October 1, 2017

On Beacon Hill: Bowling for dollars

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Sam Doran / State House News Service

IT GURGLES: Gov. Charlie Baker explained the function of his gift, a gurgling cod pitcher, to Cabo Verde Prime Minister Jose Ulisses Correia e Silva Friday at the State House. Silva swung through Massachusetts this week and spent time in New Bedford after signing a new status of forces agreement with the U.S. government in Washington.

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — Line ’em up and knock ’em down. That’s been the House’s approach to Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget vetoes since returning from summer recess.

But if Speaker Robert DeLeo was hoping to see the Senate quickly pick up the spare, he found that it might take them a few extra frames.

For the second straight week, House leaders put dozens of votes on the floor to override $9 million more in spending vetoes, bringing the amount of money Democrats are looking to pour back into the $39.4 billion state budget to $284 million.

Then it was the Senate’s turn.

But in their first session since late July, senators acted on only $25 million worth of overrides focused on statewide services and programs that help children [see story below]. It was less than half of what Sen. Karen Spilka said the Senate was prepared to consider restoring to the budget, and the voting came over the objection of Senate Republicans who urged just a little patience.

The release of September tax collection totals this week will color in a full quadrant of the fiscal year picture and give legislators a better idea of how their financial forecast is holding up — well, at least the revenue side of the equation.

“The current fiscal environment, specifically soft revenue collection reports to date, indicates there is no basis to support the legislature’s decision to increase spending by $284 million,” Baker scolded Thursday evening, powerless to stop the type of decisions that have exacerbated midyear budget cuts in each of the last two years.

Baker watched the override votes from Boston after continuing to wear out the shuttle flight path between Logan and Reagan National. The governor headed back to Washington – this time the White House – for a meeting of President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

His path nearly crossed with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, who was at the White House a day earlier as the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. Congressional leaders were there to discuss tax reform, but the bipartisan nature of the photo-op did not exactly buy the president or GOP leadership any rope with Democrats.

Flickr / Ben Wikler

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Neal, along with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others from their party, blasted the GOP tax reform framework as a trickle-down economic plan geared toward helping the wealthy, despite the White House casting it as middle-class tax relief.

In Massachusetts, leaders – Baker included – seized on the proposed elimination of state and local tax payment deductions as a particularly egregious simplification of the tax code.

That change would particularly hurt Bay State residents, they said, because they earn more than workers in many places around the country and pay higher income and property taxes that can be used to lower their federal tax burden.

Trump’s tax plan also proposed to eliminate the federal estate tax, a levy that got some attention at the state level as well last week. Rep. Shawn Dooley has proposed to raise the $1 million threshold for the Massachusetts estate tax at one of several hearings last week that put the State House in a morbid mood.

Despite the rejection by voters in 2012 of the concept of helping the terminally ill end their own lives, legislative proposals to revive the debate live on, even if their chances of resurrection seem remote.

Matters of life of death were also never far from mind for those with family in Puerto Rico, where water, food and medicine shortages continue to cause grave concern in a state with one of the top five populations of people from the Caribbean island in the country.

The devastation in Puerto Rico from the one-two punch of hurricanes Irma and Maria continued to influence both policy and politics, as Baker took steps to assure the community and his critics that Massachusetts stood ready to assist in any way possible [see video below].

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • With another break looming, lawmakers about to buckle down?
  • McGovern on SNAP, Baker on WPD
  • Worcester awarded state recycling grant
  • Watch: Baker, Sanchez on Puerto Rico aid
  • Senate restores $25 million in Baker budget vetoes


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