth can give them, [this bill seems like] a small step to show our human service workers that we value their important contributions.”

Shooting at a house or apartment (H 1681)

The Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a proposal that would impose up to a five-year prison sentence and/or $10,000 fine on anyone who discharges an assault weapon, firearm, large-capacity weapon, machine gun, rifle, sawed-off shotgun or shotgun into a dwelling. Under current law this crime is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a 30-day jail sentence and/or $100 fine.

Supporters also said that under current law the punishment is disproportionate to the severity of this type of incident. They noted this crime, primarily committed by gang members, is often used as an intimidation tactic without regard for the innocent people in the home.

“Random and intentional gunshots into homes can cause grave physical and mental consequences to homeowners and their families,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Rady Mom, D-Lowell. “It also creates an unsafe environment and heightens public distrust in the neighborhood where it occurs. This bill will give law enforcement officers the necessary tools to keep our cities safe.”


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