Beacon Hill Roll Call: June 7 to June 11, 2021

  • State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, speaks at a rally on the Greenfield Common last weekend in support of the Fair Share Amendment that would create an additional 4 percent tax on a person’s annual income that exceeds $1 million in Massachusetts. The House and Senate approved the amendment by a vote of 159 to 41. Contributed photo/Paul Jablon

  • The Rev. Kate Stevens, president of the Interfaith Council of Franklin County, speaks at the rally on the Greenfield Common last weekend in support of the Fair Share Amendment, which was approved by the House and Senate by a vote of 159 to 41. Contributed photo/Paul Jablon

  • COMERFORD

Published: 6/18/2021 2:36:45 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives’ and senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of June 7 to June 11.

Tax millionaires another 4 percent (S 5)

The House and Senate held a constitutional convention and approved 159 to 41, (House approved 121 to 39, Senate approved 38 to 2), a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow a graduated income tax in Massachusetts and impose an additional 4 percent income tax, in addition to the current flat 5 percent one, on taxpayers’ earnings of more than $1 million annually. Language in the amendment requires that “subject to appropriation” the revenue will go to fund quality public education, affordable public colleges and universities, and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation.

The proposal, dubbed by sponsors as “the Fair Share Amendment,” is sponsored by Sen. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, and Rep. James O’Day, D-West Boylston. Opponents reject that label and call it another unnecessary excessive tax. The proposal was also approved by the 2019 to 2020 Legislature and is now scheduled to go on the November 2022 ballot for voters to decide.

Supporters said the amendment will affect only 18,000 extremely wealthy individuals and will generate up to $2 billion annually in additional tax revenue. They argued that using the money for education and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation will benefit millions of Massachusetts taxpayers. They noted the hike would help lower-income families that are now paying a higher share of their income in taxes.

Opponents argued the new tax will result in the loss of 9,500 private sector jobs, $405 million annually in personal disposable income and some millionaires moving out of state. They said the earmarking of funds for specific projects is illegal, and that all the funds will go into the General Fund and be up for grabs for anything.

“When the Fair Share Amendment was first introduced in 2015, there were about 15,000 Massachusetts residents earning over $1 million a year,” O’Day said. “Now in 2021, there are about 18,000 residents earning over $1 million a year. Clearly, there are millionaires and billionaires who can afford to pay their fair share in taxes, which will support our neighbors and local communities with investments in public education and transportation.”

“Only Beacon Hill politicians want to raise taxes by 80 percent, while simultaneously collecting more tax revenue than they know how to spend,” said Paul Craney, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “The voters should not forget or forgive this level of greed and they will have another chance to hold them accountable in 2022.”

A report released by the Beacon Hill Institute reads, “The proposed surtax would decrease the demand for labor services and the quantity of labor services supplied. It would further increase the cost of obtaining capital services by reducing the after-tax profits that owners could plan on receiving from investments in their business. These effects would further manifest themselves as a reduction in private sector jobs, in disposable income and in state gross domestic product. In 2023, for example, more than 4,000 families would leave the Bay State with employment dipping by nearly 9,000 jobs. Workers will have $963 million less in disposable income and the state’s gross domestic product would shrink by $431 million.”

“To make a fully informed decision, voters should understand what the tax changes embedded in the law will mean in terms of costs to the state’s economy,” noted David Tuerck, president of the institute and a co-author of the report. “Supporters of the millionaire’s tax ignore the reality that high-income taxpayers adjust their work effort and their decisions to save and invest, particularly when they are more willing to move.”

A “Yes” vote is for the 4 percent tax.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Anne Gobi — Yes

Sen. Adam Hinds — Yes

Reprecincting (H 3863)

The House, 113 to 29, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would change how district boundaries for Congress, the House of Representatives, Senate and Governor’s Council will be redrawn ahead of the 2022 elections.

Traditionally, cities and towns act first in the process by creating their local precincts and boundaries based on the latest decennial U.S. census population. This time, the Census Bureau announced in February that as a result of the pandemic it wouldn’t be able to deliver redistricting data by the expected date of March 30, and have pushed the delivery date to Sept. 30, with some information possibly arriving in August. This delay makes it impossible for Massachusetts cities and towns to meet the existing statutory June 15 deadline to submit their redrawn precincts to the Legislature.

The proposal, approved by the House, would change the order of things by authorizing the Legislature to take the first step by redrawing boundaries for state and federal offices using census tracts and blocks. Cities and towns would be required to complete their reprecincting work within 30 days after the Legislature finalizes districts.

“This bill allows the drawing of new legislative districts in a timely manner while keeping us in compliance with state law and the state constitution,” said Elections Laws Committee chair Dan Ryan, D-Charlestown. “We do this while still allowing municipalities to draw their own precinct and sub-precinct boundaries to meet their needs.”

“Any claim of urgency is a false flag intended to stifle debate and rush this legislation through,” said Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk. “There’s technology that allows for instantaneous reformatting with the click of a mouse, so to say that we’re in a horrific time crunch and that the cities and town clerks won’t be able to get this done on a timely basis is nonsense.”

“The delayed release of the 2020 census data has made redistricting more difficult, but (the bill) is a modest, common sense change that will make both redistricting and reprecincting better for voters and local officials,” said Geoff Foster, steering committee member of the Drawing Democracy Coalition and executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “The current timeline gives municipalities an unrealistically short time period in which to redraw precinct lines.”

“This complete reversal of the process would lead to unintended consequences and disruption to local governance, charters and elections in many cities and towns across the state,” said Massachusetts Municipal Association Executive Director Geoff Beckwith. “Forcing communities to shape their precincts around new state-set boundaries would lead to significant problems for communities with multiple precincts, especially those with Representative Town Meetings, as well as those localities that elect local officials in districts based on wards and precincts.”

Secretary of State William Galvin, the state’s chief election officer, opposes the bill and said he would urge Gov. Charlie Baker to veto the measure if it reaches the governor’s desk.

“Have there been new ethnic communities coming in?” Galvin asked at a hearing before the Election Laws Committee. “Have there been changes? Is there new construction? Are there new factors? Local governments are best able to deal with this.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Changes in election voting laws (H 3862)

The House, 128 to 32, approved an amendment that would make mail-in voting and early voting before the biennial state primaries and general elections permanent. Both of these methods were approved by the Legislature when the pandemic hit but only applied to the 2020 elections.

“Massachusetts voters got a glimpse into an efficient, safe and convenient way to vote that other states have long enjoyed during last year’s election, with 42 percent of our commonwealth’s voters voting by mail,” said Rep. Jack Lewis, D-Framingham. “And because of that, even in the midst of a global pandemic, we experienced turnout numbers we haven’t seen in nearly 30 years.”

“I’m a little shocked that we’re doing this today as part of the supplemental budget,” said GOP Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading. “This should go through the committee process. The chairman of Ways and Means has tried to impress that upon me numerous times. I don’t understand why that’s not the case here, particularly for something that isn’t timely. This doesn’t have to be done. … This doesn’t have any effect on the voters for over a year.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment making mail-in voting and early voting permanent.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Also up on Beacon HillCOVID-19 policy extensions (S 2467)

The Senate, on a voice vote without a roll call on the bill itself or on any proposed amendments, approved and sent to the House legislation that would extend many of the measures instituted in Massachusetts during the COVID-19 state of emergency that were slated to expire on June 15. During debate, the Senate approved eight amendments and rejected 23, while 13 were withdrawn by the sponsors.

Provisions of the bill include extending mail-in voting until Dec. 15, and allowing cities and towns to extend early in-person voting through the same date; allowing public bodies subject to the Open Meeting Law to continue to hold remote meetings until April 1, 2022; making remote town meetings and meetings of nonprofits and public corporations an option through Dec. 15; allowing cities and towns to approve and extend permits for outdoor dining through April 1, 2022; allowing restaurants to offer alcoholic beverages, including mixed drinks, for off-site consumption with the purchase of food until March 1, 2022; extending several protections that have been granted to tenants who have difficulty paying rent; and extending until Dec. 15 a requirement that certain in-network telehealth services be reimbursed at the same rate as equivalent in-person services.

“We learned a lot during the COVID experience, and we may be able to use some of those lessons going forward,” said President Pro Tempore Sen. Will Brownsberger, D-Belmont. “This legislation gives us the time to sort out which changes we should make permanent.”

Proposed amendments defeated on voice votes without a roll call include keeping the cap on delivery fees charged to restaurants by third parties like Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats at 15 percent of the order price; prohibiting delivery of alcohol to municipal or state parks and beaches; and allowing cities and towns to approve and extend permits for outdoor dining through November 1, 2022 instead of April 1, 2022.

Critics say the lack of roll calls shows the lack of transparency in the Senate and place the blame on all 40 senators. (A roll call vote can be requested by any one senator and that senator needs only two other senators, for a total of three senators, to mandate that the roll calls take place. So it would only take three of the 37 Democratic senators or all three Republican senators to demand a roll call.)

“Never mind lack of transparency, there’s no accountability without recorded votes,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “Why fund a ‘full-time’ and highly-paid Legislature of 200 silent members with all the accompanying perks, ‘leadership stipends,’ chambers, offices and staff, when with growing frequency all that’s necessary today is a House speaker, a Senate president and a rubber stamp?”

“Voters will have more faith in state lawmakers if they are willing to stand up and be counted on their votes,” said Paul Craney, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “Procedural gimmicks like voice votes on controversial policies do nothing to strengthen state democracy.”

Hunger on college campuses (S 847)

The Higher Education Committee held a hearing on legislation that would create the Massachusetts Community College Campus Hunger Program pilot program that would provide funding to address food insecurity among college students at the state’s 15 community colleges. The program would provide grants in the form of student meal cards, meal plans, meal vouchers and other campus-designed projects to address food insecurity.

“An overwhelming percentage of community college students across our commonwealth have experienced some degree of food insecurity, which has a huge impact on academic success, because you can’t learn if you’re hungry,” said sponsor Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem. “This bill would take critical steps to address food insecurity to provide supports to vulnerable students.”

Free tuition for foster kids (S 826)

The Higher Education Committee also held a hearing on a measure that would amend a current law that provides that, when a family adopts a foster child through the Department of Children and Families, the child is entitled to free tuition and fees at state universities and community colleges for classes taught by full-time faculty. This excludes many classes taught by part-time instructors, online or at night. The bill would amend that current law to include all courses.

“This issue was brought to my attention by constituents, whose adopted daughter was required to pay tuition and fees for attending night courses at Greenfield Community College,” said Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, the sponsor of the bill. “This bill seeks to close a painful, inequitable loophole in our financial aid system for adopted foster children and children still within the foster care system. Flexible online and night courses are particularly beneficial for nontraditional or working students, and adopted foster children should not be denied access due to the cost of these classes.”

Default on student loans (H 412 and H 425)

The Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee’s hearing included two similar bills that would repeal a law passed in 1990, which created professional licensure consequences for anyone who defaults on their student loan. Under existing law, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority and American Student Assistance can request that a borrower’s state-issued professional or occupational certificate, registration or license be suspended, revoked or canceled for default on educational loans made or administered by either group.

“Massachusetts is one of a handful of states where individuals can lose their occupational license if they default on their student loans,” said House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading, the sponsor of H 412. “This policy is counterproductive and should be repealed because it makes it harder for individuals to repay their loans by depriving them of the opportunity to earn an income in their chosen profession.”


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