August 6, 2017

On Beacon Hill: No detour for sales tax on Holiday Road

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Stephanie Murray / State House News Service

LOOKING TO THE BALLOT: Citizens are increasingly directing their attempts to craft policy to Attorney General Maura Healey's office in the form of initiative petitions rather than to the Legislature. Seventeen groups filed 28 initiative petitions for proposed laws and constitutional amendments by this week's deadline. It's the first step in the process to get a question on the statewide ballot.

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

BOSTON — Hotel, motel, Chatham Bars Inn?

Turns out deciding where to holiday can be more complicated this time of year than choosing between the Cape, the Berkshires or Nantucket. It also means figuring out whether to go to Best Buy in Everett or Nashua, N.H.

Lawmakers slunk away from Beacon Hill without acting on bills that would have established a sales-tax-free weekend sometime this August.

No one said a word, but one might have guessed at that point that the decision had been made to forgo a sales tax holiday this summer for just the third time in the past 14 years. After a year of wringing their hands over disappointing tax collections, leaders are loath to give up a revenue source, even if it might mean cheaper school supplies for constituents and a boon for some small businesses.

Gov. Charlie Baker, however, didn’t seem to want to play that guessing game. And despite vetoing $320 million from the fiscal 2018 budget, he apparently feels a few million dollars lost in August can be overcome.

The governor filed a bill last Wednesday to make the weekend of Aug. 19-20 a sales tax holiday. Sure, he could have just issued a statement calling on the Legislature to return from its recess and pass one of the several tax holiday bills already filed this session, But he didn’t. He filed his own, and it was just about dead on arrival.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

House Speaker Robert DeLeo

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said Baker’s decision to file legislation, especially in the first week of August, made “little sense,” and Rep. Jay Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat and Revenue Committee chairman who views these tax holidays as little more than gimmicks, said what DeLeo seemed unwilling to.

Baker’s bill would not get through committee.

So why did Baker file it?

Well perhaps it was just coincidence, but it also came the same day Baker decided that he would sign off on $200 million in new fees and fines on employers to help pay for MassHealth without the reforms that he, and groups like the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, had been insisting on as part of a package.

Rather than force House and Senate Democrats to override a veto and deal with the story line all summer that he and the Legislature were at odds, the governor chose to do something he’s hoping won’t become famous last words.

“The Legislature told us they would work with us on this, and we’re going to take them at their word,” he said.

The National Federation of Independent Business said it was “incredibly disappointed” in Baker, but other business groups, including Associated Industries of Massachusetts, struck a more diplomatic tone.

“While this is certainly not the outcome we hoped for, we recognize that the governor’s decision is carefully considered and designed to achieve the ultimate, long-term goal of substantive MassHealth reform,” AIM President Rick Lord said.

Even with the olive branch from Baker, the retailers seem to have just about reached a breaking point. With the deadline arriving to file language to reserve a spot on the 2018 ballot, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts filed four possible ballot questions for next fall.

The group, frustrated by an inability to get what it wants through the legislative process, proposed lowering the sales tax from 6.25 percent to either 5 percent or 4.5 percent, and reserved their right to couple either proposal with an annual two-day sales tax holiday.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Legislators return, but not for legislating
  • Fiscal 2018 tax collections hit first-month benchmark
  • McGovern on ‘a better deal,’ Warren on improving GI Bill, Markey on Trump
  • Moore-sponsored disability protection bill gets public hearing
  • Baker makes choices for marijuana advisory panel

LOOKING AHEAD

Legislators return to convene lawmaker conference

Massachusetts lawmakers return to Boston this week, not to pass legislation to rein in skyrocketing public health insurance costs or for a summit on criminal justice reform, and probably not to approve sales tax holiday legislation.

Instead, state lawmakers are heading back to the city to hang out with about 6,000 of their colleagues and staff from other states who are visiting for the National Conference of State Legislatures summit, which runs through Wednesday.

In addition to enjoying all that Boston has to offer — the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge replacement project notwithstanding — summit attendees plan to share ideas and learn new approaches to policy challenges. Daytime sessions at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center will be complemented by nights out at the Lawn on D, TD Garden and Fenway Park.

Streaming policy sessions will cover the American dream, education excellence, successful communications, the expansion of legal marijuana, captioning legislative webcasts, and “seven secrets to legendary leadership.”

Speakers include Beacon Hill’s Big Three, for an opening session moderated by former Gov. William Weld, and sessions with pollster Frank Luntz, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, diplomat and lawyer John Bolton, Democratic National Committee deputy chair Keith Ellison, and Boston Police Deputy Superintendent Colm Lydon.

NOTED

Fiscal 2018 tax collections hit first-month benchmark

After a bumpy fiscal 2017, fiscal 2018 got off to a smooth start for the Department of Revenue, which reported collecting $1.798 billion in taxes in July, just slightly more than expected.

July revenues were $6 million, or 0.3 percent, above the monthly benchmark, and were “in line with expectations and the trends and patterns of the past several months that were used to develop the FY18 benchmark,” DOR said.

Before breaking for recess, legislators said they planned to monitor tax collections before deciding in the fall on whether to override any of Gov. Charlie Baker’s $320 million in budget vetoes.

“July revenues came in as expected,” Revenue Commissioner Michael Heffernan said in a statement. “We see continued growth in withholding, in regular sales tax, and in meals tax. The more volatile categories, including income returns and bills, refunds, and corporate/ business taxes, showed mixed results.”

The first month of the new fiscal year, July, is one of the least significant months for state revenue, DOR said.

The fiscal 2018 budget is predicated on state revenue growth of 2.9 percent over fiscal 2017, which featured growth of just 1.4 percent over the previous year. To meet the fiscal 2018 revenue projection, DOR must collect an additional $24.806 billion by the end of June 2018.

— Colin A. Young

A LITTLE BIRDIE …

McGovern on ‘a better deal’ for America

Warren on improving GI Bill

Markey on ‘Complainer-in-Chief’

#NO FILTER

From a news release from the office of Sen. Michael O. Moore

Moore-sponsored disability protection bill gets public hearing

BOSTON – Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury, recently testified in support of legislation that would strengthen protections for persons with disabilities. The Moore-sponsored bill would direct the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) to establish a registry that identifies individuals who have been found to have committed abuse against persons with disabilities.

Courtesy Sen. Moore's office

Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury, testifies in support of S.64 with Cheryl Chan of Auburn during a public hearing by the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities.

According to a recent U.S. Department of Justice report, persons with disabilities were victimized in violent crimes at the rate of 2.5 times that of the general population. The bill would require DDS to establish and maintain a registry of former employees who have been terminated or separated from employment as a result of abuse directed toward a person with a disability. The bill resembles protections already enacted in at least 12 other states.

Massachusetts possesses a similar registry for child care employees.

Moore filed the legislation in response to meeting with Cheryl Chan, an Auburn resident whose developmentally disabled son, Nicky, was physically abused by a caretaker at a day program. While a report was filed by the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, there are no procedures in place that would ensure the caretaker is prevented from continuing a career within the field.

“I won’t take a back seat when it comes to advocating for greater protections for the disability community,” Moore said. “Establishing a registry will help protect persons with disabilities from falling victim to abusive treatment. There are clear benefits to screening prospective employees who intend to work within the licensed caretaker field and I am hopeful that the committee will advance this legislation to help protect our most vulnerable residents like Nicky.”

“Nicky’s Law is The Arc’s highest priority legislation for the current legislative session,” said  Maura Sullivan, director of Government Affairs for The Arc of Massachusetts, which is advocating for passage of the bill. “There is no doubt that the disability community strongly supports the creation of a registry to track individuals who have been found to abuse persons with disabilities, and ensure they are not hired again by different providers.”

The legislation possesses more than 20 cosponsors and is under review by the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities.

IN THE NEWS

Baker makes choices for marijuana advisory panel

Gov. Charlie Baker announced his picks Friday morning for the Cannabis Advisory Board, the 25-member panel that will examine marijuana regulation, finalizing the first piece of pot bureaucracy.

The governor’s five picks are: Walpole Chief of Police John Carmichael Jr.; co-founder of the Hempest in Harvard Square and Yes on 4 campaign outreach director Kim Napoli; business management consultant Mary Ann Pesce; co-director of urban food production and sustainability initiative Mill City Grows Lydia Sisson; and CEO of the Urban League of Springfield Inc. Henry Thomas III.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker signs the state’s new marijuana bill. Last week he named his picks for the mandated advisory board.

Under the rewritten marijuana bill Baker signed into law July 28, he was to make his picks by Aug. 1. But until Sept. 1, when the Cannabis Control Commission is set to be announced, the advisory board has no other group to advise.

In making his picks, Baker was guided by the law’s requirements that his five appointees be experts in minority business development, economic development strategies for under-resourced communities, farming or farming interests, employers and municipal law enforcement.

State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg’s appointees are: Norton Arbeláez, founder of Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Industry Group; former Brookline director of public health and human services Dr. Alan Balsam; Sage Naturals president and CEO Michael Dundas; Jaime Lewis, founder of Mountain Medicine; and co-chair of the Northeast Cannabis Coalition Shanel Lindsay.

Attorney General Maura Healey’s appointees are: former secretary of the Executive Office of Public Safety and former sheriff of Suffolk County Andrea Cabral; Horace Small, executive director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods; Ray Berry, founder of White Lion Brewing Company in Springfield; Tessa Murphy-Romboletti, director of the Greater Holyoke Chamber Centennial Foundation’s entrepreneurship program; and Dr. Sharon Levy, director of adolescent substance abuse at Boston Children’s Hospital.

The Cannabis Advisory Board will also include 10 other members, most of whom are specifically named by title in the law. They include the colonel of the Massachusetts State Police or a designee; the secretary of Housing and Economic Development or a designee; the Revenue, Public Health and Agricultural Resources commissioners; and the heads of the local ACLU chapter, a medical marijuana patients’ group and the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

— Colin A. Young

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