Volume 40-Report No. 20 • May 18-22, 2015
Copyright © 2015 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved. By Bob Katzen
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Our Legislators in the House and Senate for Somerville:

barber_webRep. Christine Barber
DISTRICT REPRESENTED: Thirty-fourth Middlesex. – Consisting of all precincts in wards 4 and 5, precinct 1 of ward 7, and precinct 2 of ward 8, of the city of Medford, precincts 1 and 2 of ward 4, and all precincts of ward 7, of the city of Somerville, both in the county of Middlesex.

Rep. Denise Provost
DISTRICT REPRESENTED: Twenty-seventh Middlesex. – Consisting of precinct 3 of ward 2, all precincts of ward 3, precinct 3 of ward 4, and all precincts of wards 5 and 6, of the city of Somerville, in the county of Middlesex.

Rep. Timothy Toomey
DISTRICT REPRESENTED: Twenty-sixth Middlesex. – Consisting of all precincts of ward 1, precinct 1 of ward 2, precincts 1 and 2 of ward 3, and precinct 1 of ward 6, of the city of Cambridge, and all precincts of ward 1 and precincts 1 and 2 of ward 2, of the city of Somerville, both in the county of Middlesex.

Sen. Patricia Jehlen
DISTRICT REPRESENTED: Second Middlesex. – Consisting of the cities of Cambridge, wards 9 to 11, inclusive, Medford and Somerville, and the town of Winchester, precincts 4 to 7, inclusive, in the county of Middlesex.

*THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on roll calls from debate on the $38.1 billion fiscal 2016 state budget. There were no roll calls in the House last week.

APPROVE $38.1 BILLION FISCAL 2016 STATE BUDGET (S 3)
Senate 40-0, approved its own version of a $38.1 billion fiscal 2016 budget.

Supporters said the budget is a fiscally responsible and balanced one that makes vital investments in the state while continuing fiscal responsibility.

A House-Senate conference committee will eventually hammer out a compromise version of the budget that will be approved by both branches and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker.

(A “Yes” vote is for the budget.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    Yes

FREEZE INCOME TAX, INCREASE EXEMPTIONS AND RAISE TAX CREDIT (S 3 – Amendment #6)
Senate 27-11, approved an amendment that would permanently freeze the income tax rate at its current 5.15 percent; increase over a three-year period the earned income tax credit for low-income working families with children living at home from 15 percent to 22.5 percent of the federal credit; and raise personal income tax exemptions.

Debate and controversy centered on the freezing of the income tax rate. Voters in 2000 approved a gradual reduction of that year’s 5.85 percent income tax to 5 percent by January 2003. The Legislature in July 2002 froze the rate at 5.3 percent. At the same time, it devised an automatic trigger that reduces the income tax by 0.05 each year that the state’s economic growth is at least 2.5 percent until each tax is reduced to 5 percent.  Since that time, the trigger has reduced the tax to its current 5.15 percent.

Amendment supporters said that every taxpayer will benefit from a reduction in their taxes through the increased personal exemptions, and many low-income families will benefit from the hike in the earned income tax. They noted that freezing the income tax rate at 5.15 makes the two tax reductions possible. They said the change would help address income inequality by giving more of a tax reduction to low-income families instead of an across-the-board cut that would help wealthier people who do not need tax relief.

Amendment opponents said it is long past time for the Legislature to respect and honor voters’ opinions from 2000 and allow the income tax to return to 5 percent. They argued that this tax package is a roundabout way to redistribute income and impose a version of a graduated income tax without having to change the constitution.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against the amendment.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    Yes

INCREASE EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT (S 3 – Amendment #5)
Senate 8-32, rejected an amendment that would increase over a three-year period the earned income tax credit for low-income working families with children living at home from 15 percent to 30 percent of the federal credit. The credit is applied toward the taxpayer’s liability, and if it exceeds the liability, the taxpayer receives the excess credit as a refund.

Amendment supporters said this increased credit will help thousands of low-income working families who are struggling to make ends meet and will result in many of them paying little or no state income tax.

Amendment opponents said the hike to 30 percent is excessive and unaffordable and noted they support a hike to 22.5 accompanied by a hike in personal exemptions and a freezing of the income tax rate at 5.15 percent.

(A “Yes” vote is for the increase. A “No” vote is against it.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    No

ELIMINATE ONE SURCHARGEABLE DRIVING OFFENSE (S 3 – Amendment #2)
Senate 39-0, approved an amendment that would change violation of the law requiring drivers to turn on a vehicle’s headlights when visibility is less than 500 feet or when the use of windshield wipers is necessary from a surchargeable auto insurance offense to a non-surchargeable one.

Supporters said the 2015 law creating the wiper requirement should never have had a surcharge attached to it. They said they have heard from many constituents who object to the surcharge.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    Yes

ELIMINATE TWO SURCHARGEABLE DRIVING OFFENSES (S 3 – Amendment #2.1)
Senate 12-27, rejected an amendment that would change the violation of two current motor vehicle laws that are surchargeable offenses for insurance purposes into non-surchargeable ones. The two violations are a 1979 law prohibiting driving with an expired inspection sticker and a more recent 2015 law requiring drivers to turn on a vehicle’s headlights when visibility is less than 500 feet or when the use of windshield wipers is necessary.

Amendment supporters said that neither violation is worthy of a surcharge that would cost the driver thousands of dollars on his or her auto insurance policy over several years.

Amendment opponents said they favor eliminating the surcharge for the recent 2015 wiper law but argued the 1979 law should not be repealed without it being considered as a separate bill that is properly vetted and the subject of a public hearing.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    No

REPEAL “ESTATE/DEATH” TAX (S 3 – Amendment #12)
Senate 7-31, rejected an amendment that would repeal Massachusetts’ estate tax, also known as the death tax – a tax on the value of the decedent’s estate before distribution to any beneficiary. Many Republicans call it a death tax while many Democrats call it an estate tax. The first $1 million is exempt from this tax and the tax on anything over $1 million is a graduated one that according to the Department of Revenue’s website ranges from .8 percent to 16 percent.

Amendment supporters said this regressive tax is unfair and noted that Massachusetts is losing many residents who move to Florida and other states where this tax does not exist.

Amendment opponents said the tax is a fair one and argued the state cannot afford the revenue loss.

(A “Yes” vote is for repeal of the tax. A “No” vote is against repeal and favors the tax.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    No

USE SURPLUS FOR LOCAL AID TO CITIES AND TOWNS (S 3 – Amendment #99)
Senate 7-32, rejected an amendment that would require 15 percent of any state surplus tax revenue remaining at the end of fiscal year 2016 on June 30, 2016 to be distributed to cities and towns as additional local aid.

Amendment supporters said this would promote fiscal responsibility and ensure that the Legislature does not squander any budget surplus. They argued that struggling cities and towns need this excess money.

Amendment opponents said it is irresponsible to tie the hands of the Legislature by promising any portion of a surplus to cities and towns without knowing what the state’s financial situation will be at that time. They argued the Senate has already increased local aid in the budget.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment requiring that 15 percent of surplus revenue go to local aid. A “No” vote is against the amendment.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    No

INCREASE EDUCATION AID BY $18 MILLION   (S 3 – Amendment #100)
Senate 8-31, rejected an amendment increasing Chapter 70 education aid by $18 million by increasing from $25 to $50 the per pupil aid for cities and towns.

Supporters of the additional $18 million said the state can afford this money, which is critical for cities and towns across the state.

Opponents of the additional $18 million said the state simply cannot afford the $18 million and argued the Senate has increased other aid for education in the budget.

(A “Yes” vote is for the $18 million. A “No” vote is against it.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    No

TAX DEDUCTION FOR INVESTMENT IN COLLEGE SAVINGS (S 3 – Amendment #59)
Senate 11-27, rejected an amendment that would provide a state tax break for families that contribute to 529 college savings plans. A 529 plan encourages families to save up for college costs by offering federal tax breaks on the savings. The invested money is not deductible on a federal tax return but it grows tax-deferred and distributions to pay for the beneficiary’s college costs are federally tax-free.

The amendment would create Massachusetts tax incentives by allow single filers to deduct on a state tax return up to $2,500 of the money he or she annually puts in a college account and married filers up to $5,000.

Amendment supporters said the Bay State is one of only a few states that does not offer state tax breaks for these accounts. They argued it will help middle-class families and noted that students with a savings plan are six to seven times more likely to attend college.

Amendment opponents said the tax break would mostly help wealthy families who already have the funds for college. They noted the state cannot afford the $11 million revenue loss that would result in cuts in other programs.

(A “Yes” vote is for the tax break. A “No” vote is against it.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    No

CREATE MBTA FISCAL MANAGEMENT AND CONTROL BOARD (S 3)
Senate 40-0, approved an amendment creating a five-member MBTA Fiscal Management and Control Board with all members appointed by Gov. Baker. The amendment gives the new board management authority over the T. It also mandates the board to meet at least three times a month, with each meeting subject to Massachusetts Open Meeting Laws.

Amendment supporters said the amendment creates a direct line of accountability from the MBTA to the governor’s office without creating additional bureaucracy. They argued it is an important step in reforming the MBTA and ensuring a reliable, efficient and cost-effective public transportation in the Bay State.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen    Yes
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ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

HIGHER EDUCATION LEGISLATION – The Higher Education Committee will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, June 3, at 11 a.m. in Room A-2 at the Statehouse. The agenda includes creation of a 15-member Massachusetts Task Force to Combat Sexual Assault on college campuses (H 3249). The task force would review the current protocols used by campus officials to respond to sexual assault on campus and recommend any changes; develop more ways to encourage the reporting of sexual assault; and increase and improve relationships between colleges, campus police, local law enforcement, district attorneys, crisis response centers, mental health counselors and advocacy organizations.

Another piece of legislation before the committee would create a 15-member special commission to investigate and study the college textbook industry. The commission would examine how to reduce the costs of purchasing textbooks, explore the effective use of e-textbooks, review changes in editions and the cost savings related to maintaining a current edition over purchasing the most recent edition, and encourage colleges to implement comprehensive and controlled buy-back and book swap programs to reduce costs for students.

The committee’s agenda also includes a proposal that would require any faculty or staff member of a college or university who has a financial relationship with any entity other than his or her primary employer or a government agency to disclose this relationship publicly (S 668). The institution would be required to make the information available online.

FOUR LEGISLATORS RUNNING FOR MAYOR – Four state legislators are campaigning to make the move from the Statehouse to their home city’s mayor’s office. The list includes three Democratic representatives: Reps. Stephen DiNatale in Fitchburg, Thomas Stanley in Waltham and Michael Finn in West Springfield.

Republican Sen. Robert Hedlund is seeking the mayor’s job in Weymouth. The preliminary elections are in September and the general election is in November. None of the legislators have to give up their current positions to make the run.

MARTHA COAKLEY GETS A NEW JOB – Former Attorney General Martha Coakley, who lost the governor’s race to Charlie Baker in 2014, announced she is going to take a position at the law firm of Foley Hoag. Coakley’s areas of focus, according to the firm’s website, will be government and internal investigations, litigation, and data privacy and security.

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QUOTABLE QUOTES“By the Numbers Edition”

$525,000 — The annual salary for the first year of current University of Massachusetts Lowell Chancellor Martin Meehan when he takes over as the newly appointed president of the entire Umass system. The salary is increased every year after that to a high of $602,500 in the fifth and final year.

4.7 percent — The Bay State’s April unemployment rate, down from 4.8 percent in March.

110 — The number of inches of snow at Logan Airport this winter, which led to it winning the Balchen/Post Award for Outstanding Achievement in Airport Snow and Ice Control.

Boston (5,967), Cambridge (1,962), Everett (1,121), Watertown (997) and Chelsea (980) — According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the top five municipalities in Massachusetts that experienced the largest increases in population last year and how many people each community gained.

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HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION?

Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature’s job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.

During the week of May 18-22, the House met for a total of one hour and 35 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 37 hours and 58 minutes.

Mon. May 18
House 11:03 a.m. to 11:35 a.m.
Senate 11:04 a.m. to 11:17 a.m.

Tues. May 19
No House session
Senate 10:02 a.m. to 9:48 p.m.

Wed. May 20
No House session
Senate 10:03 a.m. to 9:58 p.m.

Thurs. May 21
House 11:03 a.m. to 11:18 a.m.
Senate 10:11 a.m. to 12:15 a.m.(Fri.)

Fri. May 22
House 11:02 a.m. to 11:50 a.m.
No Senate session

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Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com