Beacon Hill Roll Call: March 2 to March 6, 2020

Published: 3/11/2020 5:43:51 PM
Modified: 3/11/2020 5:43:40 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records votes of local representatives from the week of March 2 to March 6. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.

Estimated $18 billion in transportation projects (H 4506)

House, 150 to 1, approved and sent to the Senate an estimated $18 billion bond bill authorizing spending on transportation projects and infrastructure over the next 10 years. Provisions include $5.6 billion for federal highway system projects; $1.75 billion for the design, construction and repair of non-federally aided roadway and bridge projects; and another $1.25 billion for construction, resurfacing and improvements of bridges and approaches. The bill also increases Chapter 90 funding to cities and towns for road and bridge repairs from $200 million to $300 million. The package is a bond bill under which the funding would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds.

The package includes earmarks for hundreds of millions of dollars for hundreds of projects in legislators’ districts across the state — many of which will never be funded. The Baker Administration is required to adhere to the state’s annual bond borrowing cap, and ultimately decides which projects are affordable and actually get funded.

“The House’s transportation funding package is an important step forward in fixing the commonwealth’s transportation crisis,” said Chris Dempsey, director of the Transportation for Massachusetts coalition. “We applaud House members for taking a balanced approach to addressing transportation needs and ensuring that statewide investments will improve daily commutes in every city and town. We’ve dug ourselves a big hole and this bill is an important step to help us climb out.”

“The transportation bond bill was an earmark-filled document that is being treated, as one Democratic chairman noted, as “Monopoly money,” said Rep. Marc Lombardo, R-Billerica, the lone opponent of the measure. “Massachusetts already has the largest per capita debt in the nation and some of the highest cost per highway mile in the nation. We need to do better.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Estimated $522 million to $600 million tax hike for transportation (H 4508)

House, 113 to 40, approved and sent to the Senate an estimated $522 million to $600 million tax hike package to fund improvements to the state’s transportation system. Hikes include a 5 cents-per-gallon increase in the motor vehicle gas excise tax; a 9 cents-per-gallon increase in the diesel fuel tax; an increase in the aviation fuel tax from 5 percent of the average price per gallon to 7.5 percent of the average price per gallon; elimination of the sales tax exemption on vehicle purchases for traditional rental car companies; replacing the current flat $456 minimum corporate excise tax with a nine-tiered sliding scale ranging from $456 if the corporation’s total sales are less than $1 million to $150,000 if the corporation’s sales total $1 billion; and increasing the 20 cents-per-trip flat fee to $1.20 for each non-shared Uber and Lyft ride and $2.20 for every luxury ride. The bill includes language aimed at preventing Uber and Lyft from passing those hikes directly onto riders.

“We applaud the House for recognizing the importance of providing much-needed transportation resources for the state,” said John Pourbaix, executive director of the Construction Industries of Massachusetts. “With the passage of the Transportation Revenue Bill, the House has acted in a way to better position Massachusetts to undertake the much-needed improvements to our substandard roads and bridges, our underperforming transit system, our overcrowded interchanges and choke points, and our critical local infrastructure.”

“Massachusetts consistently squanders over 300 percent more than the national average for its annual highway maintenance, most dramatically in administrative costs,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “Over the past few years the state has been raking in billions in revenue surpluses, aka over-taxation, and when the Millionaire’s Tax is approved as expected, it will add $2 billion more a year to that. But the standard assertion is that more, more, always more is needed for transportation. Spending review, reform and cost-cutting is rare at best in Massachusetts, but imposition of ever higher taxes is just as reliably perpetual.”

“It has become clearer by the day that the need for more transportation revenue is real and it is immediate,” said Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, during the floor debate. “Whether your constituents come from a district that is considered urban or rural or anything in between, it is undeniable that our transportation system is not meeting the needs that our citizens expect and deserve.”

“I listen to the people,” said Rep. Marc Lombardo, R-Billerica. “I can tell you no one is calling my office saying pass the gas tax. The opposite is true. I am hearing from families who don’t want their budgets stretched. I am hearing from soccer moms who bring their children to activities. I am hearing from seniors who live on a fixed income. Like me, they believe that Beacon Hill needs to reform spending, not increase taxes.”

A “Yes” vote is for the tax hikes. A “No” vote is against them.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Paul Mark — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

No tax hikes if Millionaire’s Tax is approved (H 4508)

House, 36 to 118, rejected an amendment that would repeal all the tax increases, except the one on Lyft and Uber, if the proposed Millionaire’s Tax ballot question is approved by Massachusetts voters in November of 2022. The tax, estimated to raise up to $2 billion per year, would allow a graduated income tax in Massachusetts and impose an additional 4 percent income tax, in addition to the current flat 5.1 percent tax, on taxpayers’ earnings of more than $1 million. 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.

“Speaker DeLeo has said repeatedly that the transportation finance bill is a ‘bridge’ to the Millionaire’s Tax, which is projected to generate $2 billion in new revenues for education and transportation,” said Rep. Brad Jones, R-North Reading, the sponsor of the amendment. “If the money from the ballot question is really going to be spent on transportation, then I think it’s only fair the tax increases contained in this bill be sunset once those new revenues start coming in.”

Amendment opponents said the House should not tie the hands of future legislatures by tying the current tax hike package to the Millionaire’s Tax. They noted the two are separate proposals and noted the Millionaire’s Tax is not even guaranteed to be on the 2022 ballot.

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Study/delay tax hikes (H 4508)

House, 35 to 119, rejected an amendment that would indefinitely delay the implementation of the tax hikes until Gov. Charlie Baker’s Office of Administration and Finance and the Department of Revenue furnish a study of the taxes’ impact on the state’s economy and on cities and towns. The study would include an analysis of the impact on taxpayers of varying income levels, current practices of other states, and any anticipated changes in employment and ancillary economic activity resulting from the tax increases.

“This study language is identical to what the Democratic leadership has used many times in the past to block Republican-sponsored amendments during floor debate,” said Rep. Brad Jones, R-North Reading, the amendment’s sponsor. “I say what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Collectively, these tax increases will cost the state’s taxpayers and employers more than $600 million, which is reason enough to conduct a study of the long-term implications of these tax proposals before they’re implemented.”

Opponents of the study said it is craftily worded to simply kill the tax hikes. They noted the study is assigned to the Baker Administration, which is opposed to many of these tax hikes and is unlikely to ever conduct the study.

A “No” vote is against the study.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — No

Strike the increase in minimum corporation tax (H 4508)

House, 35 to 119, rejected an amendment that would strike a section of the bill that would replace the current flat $456 minimum corporate excise tax with a nine-tiered sliding scale ranging from $456 if the corporation’s total sales are less than $1 million to $150,000 if the corporation’s sales total $1 billion.

“The proposed changes to the corporate minimum excise tax would put Massachusetts employers at a competitive disadvantage, hurt job growth and make it even more difficult to attract new businesses to the state,” said the amendment’s sponsor Rep. Liz Poirier, R-North Attleboro. “The advocates who are pushing for this new tax structure haven’t taken into consideration online retail sales tax collections, combined reporting and other major business tax policy changes that have been implemented over the last decade.”

Supporters of the new tiering system said this sliding scale protects small businesses but also makes sure that large companies pay their share into the state’s transportation system.

(The roll call was on striking the increase. Therefore a “Yes” vote is against the increase in the current $456 minimum corporate tax. A “No” vote is for the increase.)

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Exempt cities and towns from gas tax (H 4508)

House, 36 to 118, rejected an amendment that would exempt cities and towns’ vehicle fuel purchases from the state’s gas tax. Some state agencies are currently either exempt from the gas tax or receive a rebate, including regional transportation authorities, the MBTA, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority and Massport.

“Municipal budgets are already under an enormous strain, and this exemption would help to ease the financial burden on cities and towns by freeing up resources they can allocate to support essential municipal services,” said Rep. Brad Jones, R-North Reading, the amendment’s sponsor.

Opponents of the exemption said it would result in a loss of tax revenue and weakens the bill. They noted that cities and towns will be benefiting from all the tax hikes, including the gas tax. They argued Chapter 90 funds for maintenance and repair of local roads and bridges will also increase by 50 percent.

A “Yes” vote is for the exemption. A “No” vote is against it.

Rep. Natalie Blais — No

Rep. Paul Mark — No

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Also up on Beacon Hill Refusing to stop for a police officer (H 2150)

The House gave initial approval to a bill that would impose up to a two-year prison sentence and $2,500 fine on any person who refuses to stop when signaled to do so by any uniformed police officer.

“This bill aims to make ‘refusing to stop for a police officer’ or ‘initiating a police pursuit,’ a felony,” said the proposal’s sponsor Rep. Tim Whelan, R-Brewster. “We believe that the current misdemeanor penalties for this crime do not provide sufficient consequences and has resulted in too many persons taking off from the police and driving at high speeds, significantly endangering the public. These enhanced penalties will afford a judge, in their review of the facts of an individual case, to apply these higher sanctions as they deem warranted by those facts.”

Handicapped parking spaces (H 1794)

The House gave initial approval to a bill that would require cities and towns to reserve 5 percent of on-street parking spaces for handicapped parking.

“The absence of a law on the number of on-street handicapped parking spaces increases the challenges and uncertainty persons with disabilities face when they leave their homes,” said the measure’s sponsor Rep. Jonathan Hecht, D-Watertown. “We all need to go from place to place to shop, see doctors, enjoy cultural events or have dinner out with friends. This legislation would create consistency across cities and towns, and give persons with disabilities confidence they will have access to adequate handicapped parking when they drive to another community.”

Protect persons with disabilities — ‘Nicky’s Bill’ (H 4296)

Last week Gov. Baker held a “ceremonial signing” of a new law that would establish a registry that identifies individuals who have been found to have committed abuse against persons with disabilities. The governor originally signed the bill on Feb. 13, so this ceremonial signing has no real effect and is staged for public relations purposes. The new law takes effect in January 2021.

The measure was filed by Sen. Mike Moore, D-Millbury, at the request of a constituent who is the mother of Nicky, an intellectually disabled and non-verbal individual. Nicky had been inappropriately restrained and struck multiple times by her caretaker. Under current law, unless the offender is criminally convicted, no system exists to identify caretakers and prevent them from finding employment with another provider licensed by the state.

“I am incredibly happy and proud that today Nicky’s Law was officially signed into effect by the governor,” Moore said. “Of course, this would not be possible without the incredible work of individuals and organizations that pushed for this bill and worked behind the scenes to get us where we are today. I think this is a real testament to the power that advocacy can have in the legislative process and it’s because of these advocates that we were able to get this commonsense legislation pushed through and provide the commonwealth’s most vulnerable population the protections they deserve.”

“Protecting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities is vitally important, and I want to thank the family members, advocates and our legislative colleagues for their work to pass this bill,” Baker said. “The new registry established in Nicky’s Law will provide an additional safeguard against abuse and further improve the safety and quality of services provided to some of the commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents.”

Baker signs $122 million supplemental budget (H 4502)

The governor signed a $122 million fiscal year 2020 supplemental budget. Key provisions provide $15 million for heating energy assistance to help low-income seniors, working families and other households pay winter heating bills; a provision that ensures that the Healthy Incentives Program, which provides fruit and vegetables to recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the food stamp program), is available year-round; and $2 million for smoking prevention and cessation programs.

Other provisions provide $300,000 for the Cannabis Control Commission; $2.8 million for the Early Intervention Program for families of children up to 3 years of age who have developmental difficulties because of health or environmental conditions; and up to $95,000 for the surveillance, treatment, containment or prevention of the coronavirus.

Supporters said the budget is necessary to cover expenses and to fund various state programs and agencies that are running out of money. They argued the funding reflects immediate deficiencies to crucial programs that our constituents rely on every day.


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