June 18, 2017

On Beacon Hill: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire

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Sam Doran / State House News Service

Students from schools in Taunton, North Attleboro, Walpole, and Franklin observed Flag Day on Wednesday with a visit to the State House where Secretary of State William Galvin led them in the Pledge of Allegiance and presented them miniature American flags.

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

BOSTON — Give lawmakers a week to get something done and they’ll probably take eight days. At least.

So it should come as no great surprise that they are once again bumping up against a deadline, albeit one that is self-imposed.

Despite the fact lawmakers have been plotting revisions of the November ballot law legalizing marijuana since delaying its implementation last December, the odds of having it rolled and twisted and on the governor’s desk by June 30 seem long.

Some of that has to do with the fact the House and Senate are far apart on major issues, including taxation and local control over retail dispensaries.

The House didn’t help the cause last week with a bungled rollout of a comprehensive marijuana bill that House Speaker Robert DeLeo pulled back from a scheduled vote because of drafting issues and shaky support. Chief among the problems was a taxation miscue that would have applied the proposed 28 percent, all-in tax on marijuana sales to be compounded as the product moved through the supply chain from grower to consumer.

House leaders, including the co-chair of the Marijuana Policy Committee, Rep. Mark Cusack, will try again tomorrow [Monday, June 19] when they release a redrafted bill in hopes of getting that to the floor for a vote on Wednesday.

Cusack says the bill will look very similar to the one released last week, which would create an expanded Cannabis Control Commission and no longer require a town- or city-wide vote to ban the sale of recreational marijuana within a community’s borders, but instead allow the municipal governing body to do it instead.

Yes on 4, the group behind the successful marijuana ballot campaign, believes the higher tax rate will encourage the black market and slammed the House bill as a stripping of rights from voters. The group is considerably more aligned with the Senate.

The reason for the soft deadline this month is that lawmakers feel, after speaking with officials in other states with legal pot, that it will take a year for the new Cannabis Control Commission to become operational and start licensing dispensaries for retail sales.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

The Marijuana Policy Committee co-chaired by Rep. Mark Cusack and Sen. Patricia Jehlen was under fire last week following a heavily panned rollout of new regulations.

No one seems to have much of an appetite to further delay licensing beyond July 2018, and yet getting a bill done by the end of the month would require the House and Senate to both give up considerable ground if they are to meet in the middle for a compromise.

Sen. Patricia Jehlen, the co-chair of the Marijuana Policy Committee whose relationship with Cusack seems anything but groovy, didn’t even wait to see the redrafted House bill before outlining a competing Senate proposal that would leave the ballot law’s tax structure untouched, with a maximum rate of 12 percent.

Jehlen also proposed to make no changes to the local opt-out process and to seal criminal records with past pot convictions that are no longer illegal. She broadly agrees, however, with the House-proposed construction of the Triple C. The proposed structure of the Cannabis Control Commission from both Cusack and Jehlen is similar to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and one that Treasurer Deborah Goldberg — the principal pot overseer under the ballot law — opposes as an undercutting of her authority.

— Matt Murphy


  • Sales tax holiday could be revived
  • McGovern on Trump’s Cuba stance, Chandler on education, Healey on DeVos
  • Baker in D.C. for opioid panel, lobbying on health care
  • Video: Polito on ‘fair share’ amendment, local spending
  • Surtax on millionaires advances in face of legal questions


Sales tax holiday making a comeback?

Dozens of bills dealing with the state’s sales and excise taxes get a hearing before the Joint Committee on Revenue on Tuesday, including proposals to revive a sales tax holiday weekend in 2017.

House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading, has filed a bill (H.1544) to direct the state to annually designate, by July 15 of each year, a two-day weekend in August as a sales tax holiday. Rep. James Dwyer, D-Woburn, has filed a bill (H.1511) that is substantially similar.

For the first time since 2009, the Legislature in 2016 chose not to grant the two-day break from sales tax for purchases made at in-state retailers. Legislative leaders, expecting fiscal 2017 tax revenues to fall well below initial projections, were unwilling to add to an existing shortfall. The state’s financial picture remains murky.

The sales tax holiday had been an August tradition since 2004, an effort to spur spending during what is generally a slow time of year for retailers. The Retailers Association of Massachusetts is pushing to reinstate the holiday this summer, arguing retailers can’t afford to go another year without the ability to entice customers with a tax break.

“The STH is an incentive to MA consumers to spend their money here locally, in our economy, and to invest in our local stores and Main Streets,” RAM wrote in an email newsletter. “It is an opportunity to generate $400 to $500 million in local sales in a single weekend, benefitting MA consumers and MA merchants.”

Tuesday’s hearing beings at 1 p.m. in Hearing Room A-2.

— Colin A. Young


McGovern’s Irish up over Trump Cuba policy speech

Chandler among powerful women pushing education reform

Healey takes aim at DeVos, ‘betrayal’ of American students


Mr. Baker goes to Washington

Gov. Charlie Baker may have heard the criticism from Democrats that he needs to do more than write letters about his opposition to the GOP-led health care reform efforts in Washington, and hopped a plane to the capital Friday.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker

Baker went for the first meeting of President Donald Trump’s opioid abuse task force and had meetings scheduled to lobby key Congressional committee leaders on the dangerousness to states of the American Health Care Act.

Even his presence on Capitol Hill couldn’t fully quell his exuberance for the written word, and the governor signed on to a bipartisan letter from governors urging the Senate leadership to take a different approach.

“It calls into question coverage for the vulnerable and fails to provide the necessary resources to ensure that no one is left out, while shifting significant costs to the states,” the governor wrote to Sens. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer about the AHCA.

— Matt Murphy


Polito on taxing millionaires and local government spending solutions


Millionaires’ surtax clears major hurdle despite impending legal challenge

BOSTON — For the second year in a row Massachusetts lawmakers last week endorsed a proposal to extract an estimated $2 billion from the state’s roughly 20,000 highest earners, setting up a 2018 ballot question campaign, a legal dispute in the state’s highest court, or both.

Rep. Jay Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat and House chairman of the Revenue Committee, said establishing a 4 percent surtax on incomes over $1 million would give Massachusetts a fairer system of government funding and inject money into public education and transportation.

The state’s constitution requires income taxes be levied uniformly, so activists have backed the tax measure as a constitutional amendment. Wednesday’s vote of 134-55 means that voters will have the ultimate say on the proposed tax unless the Supreme Judicial Court determines the question is unconstitutional.

If it reaches the ballot and is approved, the proposal would facilitate a major tax increase without lawmakers having to vote directly on the proposal, or having to deal with possible objections from Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

The top senators of both parties agreed that the amendment is likely to be taken up by the Supreme Judicial Court but they are of different minds about how the court would likely decide the matter.

The proposed amendment (S.10) specifies that the revenues collected could “only” be spent to provide “quality public education and affordable public colleges and universities, and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation.”

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, suggested the question would run afoul of the constitutional prohibition against initiative petitions making a “specific appropriation of money.”

“I’m fairly confident that there will be a case about its constitutionality,” Tarr told the News Service. He said his analysis is that the question is “not properly before us” but that it would be “for the court to decide.”

“The opponents have a right to challenge it, and I am expecting that they will,” Senate President Stan Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, told reporters after the vote. He said, “The proponents worked closely with constitutional experts and they believe this will stand up to constitutional muster.”

The measure on Wednesday passed the constitutional convention by a slightly higher margin than last year, when it passed 135-57. Jennifer Flanagan, of Leominster, and Anne Gobi, of Spencer, were the only Senate Democrats to vote against it.

The tax proposal is a citizen petition backed by Raise Up Massachusetts, a progressive group that has scored wins at the ballot and in the Legislature on raising the minimum wage and guaranteeing workers earned sick time.

Rep. Paul Frost, an Auburn Republican, highlighted a GOP-backed amendment to the question that was shot down last session and would have specified that any funds raised through the surtax would be allocated on top of — not in place of — existing spending. He said he expects that any money generated will be diverted to other purposes.

“We have seen in the past when times get tough that trust funds and dedicated revenues for certain programs get raided to be put elsewhere in the budget,” he said.

— Andy Metzger [Katie Lannan contributed reporting]

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