Volume 39-Report No. 37 •  September 19, 2014
Copyright © 2014 Beacon Hill Roll Call. All Rights Reserved. By Bob Katzen
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THE HOUSE AND SENATE.  There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.

Our Legislators in the House and Senate for Somerville:

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.

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This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call looks at Question One, one of the four questions on the ballot that will be decided directly by the voters in November.

The question asks voters if they want to repeal a law approved by the Legislature in 2013 as part of a $500 million tax hike package. The law provides that beginning in 2015, the gas tax will be adjusted annually, without a vote of the Legislature, based on any increase or decrease in the Consumer Price Index. There is no limit as to how high the tax could go but it cannot dip below 21.5 cents-per-gallon.

The Legislature hiked the gas tax from 21 cents to the current 24 cents as part of the $500 million package. Consumers also pay a surcharge of 2.5 cents per gallon to support an underground storage tank clean-up fund but the surcharge is not affected by this law.

The ballot question repeals the automatic adjustment and the provision that the tax can never be less than 21.5 cents. It does not repeal the hike to 24 cents.

Here are the official arguments, gathered by the secretary of state, by each side of the question:

IN FAVOR OF REPEAL: Written by Committee to Tank Automatic Gas Tax Hikes. For more information go to www.tankthegastax.org or call 617-744-0760.

“Voting yes simply stops the linkage of the gas tax to inflation. This linkage causes the tax to increase every year without a vote of the Legislature. That’s taxation without representation. If the Legislature wants to increase taxes, they should have to vote for it. No tax should automatically increase.

This initiative cuts no money for bridge or road repair. It just requires the Legislature to take a vote if and when they want to raise the tax.

You already pay hefty gas taxes – 26.5 cents for state taxes and 18.4 cents for federal. For an average 15 gallon fill-up, you spend $6.73 in taxes.

Within the last year the administration has re-instituted tolls, raised registry fees by 20 percent, and raised other taxes. And the last time gas taxes were increased the money was diverted from road repair. The state has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”

AGAINST REPEAL: Written by Committee for Safer Roads and Bridges. For more info, go to www.saferoadsbridges.com or call 617-391-9663.

“Question One threatens the safety of you and your family when traveling on Massachusetts’ roads and bridges. The problems are startling: according to the Federal Highway Administration, 53 percent of all bridges in the state are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Moreover, 27 bridges have been closed because they are unsafe. Potholes and bad roads cost Massachusetts residents $2.3 billion a year in car repairs.

After decades of neglect, the poor condition of Massachusetts bridges and roads is now a significant public safety crisis. The longer we wait, the more it will cost every taxpayer to fix the problems. A Yes vote would make things even worse, by taking away existing gas tax revenues that we need to solve this public safety crisis – revenues that, under the state constitution, can only be used for transportation needs. Vote NO on Question One, and let’s fix our unsafe bridges and roads now.”

This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call records local legislators’ votes on attempts to repeal the automatic annual adjustment during the 2013-2014 session. There were four roll calls in the Senate to repeal the law. We report on the most recent one. All senators except four consistently voted the same on all four roll calls. Inconsistent votes were cast by Sens. Michael Rush (D-Boston), who voted “yes, yes, yes, no;” Marc Montigny (D-New Bedford), who voted “no, no, yes, no;” and Joan Lovely (D-Salem) and Kathleen O’Connor-Ives (D-Newburyport) both of whom voted “no, no, yes, yes.”

REPEAL AUTOMATIC GAS TAX ADJUSTMENTS
House 53-95, Senate 8-31, rejected an amendment that would repeal the automatic annual adjustment of the gas tax hike.

(A “Yes” vote is for repealing the automatic adjustment. A “No” vote is against repeal and in favor of the automatic adjustment.)

Rep. Denise Provost       No
Rep. Timothy Toomey    No
Sen. Sal DiDomenico     No
Sen. Patricia Jehlen        No

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ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

ARE THERE PAY RAISES ON THE RADAR? – The Special Advisory Commission on the Compensation of Public Officials was created by the Legislature in June as part of the fiscal 2015 state budget. Gov. Deval Patrick signed it into law in July. The commission is charged with studying the compensation of the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary, treasurer, attorney general, auditor, governor’s councilors, senators and representatives. Its mission is to compare the salaries with the same elected officials in other states and the private sector and to examine the method by which biennial adjustments are made to legislative base pay.

The commission is required to submit its report and any recommendations by September 30. Last week, however, the commission announced it would not have its report ready until early or mid-December. The chair of the committee is Ira Jackson, former state revenue commissioner and now Dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The commission has held two meetings so far but announced it will hold meetings open to the public every second Friday, beginning on October 3, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at 225 Franklin Street in Boston. It also announced it will hold two public hearings, one at the Statehouse in Boston on November 6 and the other in Springfield on November 14. In the meantime, it welcomes comments on its website, MassPublicComp.umb.edu.

Currently the governor is required to increase or decrease legislative salaries biennially under the terms of a constitutional amendment approved by the voters in 1998. The amendment, approved by a better than two-to-one margin, requires legislative salaries to be “increased or decreased at the same rate as increases or decreases in the median household income for the Commonwealth for the preceding two-year period, as ascertained by the governor.”
For the 2013-2014 session, legislators’ salaries were reduced by 1.8 percent. The cut reduced the base salary of each senator and representative by $1,100–from  $61,132 to $60,032. The total savings from the $1,100 per member pay cut for the 200 legislators is $220,000 per year. Over the two-year 2013-2014 session, the savings was $440,000.

That cut was the second one in a row and followed a $306 pay cut for the 2011-2012 session. Prior to that, legislators’ salaries had been raised every two years since the $46,410 base pay was first raised under the constitutional amendment in 2001. The new $60,032 salary means legislative salaries have been raised $13,622, or 29 percent, since the mandated salary adjustment became part of the state constitution. The new governor in January will announce whether salaries will be cut or hiked.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, both Democrats, also receive a $35,000 bonus for their service – boosting their salaries to $95,032. Republicans House Minority Leader Bradley Jones and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr receive a $22,500 bonus for their service — boosting their salaries to $82,532.

PASS A QUIZ TO GET YOUR STATE TAX REFUND? – Some taxpayers received a notice in the mail earlier this month informing them that they are required to complete a short online quiz comprised of personalized questions to confirm their identity. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) has added this new process that identifies tax returns where a refund is due but where additional verification from the taxpayer would be required. If the quiz is successfully completed, processing of the refund will continue. The first notices were sent to taxpayers earlier this month.

“The Commonwealth is dedicated to protecting taxpayers from identity theft,” said Revenue Commissioner Amy Pitter. “DOR has extensive safeguards in place to protect taxpayers. In addition to our system of automated filters, we have 35 Audit Bureau staff working exclusively on detecting fraud, and we regularly sample returns to detect patterns that may indicate fraud. The identity quiz is just one more step we are taking to increase data security and protect taxpayers.”

Pitter also noted that DOR prevented more than $24 million in attempted identity and tax fraud during this past filing season, up from $20 million in 2012 and nearly $15 million in 2011.

TALKING TURKEY? – Four state representatives began a 10-day trip to Turkey and Kyrgyzstan on September 19. The delegation includes  Reps. Patricia Patricia Haddad (D-Somerset), Gailanne Cariddi (D-North Adams),  Kay Khan (D-Newton) and Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown).

“Our delegation is traveling to Turkey and to Kyrgyzstan to learn about the history, culture and government of both countries and to network and forge relationships in terms of culture, the economy, politics, and education,”  according to disclosures the group filed earlier this month. “In Kyrgyzstan we will meet with U.S. Embassy officials, the Kyrgyzstan Prime Minister, representatives from an educational institute, arts and tourism officials.”

They also disclosed that the New York’s Council of Turkic? American Associations in New York is the organization that has offered to subsidize the trip to the tune of $635 per legislator. The council’s website describes itself as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan, non-governmental educational council that promotes Turkic American culture and heritage … (and) serves as a resource on the Turkic American community with the mere purpose of bringing people together with an interest in the American and Turkic cultures.”

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QUOTABLE QUOTES

“I thank him for his service to the administration and his service to the nation. That’s an enormously important job but it’s not one for me right now.” — Gov. Patrick on rumors he is interested in retiring U.S. Attorney General Eric’s Holder’s job.

“It appears the governor wants to skip out of office without addressing medical marijuana because he doesn’t want to talk about it and he doesn’t want to deal with it.” — Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance Executive Director Matthew Allen accusing Gov. Patrick of dragging his feet on implementing the medical marijuana law approved by voters in 2012. Allen says he knows people who have been robbed and injured trying to get medical marijuana on the black market.

“I certainly don’t feel like we’re trying to slide this across the finish line. The department is working very hard to get these (marijuana dispensaries) open.” — Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz responding to the charges.

“A continuing, but slight decline in the state’s physician practice environment, affected primarily by the rising costs of maintaining a medical practice, at the same time as the practice environment for physicians in the rest of the country is slightly improving.” — From a Massachusetts Medical Society analysis.

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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 September 22-26, the House met for a total of 30 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 48 minutes.

Mon. September 22
House 11:02 a.m. to 11:22 a.m.
Senate 11:02 a.m. to 11:36 a.m.

Tues. September 23
No House session
No Senate session

Wed. September 24
No House session
No Senate session

Thurs. September 25
House 11:02 a.m. to 11:12 a.m.
Senate 11:08 a.m. to 11:22 a.m.

Fri. September 26
No House session
No Senate session

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Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com