December 14, 2016

Rosenberg highlights likely 2017 priorities on Beacon Hill

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Sam Doran (SHNS / file photo)

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo

BOSTON — Senate President Stanley Rosenberg hinted at 2017 agenda items, highlighting climate change, housing, education funding, and economic issues for low- and middle-income families while not dismissing the possibility of raising taxes to help pay for those initiatives.

“We still have some huge needs around housing and homelessness, we haven’t done a multi-year commitment to education funding in a long time, we did improve funding on transportation but there’s still a big gap compared to what people want us to deliver, and let’s not forget the opioid heroin crisis,” he said Tuesday, Dec. 13.

“Of course, we’re going to continue to work on economic issues for all folks, but particular for low- and moderate-income people.”

Rosenberg said he also expects the Senate to focus in 2017 on an issue that held Beacon Hill’s attention for much of the current session: energy. That work led to a law giving hydropower and offshore wind prominent roles in the state’s energy mix, but Rosenberg said the legislative work on energy is not done.

“We made a lot of progress in this term, but we have to continue to deal with greening our energy supply, dealing with climate change,” Rosenberg said on Boston Herald Radio, adding that climate change “really threatens the stability of our economy if we can’t deal effectively with sea rise and with severe weather conditions, so that’s got to be one of the big focuses.”

Asked whether the Legislature might hike taxes to raise the revenue to pay for the litany of issues he laid out, Rosenberg said, “We have to think about what we need, what it’s going to cost and do we have the revenue to support it.”

Massachusetts State House

Wikimedia Commons/Hsin Ju HSU

Massachusetts State House

At a revenue outlook hearing last week, estimates of state tax revenue growth provided by economists, analysts and others ranged from 2.65 percent to 5.2 percent for fiscal year 2018. Baker administration officials and legislative leaders need to agree on a consensus revenue estimate in January.

Last week, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he was “not ruling out” the possibility of raising taxes, while Gov. Charlie Baker said he would work to dissuade DeLeo and Rosenberg from pursuing tax hikes.

Rosenberg, when asked Tuesday about tax increases being “on the table” clarified that, “Taxes aren’t quote on the table. They’re just not off the table.”

“I know in your world that may mean the same,” he told Morning Meeting hosts Hillary Chabot and Jaclyn Cashman, “but in our world it doesn’t mean exactly the same thing.”

Lawmakers last raised taxes in 2013, hiking the cost of a gallon of gas by 3 cents and a pack of cigarettes by $1. Four years before that, at the nadir of the Great Recession, lawmakers increased the sales tax to 6.25 percent, up from 5 percent.

On the issue of taxes, Rosenberg said that his chamber is ready to pursue tax reform in Massachusetts, specifically related to the state’s flat income tax.

“We are prepared to work on making our tax system more progressive,” he said, specifically citing “a lot of pretty big tax loopholes” and the impact of the income tax on low- and middle-income families as problematic. “Basically we have a 19th and 20th century tax system for a 21st century economy. We could stand to take a hard look at it to see if we can make it fairer and more progressive.”

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