Baker cuts $320M from budget, digs in on MassHealth reform [+ video]

BOSTON — Almost two weeks ago, the Democrat-controlled Legislature approved what would be the state’s first budget in excess of $40 billion.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said not so fast Monday to the already scaled back $40.2 billion spending plan.

Baker planned to sign a budget for fiscal 2018 that includes $39.4 billion in spending after he vetoed $320 million from the plan, and went even further than House and Senate budget negotiators to revise tax revenue projections downward for this year by $749 million.

The governor also returned to the Legislature a new assessment on employers that he initially proposed to help pay for growing MassHealth expenses, calling on lawmakers to act quickly to package the $200 million in new employer fees with MassHealth reforms that lawmakers laid aside during budget deliberations.

Watch: Baker and Polito press conference on fiscal 2018 budget

Legal marijuana deal includes 20 percent tax, significant shifts from ballot law [+ video]

BOSTON — Almost three weeks later than they had hoped, lawmakers struck an accord Monday on marijuana policy that would tax retail pot sales at a maximum rate of 20 percent and paves the way for those sales to begin in just less than a year.

House and Senate negotiators agreed after about three weeks of talks to a compromise bill that is expected to emerge for up-or-down votes in both branches today. The bill, as with all conference committee reports, will not be subject to amendment.

In addition to hiking the tax rate and altering the composition of the panel that will oversee the budding marijuana industry here, the deal also calls for an unusual strategy: linking the mechanism for banning future marijuana shops to how communities voted on the marijuana ballot law last year. And despite being almost three weeks late, legislative leaders said, the bill keeps retail marijuana shops on track for a July 2018 opening.

“We have protected the right of adults to grow, possess, and use marijuana. To give them access to a safe, legal supply, the bill removes barriers to the development of a legal market,” Sen. Patricia Jehlen, the Marijuana Policy Committee co-chair and lead Senate negotiator, said in a statement. “It protects the rights of medical marijuana patients, and gives opportunity to farmers and to people who have been harmed by the War on Drugs. The tax rate remains among the lowest in the country, and the same as in Oregon, often seen as successful.”

Watch: Pot panel talks compromise

Editorial: The war against mom-and-pop package stores

There’s certainly a lot to like in the message: “standing up for consumers.”

Then there’s the group’s name, Mass. Consumers First, which is echoed in the banner at the top of the page that screams “CONSUMERS FIRST.”

It’s all part of an effort to “modernize” state laws governing the sale of beer, wine and spirits.

The creator of this initiative is Total Wine & More, the Maryland-based retail giant with stores in Shrewsbury, Danvers, Natick and Everett. It has 159 locations in 20 states.

“Total Wine & More has a long track record as a proven consumer ally, and this new Consumers First campaign will promote sensible and much-needed updates to Massachusetts’ alcohol sale laws,” Ed Cooper, Total Wine’s VP of public affairs and community relations, said in a company press release.

Its website states: “Did you know that retailers in Massachusetts, by law, cannot pass along the savings they receive from wholesalers for bulk purchases to consumers? Are you aware that Massachusetts is one of the few states where liquor stores cannot offer loyalty rewards to their customers? Have you ever wondered why stores’ hours of operation are curtailed on Sundays? These issues and more are rooted [in] Prohibition-era fearmongering about alcohol consumption, or were sought by incumbent retailers hoping to keep out the competition.

“We think it’s time for a change.”

But, as the adage goes, if something looks too good to be true …

Ninety Nine

Inbox [July 19]: News and notes from Loyal Techs, Ninety Nine restaurant, Community Harvest Project, Clemente Course Worcester and YWCA Central Mass.

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

On-site, on-demand tech support startup Loyal Techs launches in Worcester

Loyal Techs, an on-demand support service, has launched, aiming to revolutionize the way consumers receive on-site and remote technical support.

With the click of a button, Worcester residents can book affordable and expert tech support for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. It’s a simple, inexpensive and convenient option for troubleshooting and fixing tech issues without booking a pushed-out appointment with a hefty price tag.

“Our only focus is our awesome customers and the services we provide,” says Anthony Inguaggiato, CEO of Loyal Techs. “Our goal is to provide the best tech support anyone has ever experienced. We want to be the only tech support option you think of for on-demand high-quality support.”