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Beacon Hill Roll Call: GOP stymied on tax relief bills

Reviewing three failed attempts

BOSTON MA. – MARCH 23: State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and other Republicans rally for suspension of gas tax outside the State House on March 23, 2022 in Boston, MA. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
BOSTON MA. – MARCH 23: State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and other Republicans rally for suspension of gas tax outside the State House on March 23, 2022 in Boston, MA. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
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THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. While the Legislature did provide significant tax relief this year, there were also several unsuccessful attempts by the Republicans to reduce taxes even further. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reviews three of these unsuccessful attempts in the Senate to reduce taxes.

REDUCE GAMING TAX (S 2844)

Senate rejected 35-4 an amendment that would reduce from 20 percent to 10 percent the proposed gaming excise tax for in-person betting and from 35 percent to 12.5 percent 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 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.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the reduction. A “No” vote is against it).

NO: Sen. Michael Barrett; Sen. John Cronin; Sen. James Eldridge; Sen. Barry Finegold; Sen. Cindy Friedman; Sen. Anne Gobi; Sen. Edward Kennedy. YES: Sen. Bruce Tarr.

TAX CUTS (S 4)

Senate rejected 30-10 a tax reduction amendment that would provide a 3-month suspension of the 24-cents-per-gallon gas tax; reduce from 12 percent to 5 percent the short-term capital gains tax rate; double the dependent care tax credit from $240 to $480 for one qualifying individual and to $960 for two or more individuals; increase the rental deduction cap from $3,000 to $5,000; increase the threshold for “no tax status” to $12,400 for single filers and $24,800 for joint filers; and double the maximum Senior Circuit Breaker Credit.

“The Senate Republican Caucus members proposed more than 30 tax cut and credit proposals during this budget because we believe that we have an obligation to take reasonable actions to help people face the challenges they are dealing with from high housing costs, gas prices at record levels and inflation that continues to rise at alarming rates,” said amendment sponsor Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “We know that with state revenues wildly exceeding what we need to operate, and a fiscal year 2023 budget spending increase of more than $2 billion, we have the capacity to help families, seniors, students, commuters and those who depend on childcare.”

“The tax break package presented by my colleagues and I would have eased the burden on working families and provided urgently needed financial relief from the economic challenges we continue to face,” said Sen. Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth). “With record prices for gas, housing, childcare and basic necessities, we need to act immediately to enact tax reforms to ease the blow on our residents and protect those who simply cannot afford the looming changes our economy will experience.”

“The Joint Committee on Revenue is reviewing tax reduction bills and the full Senate has committed to consideration of a comprehensive and thoughtful revenue proposal, including tax reductions,” said Sen. John Keenan (D-Quincy) who voted against the amendment.

“The Senate President has already announced that the Senate is taking up a tax relief package shortly,” said amendment opponent Sen. Adam Hinds (D-Pittsfield). “That is what we prefer to focus on. We want to be absolutely certain that tax cuts go to those who need it most, not just giveaways to the most wealthy.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the tax cuts. A “No” vote is against the tax cuts).

NO: Sen. Michael Barrett; Sen. John Cronin; Sen. James Eldridge; Sen. Cindy Friedman; Sen. Edward Kennedy. YES: Sen. Barry Finegold; Sen. Anne Gobi; Sen. Bruce Tarr.

MORE TAX RELIEF (S 3018)

Senate rejected an amendment 31-7 that would reduce the short-term capital gains tax from 12 percent to 5 percent; increase the no-income tax status threshold from $8,000 to $12,500; and increase the rental deduction cap from $3,000 to $5,000, instead of just to $4,000 which the original bill provides.

Amendment supporters said that the state is sitting on a surplus of more than $3 billion and should return more of that money to taxpayers. They argued the state can easily afford these additional tax cuts that would help taxpayers during this difficult economic time of rising prices of gas, food and just about everything else. They noted that raising the no income tax threshold would align the state with the federal government and provide direct relief to more than 234,000 low-income Massachusetts filers who would no longer have to pay any state income taxes.

Amendment opponents said the state cannot afford the loss of millions of dollars in revenue from this additional tax relief. They listed the many tax cuts that are already in the bill and said the amendment is not necessary.

(A “Yes” vote is for the additional tax relief. A “No” vote is against it.)

NO: Sen. Michael Barrett; Sen. John Cronin; Sen. James Eldridge; Sen. Cindy Friedman; Sen. Anne Gobi; Sen. Edward Kennedy. YES: Sen. Barry Finegold; Sen. Bruce Tarr.

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

PROHIBIT REVOCATION OF PROFESSIONAL LICENSES IF A PERSON DEFAULTS ON A STUDENT LOAN (H 5195) – The Senate approved legislation that would repeal current state laws which create professional licensure consequences for anyone who defaults on their student loan. Under existing law, a borrower’s state-issued professional or occupational certificate, registration or license can be suspended, revoked or cancelled if the borrower is in default on an education loan. The House has already approved the measure and only final approval is necessary in each branch prior to the measure going to Gov. Charlie Baker.

SPEECH PATHOLOGISTS (H 5094) – Gov. Baker signed into law a bill that would allow fully licensed speech pathologists to be granted a provisional license to practice in Massachusetts during their 36-month fellowship. Currently, Massachusetts is one of only eight states that does not provide a provisional license that allows their students to begin practicing during their fellowship.

Supporters said that by forbidding the right to practice during their 36-month fellowship, the state runs the risk of losing professionals educated in the Bay State to other states where they become valuable members of their community and welcome additions to the economy.

“There needed to be a regulatory fix to the commonwealth’s issue of losing new speech pathologists to other states as they begin their careers,” said sponsor Rep. Paul McMurtry (D-Dedham). “This legislation assures that there will be opportunities here when they leave their graduate programs and enter the workforce.”

CELLPHONE SAFETY (S 187) – A bill that would require all mobile phones sold or leased in Massachusetts to disclose the dangers of mobile phones clearly and conspicuously on product packaging has died after being shuttled off to a study committee. The  notice to consumers would read: “To assure safety, the Federal Government requires that cell phones meet radio frequency (RF) exposure guidelines. If you carry or use your phone in a pocket or the phone is otherwise in contact with your body when the phone is on and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation. Refer to the instructions in your phone or user manual for information about how to use your phone safely.”

“Studies by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Science have identified potential health risks in regard to Radio Frequency exposure,” said sponsor Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro). “States are in the position to provide guidance on steps to reduce exposure and protect the public’s health. I am always seeking avenues to prioritize public health and safety and will continue to do so as we review what legislation I will be refilling next session.”

PRIVACY OF LOTTERY WINNERS (S 223) – Legislation that would allow Lottery winners to request that their name, address and other identifying information not be disclosed by the Lottery Commission has died in a study committee. The measure also requires the Lottery Commission to inform a winning ticket holder of their right not to have their personal information disclosed to the public. Another provision gives winners the right to refuse to perform any public action in connections with the awarding, payment or collection of prize money.

“Private citizens should never have to worry about their personal privacy or safety should they choose to play the lottery,” said Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford).  “Right now, the commonwealth effectively forces a prize winner to hire private legal counsel in order to remain confidential. This policy needs to change before someone is harmed by the shameless publicity and marketing sought by the Lottery, which is the only reason this bill has stalled. Personal safety is far more important than the promotion and advertisement of mere games, and I will aggressively push this legislation next session.”

Lottery Executive Director Michael Sweeney opposed the bill. “Providing a public record of winners is important to the integrity and public trust in our games, assuring the public that prizes are being awarded in a transparent manner,” said Sweeney.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“If you or anyone you know has interest in serving on a committee or working with us in this administration, I encourage you to get involved. I will say out loud, we are not above poaching. So if you have talent, be prepared to share.” — Lt. Governor-Elect Kim Driscoll, head of the Maura Healey transition team planning for the transition from the Baker Administration to the Healey Administration.

“The pandemic proved beyond all doubt that our parks are essential for our physical and mental well-being. It’s long past time to treat them that way. We truly appreciate the progress we have made over the last year, but it will take at least another decade of similar support to erase what took a decade to break.” — Massachusetts Conservation Voters executive director Doug Pizzi who along with more than 50 organizations is calling for major improvements at Massachusetts state parks.

“The pandemic has exacerbated workforce shortages across the health care and human services sector in both the public and private markets, placing significant stress on our health care providers, their staff and our Massachusetts residents seeking care. Through this program, we are providing tangible support to sustain them in this high demand work.” — Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders on the Baker Administration’s plans to implement a $130 million loan repayment program to support and retain the behavioral health and primary care workforce.

“Our earlier work found disappointing compliance with Massachusetts’ 2012 healthcare price transparency law. And now we find that compliance with the federal law isn’t much better. We are not insensitive to the challenges providers are facing, but it is disappointing that compliance with the law has not budged much since 2017, when Pioneer began monitoring hospital price transparency efforts.” — Pioneer Institute Executive Director Jim Stergios on the institute’s survey that found spotty compliance with the Federal Price Transparency Law by Massachusetts hospitals. The law requires hospitals to make prices for 300 shoppable services available online in a “consumer-friendly format.”

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature’s job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief  length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late-night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.

During the week of Nov/. 14-18, the House met for a total of 24 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 40 minutes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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