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CLT UPDATE
Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Grad Tax gone (for now), new taxes coming (naturally)


It is Governor Charlie Baker’s most sacrosanct policy position. The one he repeated on the campaign trail. The one that helped him win his close race in 2014. The one that’s easiest for voters to remember: No new taxes. No new fees.

Now the Republican has a bill on his desk — one supported by large bipartisan majorities in the Legislature — that includes a sweeping paid family and medical leave program funded by imposing a new $800 million payroll tax on workers and employers in Massachusetts.

So, will he sign the bill?

Baker told reporters Monday he was still reviewing the legislation but indicated support for the measure. Asked if signing it would violate his no-new-taxes pledge, Baker did not directly reply, saying, “There’s a benefit that’s attached to this thing, and that benefit is a paid family leave provision that did not previously exist in state law.” ...

Several parts of the bill have drawn concern from the business community, including the new payroll tax.

“The grand bargain’s new paid family and medical leave program is funded by a payroll tax, very similar to how the unemployment insurance and Social Security programs are funded,” said Eileen McAnneny, president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

“While this version is significantly better than the language that would have been on the ballot in November had a compromise not been reached, it represents a sizable new cost to employers.” ...

On the campaign trail in 2014, Baker said he would not raise taxes or fees. In TV ads during the race, he savaged his Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley, as having “only plans for higher taxes.”

And in a 2015 interview with the Globe before he was sworn in, Baker affirmed that his no-new-taxes, no-new-fees pledge was an irrevocable promise — with one caveat.

At the time, Baker said he would not consider it a violation of his pledge if the state rolls out a “new service” that has never been offered and attaches a charge to it.

If the governor signs the bill, it would fall under the new service category, aides said Monday....

But low-tax activists say talk is cheap.

Chip Ford, executive director of the Citizens for Limited Taxation, said without any corresponding tax cut, the grand bargain measure is an instance of businesses “getting hammered again.”

“There’s no way other than describing it as a new tax. It’s not an old tax, it’s not in existence now. Every tax increase has its rationale and its explanation and its excuse. It doesn’t make it any less of a tax,” Ford said.

“Charlie Baker is a politician. Politicians say what they have to say in the moment,” he later added. “But I still say, he’s the best Democrat out of the bunch to elect.”

The Boston Globe
Tuesday, June 26, 2018
After no new taxes pledge, Baker faces grand bargain bill
— with an $800 million new tax


No longer a political safety net, the death of the "millionaire's tax" ballot question on Monday could put Beacon Hill Democrats in the hot seat leading into this year's elections to either scale back their ambitious spending promises or produce an alternative tax plan.

The ballot question that was struck down by the Supreme Judicial Court on Monday, and its potential to generate as much as $2 billion a year in new taxes, has been held out for years by Democrats as a potential panacea.

How can the state afford to expand pre-kindergarten and invest in K-12 education? The millionaire's tax. How could the state improve the reliability of the MBTA and expand rail service to western Massachusetts? The millionaire's tax.

No longer.

State House News Service
Monday, June 18, 2018
Democrats will need to regroup on taxes in wake of SJC ruling


Make no mistake, Massachusetts just dodged the economic bullet that the so-called millionaires tax would have been.

But to those public employee unions and progressives that were virtually salivating over the potential $1.9 billion in new revenue extracted from the wallets of the state’s wealthiest residents, there ought to be a broader lesson — play fair....

Raise Up Massachusetts, which had backed the tax hike, knew full well that past efforts to change the state’s Constitution to allow for a graduated income tax had gone down to inglorious defeat — five times in the past 50 years. It was a fact duly noted by Justice Frank Gaziano in his majority opinion. In fact, the voters rejected a graduated tax in 1994 by a whopping 65-28 percent.

So proponents knew they had to throw in a sweetener — because, well, you can fool some of the people some of the time and, sure, it was worth a try. So the ballot measures also promised voters all that extra cash would go toward education and transportation....

Even the attorney general can’t wave her magic wand and turn an unconstitutional ballot question into a winner just because she likes it and wouldn’t mind currying favor with the progressive activists who supported it....

Raise Up Massachusetts, aided and abetted by an attorney general who chose to be more tax hike cheerleader than objective arbiter of that which properly belongs on the ballot, did itself a huge disfavor. If it truly believes the state’s wealthiest — and dare we say, most productive — citizens need to be taxed more, it could have proposed a clean surtax bill.

Instead the group outsmarted itself and wasted the past three years. But then again, it’s what they deserve.

The Boston Globe
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Misguided millionaires tax was a nonstarter
By Rachelle G. Cohen


Shed no tears for the “millionaires tax” ballot initiative, which the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court struck down on Monday. From the outset, the initiative was a cynical ploy to get voters to do something they have repeatedly rejected — replacing the state’s flat-rate income tax with a system of graduated tax brackets. But nobody was fooled by the ruse, least of all the SJC.

Five times in five decades, Massachusetts voters have been asked to scrap the uniform tax rate required by the state’s constitution. Five times they have refused. So activists this time came up with a two-fer: They proposed a “Fair Share Amendment” that would not only whack anyone earning more than $1 million with an 80 percent income-tax surcharge, but would also earmark the money raised for two popular purposes — public education and public transportation.

On both counts, the two-fer was illegal.

The Boston Globe
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Striking down the ‘millionaires tax,’ the SJC cleans up Maura Healey’s mess
By Jeff Jacoby


In a decision policy makers and advocates have waited for months to arrive, the Supreme Judicial Court on Monday sounded a death knell for the so-called “millionaires tax.”

The decision’s impact was immediate and far-reaching, turning what was supposed to be a ballot question to fund transportation and education initiatives with up to $2.2 billion in new annual revenue into a litany of questions about where lawmakers and state officials go from here:

Two billion dollars is a lot of money. What happens to the state’s transportation systems?

The decision was a major blow for advocates who believe the state’s transportation system needs more money, especially after a plan to automatically boost the gas tax based on inflation lost at the ballot box in 2014....

So voters won’t be able to weigh in on a millionaires tax hike. Does this mean the Legislature will?

It will certainly turn up the pressure on the Democrat-controlled Legislature to act. But how they could move, and whether it includes transportation- or education-focused tax initiatives, is unclear.

Led by the House and Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, lawmakers have in recent years veered from instituting any new broad-based taxes, in what some saw as a deferment to the millionaires tax ballot question that public polls showed had widespread support.

But within hours of Monday’s decision, some officials quickly called for the Legislature to consider tapping into new revenue streams to replace the $2.2 billion that the question could have generated. That included Senate President Harriette L. Chandler, who said the Legislature needs to “take a hard look” at it, and Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who said the decision shifts responsibility squarely on lawmakers to act as early as next legislative session.

“I think if you go out and explain to voters why [new] revenues are necessary at this particular moment in time, they’ll understand it,” Walsh said.

The Boston Globe
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Voters won’t be able to weigh in on the millionaires tax.
How about the Legislature?


As the Massachusetts High Technology Council took a victory lap celebrating the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision to block a ballot question on the so-called millionaire tax, a state lawmaker promised to revive the popular proposal to boost spending on education and transportation next year.

State Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) said in a statement he will revive the millionaire tax — in identical fashion to the ballot initiative — when lawmakers return in January 2019.

The Boston Herald
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Millionaire tax not dead yet
State sen. pledges to bring bill on issue


After the state's highest court torpedoed a proposed new tax on Monday, a Winchester Democrat announced his intention to pick up the pieces for another try next session, when his plan will have the support of the next Senate president.

Sen. Jason Lewis's proposed constitutional amendment would create the same policy as the so-called Fair Share Amendment or Prop 80 - as proponents and opponents alternately dubbed it - but he would follow a different procedural course to advance it.

If the effort is successful, the earliest it could appear on the ballot would be 2022, and it's unclear whether Democratic legislative leaders, having spent the past several years talking about the need for new revenues, would want to wait that long to address tax increases.

Lewis's proposal would avoid the legal snag that derailed activists' years of work, though it would face new political hurdles both within the Legislature and in voting booths - if it makes it that far....

The Senate president controls the constitutional conventions that an amendment would need to clear. A spokeswoman for Sen. Karen Spilka, who is scheduled to become Senate president next month, did not respond to a request for comment on Lewis's proposal.

In response to the court ruling, Spilka said, "I respect the decision of the Supreme Judicial Court, and thank them for their considered deliberation on this matter, Income inequality and the opportunity gap, however, remain serious threats to Massachusetts' continued prosperity. I believe in Massachusetts’ bold vision of leadership, and that includes the notion that the wealthiest among us are able to contribute a little bit more to ensure a thriving Commonwealth for all of our residents."

A spokeswoman for Spilka, who is scheduled to become Senate president next month, said she supports Lewis's proposal.

State House News Service
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Winchester senator hopes to revive income surtax on wealthy


In Massachusetts, residents need look no further than Proposition 2½ to know ballot questions have always been a blunt instrument for political change.

Approved by voters in 1980, Prop. 2½ went into effect two years later, the high point of a citizen’s revolt against reflexive tax hikes at the state and especially the local level. The measure, which garnered 56 percent of the vote, essentially caps annual growth in a community’s property tax revenue at 2.5 percent.

Almost 40 years later, the battle over Proposition 2½ is in many ways still being fought.

Its proponents are quick to note it struck a blow against the “Taxachusetts” stereotype — between 1980 and 1985, property taxes as a percentage of income fell from 76 percent above the national average to 13 percent above, the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes. Critics, meanwhile, point to an ever-increasing reliance on state aid by cities and towns, and near-constant, divisive override battles.

It is a lesson legislative leaders should take to heart as they try to cut through the thicket of initiative petitions set to go before Bay State voters this spring. While the Supreme Judicial Court Monday nixed the so-called “millionaires tax,” which would have dunned the state’s top earners for another 4 percent in taxes, there are still several remaining questions that have conflicting aims. If they all pass, with their conflicting agendas and less-than-nuanced approaches to policy, the state will be dealing with the aftermath in both the public and private sectors for decades to come.

Lawmakers can still reach what is being called a “grand bargain” on the measures, but they must move quickly to pass compromise legislation that would render the questions moot.

A Salem News editorial
Monday, June 18, 2018
Legislature needs to strike a deal on ballot questions


Massachusetts lawmakers on Wednesday agreed to historic wage and benefits legislation designed to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers, but the bill's passage was tainted with charges that legislators had backtracked on important worker issues in order to appease the retail industry sector.

Under the bill, the hourly minimum wage will rise from $11 to $15 over a five-year period and a $1 billion paid family and medical leave program overseen by state government and backed by a payroll tax will be launched so workers can more easily take care of themselves and their families without facing fiscal crises.

Legislators scrambled to assemble the so-called grand bargain bill after interest groups, fed up with the lack of action on Beacon Hill, initiated ballot drives and forced legislative leaders to engage with them at the negotiating table, or risk having major policies written into law by voters.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who says he favors bipartisanship and compromise, was largely a bystander in the negotiations and has declined to stake out positions on the issues while encouraging legislators to work on alternatives to the ballot questions. Baker on Wednesday said it was "great news" that a deal had been reached and the votes to engross the bill -- 126-25 in the House and 30-8 in the Senate -- indicate a veto, however unlikely, could be overridden.

The House later voted 119-24 to enact the bill and the Senate enacted the bill on a voice vote with just two senators present....

"The compromise legislation passed today contains very costly initiatives that will negatively impact the thousands of small business owners and their employees that RAM represents. The retail marketplace has never been more competitive, and the margins have never been smaller. The new payroll mandates passed today will significantly increase costs, resulting in businesses being less competitive, forcing some doors to close and good jobs to be lost. This is not rhetoric, but reality," RAM President Jon Hurst said Wednesday evening. "At the same time, the results would be far worse had these measures gone to the ballot, and the Legislature deserves credit for bringing the parties together to bring a balanced resolution."

State House News Service
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Over grumbles, lawmakers swiftly move wage,
benefits deal to Guv's desk


Dubbed the “Grand Bargain Bill” by its supporters, the compromise bill is in response to the likely successful effort by the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition to get the minimum wage and paid leave questions on the November ballot; and the likely success of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts (RAM) to get a question on the ballot to reduce the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent.

Raise Up Massachusetts has agreed not to bring its family and medical question to the ballot while RAM has agreed to drop its effort to reduce the sales tax to 5 percent. The fate of the minimum wage ballot question is undetermined. The version passed by the Legislature differs from the ballot question version in several ways. The legislative version gives the raise to $15 over five years rather than the four years on the ballot version; does not include tying the minimum wage to inflation; and includes phasing out extra pay for employees who work on Sundays and holidays.

RAM President Jon Hurst had mixed feelings about the compromise but ultimately embraced it. “The compromise legislation passed today contains very costly initiatives that will negatively impact the thousands of small business owners and their employees that RAM represents,” said Hurst. “The retail marketplace has never been more competitive, and the margins have never been smaller. The new payroll mandates passed today will significantly increase costs, resulting in businesses being less competitive, forcing some doors to close and good jobs to be lost. This is not rhetoric, but reality. At the same time, the results would be far worse had these measures gone to the ballot, and the Legislature deserves credit for bringing the parties together to bring a balanced resolution.”

Meanwhile, critics of the compromise say that RAM was able to extract compromises from Raise Up by using the sales tax cut as a bargaining chip. The Supreme Judicial Court had just ruled that a proposed ballot question imposing an additional 4 percent income tax on taxpayers’ earnings of more than $1 million cannot go on the November 2018 ballot. Supporters of that measure saw millions of tax dollars lost as a result of the decision and said that reducing the sales tax would cause a fiscal crisis and require cutbacks of many programs.

Beacon Hill Roll Call
Week of: June 18-22, 2018
Raise minimum wage, family and medical leave and sales tax holiday (H 4640)
By Bob Katzen


After this week, Charlie Baker has got to be feeling like a million bucks.

The one question he least wanted to answer - do you or do you not support the millionaire's tax? - was non-answered for him, when the Supreme Judicial Court disallowed the ballot question that would have raised the annual tax on income over $1 million by four percentage points.

Four years in the making, and four excruciating months in the deciding, the central referendum topic of the year was yanked off the agenda with the tap of a Send button, probably denying Democrats $1.9 billion in new revenue for education and transportation and denying their gubernatorial candidates a standard behind which to rally progressive forces.

The SJC ruled that by combining two disparate issues in one question - the tax hike and the purposes for which it was required to be used - the Raise Up coalition of unions and progressive organizations violated Constitutional strictures on drafting referenda. It will be looked upon as a very costly error.

Though no one knew how the court would rule, or claimed they knew, there still was an air of presumption about the new $1.9 billion, because the question was polling so favorably. Now, Democratic candidates who advanced the need for investment in schools and transit must explain how they will pay for their ambitions. And they're denied the chance to lower Baker's sky-high approval numbers by tormenting the governor for his lack of a firm stand on the matter....

The elimination of the millionaire's tax gave business groups more room to negotiate on other ballot initiatives, and that they apparently did with great vigor and no transparency. Two days after the bombshell ruling, the complex of compromises commonly dubbed the Grand Bargain was sitting before the governor, ready for him to resolve some of the state's most prominent policy proposals with a single signature.

In breathtakingly short order Wednesday, the House unveiled, reported from Ways and Means, and then passed a package in which long-debated and fiercely-negotiated provisions affecting virtually everyone in Massachusetts were settled. The Senate followed suit, and by 8 p.m. Baker had the bargain.

State House News Service
Friday, June 22, 2018
Weekly Roundup Ain't it Grand?


Thirteen years ago Saturday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a private organization could legally use eminent domain powers granted by the city to seize private property in a seaside Connecticut neighborhood and hand it over to another private corporation in the name of economic development.

The 5-4 ruling in Kelo vs. City of New London -- which revolved around a divorcee who sought a new start in life in the working-class Fort Trumbull neighborhood only to have the government take her little pink house to make way for a luxury hotel and office space -- led to a public outcry and spurred 44 states to take legislative action to strengthen private property rights.

But what happened to Susette Kelo could still happen today in Massachusetts, one of the few states that did not change its laws in the wake of the Kelo decision, an attorney who represented the New London homeowners said.

"Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that made no statutory or constitutional changes in response to Kelo. Virtually every state did, but Massachusetts was one of the few that did not," Dana Berliner, an attorney from the Institute for Justice, told the News Service. "It also has not had any state high court decision or court of appeals decision about eminent domain since Kelo. So really Massachusetts is in a tiny minority of states that have had zero response on any level."

Since the Kelo case was decided, 44 states have passed laws aimed at curbing the abuse of eminent domain for private use -- 40 states have changed their statutes to limit the use of eminent domain, 30 have narrowed their definition of what constitutes a public use, 25 have changed their definition of blighted property, and two have outlawed the transfer of condemned property to private parties entirely, according to the Institute for Justice.

"The Kelo decision said that individual protection from eminent domain is now up to the states," Berliner said. "What has happened is that in some states you have great protection and in some, you have terrible protection. That should not be the case, that if your home is in New Hampshire it can't be taken for private development, but if it's in Massachusetts it can be."

In Massachusetts, efforts to put guardrails on the use of eminent domain since the 2005 decision have routinely been turned aside.

"Massachusetts really has not done much since Kelo. Our laws may be a little different, but there was a pretty big uproar at the time and a number of states did take some action. We were one who did not," House Minority Leader Brad Jones said.

Jones has routinely filed constitutional amendments and legislation to address concerns that cropped up after the Kelo decision. None have become law.

State House News Service
Friday, June 22, 2018
Mass. among few states that did not respond to eminent domain ruling


When it comes to far left liberalism, we’re not just good. We’re the best.

Better than New York. Better than California. Even liberal little Vermont can’t touch us.

And there’s new evidence to back up our claim to liberal fame.

The American Conservative Union has put out its new ratings of all 50 states, and the Massachusetts Legislature came out the absolute worst when it comes to fiscal and social conservatism. Dead last.

“It’s tough not to regard Massachusetts as the shining example of bad liberalism in America,” said Ian Walters, communications director of the American Conservative Union Foundation.

Basing its ratings on votes ranging from tax hikes to reductions in spending, the ACUF found that more than 100 of the 160 Massachusetts House members ranked a score of under 10 percent, putting them in the “Coalition of the Radical Left.” And 29 members of the state Senate joined the coalition....

The state Senate rated as more radically liberal than the House. Even among Republicans, the score was 60 percent, or a D mark....

This is the third year in a row that Massachusetts lawmakers snatched the worst ranking, so we are remarkably consistent anyway.

The Boston Herald
Friday, June 22, 2018
Survey rates Mass. leftmost of 50 states
By Joe Battenfeld


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

When I returned home late Saturday night from my four-day expedition scouting for a more hospitable state in which to resettle, I was greeted by the news that "No New Taxes" Gov. Charlie Baker is about to sign a "Grand Bargain." Part of this deal to keep policy questions off the November ballot will hike taxes on employers and employees by another $800 million.  Blink and Beacon Hill is raising taxes again.

In less than a week we went from the Supreme Judicial Court deep-sixing the sixth graduated income tax, tossing it off the ballot to no sales tax rollback on the ballot either, and another almost a billion dollars in taxes imposed by the Legislature and Governor as a "compromise."

The ink had barely dried on the SJC's decision to prevent the "millionaires tax" from being on the ballot when the insatiable lust for more revenue was redirected.

The Boston Globe reported:

"But within hours of Monday’s decision, some officials quickly called for the Legislature to consider tapping into new revenue streams to replace the $2.2 billion that the question could have generated. That included Senate President Harriette L. Chandler, who said the Legislature needs to 'take a hard look' at it, and Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who said the decision shifts responsibility squarely on lawmakers to act as early as next legislative session.

“'I think if you go out and explain to voters why [new] revenues are necessary at this particular moment in time, they’ll understand it,' Walsh said."

"State Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) said in a statement he will revive the millionaire tax — in identical fashion to the ballot initiative — when lawmakers return in January 2019," the Boston Herald reported.  The State House News Service added:  "If the effort is successful, the earliest it could appear on the ballot would be 2022, and it's unclear whether Democratic legislative leaders, having spent the past several years talking about the need for new revenues, would want to wait that long to address tax increases."

The "Grand Bargain" a compromise among ballot question sponsors and the Legislature that eliminates them from the ballot was raced through the Legislature.  The probable rollback of the sales tax was eliminated from the ballot, but the statutory sales tax holiday weekend every August it also sought was created (until the Legislature next decides "the state can't afford it," I presume).

The State House News Service reported:

"The Mass. Retailers Association dropped its proposal for a sales tax increase, but accepted an increase in the minimum wage, in return for which it won an end to the state law requiring workers be paid time-and-a-half for Sunday and holiday hours. The minimum wage increase from $11 to $15 an hour will occur in five years, not four, as the Raise Up ballot question proposes, and tipped workers won't see their minimum rise as much as in the question. There will be a permanent annual sales tax holiday on state lawbooks (again, if the governor signs the compromise). Raise Up and the unions won their long-sought paid leave program, covering sick time, family care, maternity and paternity, and bereavement absences from the workplace."

Beacon Hill Roll Call reported:

"'The compromise legislation passed today contains very costly initiatives that will negatively impact the thousands of small business owners and their employees that RAM represents. The retail marketplace has never been more competitive, and the margins have never been smaller. The new payroll mandates passed today will significantly increase costs, resulting in businesses being less competitive, forcing some doors to close and good jobs to be lost. This is not rhetoric, but reality,' RAM President Jon Hurst said Wednesday evening. 'At the same time, the results would be far worse had these measures gone to the ballot, and the Legislature deserves credit for bringing the parties together to bring a balanced resolution.'"

Since the U.S. Supreme Court's despicable Kelo decision in 2005 CLT has filed numerous bills to defend Massachusetts property owners from such unconscionable assaults.  Barbara Anderson wrote columns about the outrage (here and here are samples).  Thirteen years later still nothing has been done:

"'Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that made no statutory or constitutional changes in response to Kelo. Virtually every state did, but Massachusetts was one of the few that did not,' Dana Berliner, an attorney from the Institute for Justice, told the News Service. 'It also has not had any state high court decision or court of appeals decision about eminent domain since Kelo. So really Massachusetts is in a tiny minority of states that have had zero response on any level.'"

"The Best Legislature Money Can Buy" strikes again.  Not only does Massachusetts remain a one-party state but has achieved the distinction of being the most liberal state of the fifty.  In the CLT Update of April 11 I noted:

The recent Gallup poll explains our plight as abused taxpayers who fund all of state government and its insuppressible excesses.  Along with Vermont, it found Massachusetts to be the most liberal state in the nation.  As usual The Pay State moguls are striving to again make this state Number One in notoriety, profligate and insatiable spending, and abysmal mismanagement.

Massachusetts has quickly jumped over Vermont to achieve Number One Most Liberal State status, according to a new report just released by the American Conservative Union Foundation:

“'With the lowest score in the nation, radical liberals drove the Massachusetts General Court to the bottom of the rankings, accompanied by a slew of liberal legislatures run amok,' said ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp. 'Instead of reducing the state’s ballooning $1 billion deficit, liberal lawmakers chose to fund campaigns for public office, subsidies for government-favored businesses, and a so-called "art" exhibit that apparently promotes replacing the Second Amendment to the Constitution with, ahem, bedroom-items for grown-ups. It’s truly a shame that liberals have turned the birthplace of American independence into a failed socialist experiment.'”

"'It’s tough not to regard Massachusetts as the shining example of bad liberalism in America,' said Ian Walters, communications director of the American Conservative Union Foundation.

"Basing its ratings on votes ranging from tax hikes to reductions in spending, the ACUF found that more than 100 of the 160 Massachusetts House members ranked a score of under 10 percent, putting them in the 'Coalition of the Radical Left.' And 29 members of the state Senate joined the coalition....

"The state Senate rated as more radically liberal than the House. Even among Republicans, the score was 60 percent, or a D mark."

See how your rep and senator rated read the full report here.

Chip Ford
Executive Director


 
The Boston Globe
Tuesday, June 26, 2018

After no new taxes pledge, Baker faces grand bargain bill
— with an $800 million new tax
By Joshua Miller and Matt Stout

It is Governor Charlie Baker’s most sacrosanct policy position. The one he repeated on the campaign trail. The one that helped him win his close race in 2014. The one that’s easiest for voters to remember: No new taxes. No new fees.

Now the Republican has a bill on his desk — one supported by large bipartisan majorities in the Legislature — that includes a sweeping paid family and medical leave program funded by imposing a new $800 million payroll tax on workers and employers in Massachusetts.

So, will he sign the bill?

Baker told reporters Monday he was still reviewing the legislation but indicated support for the measure. Asked if signing it would violate his no-new-taxes pledge, Baker did not directly reply, saying, “There’s a benefit that’s attached to this thing, and that benefit is a paid family leave provision that did not previously exist in state law.”

The bill would establish a program that would allow almost all employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave and up to 20 weeks of paid medical leave — with a guarantee that they could return to their same or equivalent positions, with the same status, pay, and employment benefits.

The program would be funded through a 0.63 percent payroll tax that would average between $4 and $4.50 weekly per employee, according to Senator Jason M. Lewis, a Democrat from Winchester, who helped craft the bill. The cost would be split roughly 50-50 between employee and employer, he said. Workers would see a deduction from their take-home pay starting in the summer of 2019, with the leave benefits available to them starting in 2021.

Speaking on the Senate floor last week, Lewis estimated the annual cost of the program at $750 million to $800 million, a range that outside analysts confirmed was in the ballpark.

The legislation, known on Beacon Hill as the grand bargain, would also raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2023, eventually eliminate time-and-half pay on Sundays and holidays, and create a yearly sales tax holiday. Baker has until July 1 to act on the package.

The bargain moniker comes from the expectation that, in return for the bill becoming law, advocacy groups will drop three proposed ballot questions that seek to lower the sales tax to 5 percent, raise the minimum wage, and create a paid leave program.

Several parts of the bill have drawn concern from the business community, including the new payroll tax.

“The grand bargain’s new paid family and medical leave program is funded by a payroll tax, very similar to how the unemployment insurance and Social Security programs are funded,” said Eileen McAnneny, president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

“While this version is significantly better than the language that would have been on the ballot in November had a compromise not been reached, it represents a sizable new cost to employers.”

Speaking to reporters, Baker also said that the version in the legislation makes more sense, especially for small businesses, than the one in the proposed ballot question, “which is a pretty important consideration.”

On the campaign trail in 2014, Baker said he would not raise taxes or fees. In TV ads during the race, he savaged his Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley, as having “only plans for higher taxes.”

And in a 2015 interview with the Globe before he was sworn in, Baker affirmed that his no-new-taxes, no-new-fees pledge was an irrevocable promise — with one caveat.

At the time, Baker said he would not consider it a violation of his pledge if the state rolls out a “new service” that has never been offered and attaches a charge to it.

If the governor signs the bill, it would fall under the new service category, aides said Monday.

That’s how his administration framed a law Baker signed regulating ride-sharing services such as Uber, which slapped a 20-cent per-ride fee on the transportation network companies.

It’s part of how aides framed Baker signing into law a rewrite of the voter-passed marijuana legalization measure, which increased the state’s not-yet-implemented pot tax above what voters had approved.

Baker also supports subjecting short-term rentals booked through websites such as Airbnb to a new tax, a move he said last week is about “leveling the playing field.” That is, if someone is running what is effectively a hotel out of their house using Airbnb, their guests should pay the state’s 5.7 percent room occupancy tax, just like someone staying at a Hyatt or a Hilton.

But even as he backs those new sources of revenue, Baker has touted his support for lowering one big tax and holding the line on others.

In his speech to the state Republican Party convention in April, Baker said that his administration supports “reducing the sales tax and making the sales tax holiday permanent.”

And in his State of the Commonwealth address in January, Baker said that his administration began its term with a $1 billion structural budget deficit. “Today,” he boasted, “we’ve reduced that deficit to less than 100 million [dollars] without raising taxes.”

But low-tax activists say talk is cheap.

Chip Ford, executive director of the Citizens for Limited Taxation, said without any corresponding tax cut, the grand bargain measure is an instance of businesses “getting hammered again.”

“There’s no way other than describing it as a new tax. It’s not an old tax, it’s not in existence now. Every tax increase has its rationale and its explanation and its excuse. It doesn’t make it any less of a tax,” Ford said.

“Charlie Baker is a politician. Politicians say what they have to say in the moment,” he later added. “But I still say, he’s the best Democrat out of the bunch to elect.”

Baker faces a challenger in the Republican primary on Sept. 4.
 

State House News Service
Monday, June 18, 2018

Democrats will need to regroup on taxes in wake of SJC ruling
By Matt Murphy

No longer a political safety net, the death of the "millionaire's tax" ballot question on Monday could put Beacon Hill Democrats in the hot seat leading into this year's elections to either scale back their ambitious spending promises or produce an alternative tax plan.

The ballot question that was struck down by the Supreme Judicial Court on Monday, and its potential to generate as much as $2 billion a year in new taxes, has been held out for years by Democrats as a potential panacea.

How can the state afford to expand pre-kindergarten and invest in K-12 education? The millionaire's tax. How could the state improve the reliability of the MBTA and expand rail service to western Massachusetts? The millionaire's tax.

No longer.

The highest court's split decision invalidating the proposed 4 percent surtax on income over $1 million now throws the ball back into the court of the Legislature to decide whether they believe the state can thrive with its current revenue structure, or if another tax hike is in the offing.

"I think as we're beginning the new legislative session we'll take a look to see where we are relative to our tax revenues, what we expect for tax revenue. That process will begin in December and we'll go from there. I don't think right now we can talk about elimination of anything right now until we have those figures before us," House Speaker Robert DeLeo said, calling himself "disappointed" with the outcome in the courts.

Senate President Harriette Chandler, who will hand the reins of the Senate to Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka in July, also said she was "terribly disappointed."

"As I have said since January, without this Fair Share Amendment, we will need to be creative and take a hard look at potential revenues from new sources to address the very real challenges we face as a Commonwealth," Chandler said.

The income surtax had the added political benefit of representing a revenue generating proposal that lawmakers wouldn't have had to decide alone. While Democrats supported the proposal and voted twice to advance it to the ballot, it was the voters who would have ultimately decided the proposal's fate.

And it seemed quite popular. Suffolk University poll results released last week found 66 percent of voters supported the surtax on wealthier residents, compared to 26 percent opposed.

Gov. Charlie Baker, arguably, walks away a clear winner having never taken a position on the proposal as he awaited the court's decision, and now never having too. The governor's silence and deference to the judicial process seemed to be a political calculation that paid off Monday, not having to choose between his hold-the-line-on-taxes reputation and a ballot question that seemed sure to pass and energize left-leaning Democratic voters in the process.

The Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Gus Bickford saw it differently, suggesting the decision has created a "crisis" for Baker now that a potential revenue stream to improve transportation and education has been eliminated. "Massachusetts residents deserve to know his plans to address these critical issues before voting for our next governor," Bickford said.

The decision will force the two men running against Baker to recalibrate their campaign messaging. Both Jay Gonzalez and Bon Massie have been proponents of the surtax as a way to generate new revenue to make investments in pubic transit and education, including Gonzalez's call for universal pre-kindergarten.

Gonzalez, after a debate with Massie in May, said that if the question failed he would propose "another progressive tax to raise the income we need," but said he had not yet developed that plan. He doubled down on that Monday after the SJC decision was released, and now faces increased pressure to detail specifics about what such a tax plan might look like.

"Jay Gonzalez and Bob Massie owe the public an explanation as to which other taxes they intend to raise to pay for the billions they have proposed in new public spending," MassGOP Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes.

While the ruling was a win for business groups - the Mass. High Tech Council, Mass. Taxpayers Foundation and Associated Industries of Massachusetts - that challenged the ballot question's constitutionality, it was a notable defeat for Attorney General Maura Healey on two fronts, both because she supported the policy objective of the ballot question and had her office's decision to validate the question overturned.

That loss, however, might not be as painful as the one dealt to the labor unions and community leaders in the Raise Up Coalition who spent four years pushing to get the proposed constitutional amendment through the Legislature and in position for a successful ballot drive, only to see that work discarded.

The decision might also impact other ballot questions, with the removal of the millionaire's tax from the equation perhaps making it easier politically for business groups, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts and Raise Up to strike a deal over a minimum wage hike, paid family and medical leave and a sales tax cut.

For Retailers Association of Massachusetts President Jon Hurst, the millionaire's tax has always been the lynchpin to him reconsidering a ballot proposal that would slash the 6.25 percent sales tax to 5 percent.

Some observers of the behind-the-scenes negotiations said they wouldn't be surprised if Monday's decision led to a quick settlement of "grand bargain" talks on Beacon Hill, and RAM board members have their weekly conference call on Tuesday on ballot negotiations that could lead to a resolution.

"The Retailers Association of Massachusetts remains prepared to take the sales tax reduction to the ballot this fall. At the same time, we remain open to negotiating a balanced legislative resolution that will give our Main Street businesses, and seniors and low-income families a helping hand," Hurst said in a statement after the court ruling.

With one question and its potential billions in new revenue off the table and another question – a sales tax cut to 5 percent – that would reduce revenue still in the mix, Education Committee Co-chair Sonia Chang Diaz said elected officials have an obligation to address their failure to ensure quality education for all children, regardless of where they live.

But she also acknowledged, "There is no magical revenue stream coming any time soon."

Rep. Jay Kaufman, a retiring Democrat from Lexington who for years has chaired the Revenue Committee, said the SJC's decision should be taken as a "challenge" to the Legislature to restart the four-year process next year of amending the state constitution as "the one and only way to advance tax fairness."

"Until the wealthiest among us pay their fair share, we are destined to live with inadequate state services and the gross inequity of our state taxes," Kaufman said.


The Boston Globe
Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Misguided millionaires tax was a nonstarter
By Rachelle G. Cohen


Make no mistake, Massachusetts just dodged the economic bullet that the so-called millionaires tax would have been.

But to those public employee unions and progressives that were virtually salivating over the potential $1.9 billion in new revenue extracted from the wallets of the state’s wealthiest residents, there ought to be a broader lesson — play fair.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled 5-2 Monday that the effort to impose a 4 percent surtax on households with incomes of more than $1 million — thereby raising their tax rate to 9.1 percent, the fifth highest in the country — could not properly be put before the voters because it simply tried to do too much.

Raise Up Massachusetts, which had backed the tax hike, knew full well that past efforts to change the state’s Constitution to allow for a graduated income tax had gone down to inglorious defeat — five times in the past 50 years. It was a fact duly noted by Justice Frank Gaziano in his majority opinion. In fact, the voters rejected a graduated tax in 1994 by a whopping 65-28 percent.

So proponents knew they had to throw in a sweetener — because, well, you can fool some of the people some of the time and, sure, it was worth a try. So the ballot measures also promised voters all that extra cash would go toward education and transportation.

What’s not to like?

Problem is, the state Constitution wisely prohibits voter petitions on issues that aren’t “mutually dependent.” And this one, Gaziano wrote “contains three provisions on three distinct subjects presented as a single ballot question.”

“Even if we were to accept the argument that the proposed spending provisions are dependent upon a particular funding mechanism — the proposed tax — that could not change the evident fact that the proposed tax can stand on its own and neither spending provision depends on the other,” the opinion notes.

Now you’d think Attorney General Maura Healey — no slouch in the legal reasoning department — would have grasped that fact back in September 2015, when she certified the petition and sent tax hike proponents down this fruitless (not to mention costly) path that has now left them
empty-handed.

Even the attorney general can’t wave her magic wand and turn an unconstitutional ballot question into a winner just because she likes it and wouldn’t mind currying favor with the progressive activists who supported it.

“The attorney general has not articulated a common purpose between these spending priorities [education and transportation] beyond the abstract determination that both purposes are ‘broad areas of public concern,’ ” the opinion noted.

So is the opioid crisis, for that matter, but it doesn’t mean it should be tied to an income surtax.

Raise Up Massachusetts, aided and abetted by an attorney general who chose to be more tax hike cheerleader than objective arbiter of that which properly belongs on the ballot, did itself a huge disfavor. If it truly believes the state’s wealthiest — and dare we say, most productive — citizens need to be taxed more, it could have proposed a clean surtax bill.

Instead the group outsmarted itself and wasted the past three years. But then again, it’s what they deserve.

Rachelle G. Cohen, former editorial page editor of the Boston Herald, is a contributing member of the editorial board.


The Boston Globe
Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Striking down the ‘millionaires tax,’ the SJC cleans up Maura Healey’s mess
By Jeff Jacoby

Shed no tears for the “millionaires tax” ballot initiative, which the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court struck down on Monday. From the outset, the initiative was a cynical ploy to get voters to do something they have repeatedly rejected — replacing the state’s flat-rate income tax with a system of graduated tax brackets. But nobody was fooled by the ruse, least of all the SJC.

Five times in five decades, Massachusetts voters have been asked to scrap the uniform tax rate required by the state’s constitution. Five times they have refused. So activists this time came up with a two-fer: They proposed a “Fair Share Amendment” that would not only whack anyone earning more than $1 million with an 80 percent income-tax surcharge, but would also earmark the money raised for two popular purposes — public education and public transportation.

On both counts, the two-fer was illegal.

Article 48 of the Massachusetts Constitution allows private citizens to initiate ballot questions, but there are conditions: An initiative’s provisions (1) must be so plainly “related or . . . mutually dependent” that they embody a single purpose, and (2) earmarking — a “specific appropriation of money from the treasury” — is disallowed. The proposed amendment met neither condition. Its provisions were obviously not closely related (public education has no inherent link to public transportation, and neither is connected to taxing the wealthy). And by specifying how the surtax revenue would be spent, the Fair Share Amendment was an exercise in blatant earmarking.

The rules for ballot questions have been in effect for 100 years. The millionaires tax initiative violated those rules, and it was Attorney General Maura Healey’s obligation to say so. Instead, abdicating her duty, she certified the initiative for submission to the voters. It was not her finest hour.

Now the Supreme Judicial Court has cleaned up Healey’s mess. In a 5-2 decision, it ruled that the proposed initiative, by jumbling together unrelated elements, was disqualified for the ballot. “It would be unfair to place voters in the untenable position of casting a single vote on two dissimilar subjects,” the court held.

Reasonable people can disagree on the merits of a flat-rate vs. graduated income tax, on the wisdom of a millionaires surtax, and on how much the state should spend on education or the repair of roads and bridges. All are perfectly legitimate subjects for political debate; the court, quite correctly, didn’t weigh in on any of them.

But while the justices may be nonpolitical, they aren’t deaf and dumb. The SJC didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. And its opinion makes clear that it understood perfectly well what the progressive coalition behind the Fair Share Amendment had hoped to pull off.

“We are not entirely unaware of the possibility” that the amendment was purposely drafted “to ‘sweeten the pot’ for voters,” the majority remarked dryly. Knowing that every previous attempt to permit graduated tax rates had failed, activists this time around hoped to tempt voters with the prospect of more money for favored causes — and with a dash of eat-the-rich class envy thrown in for good measure. The SJC doesn’t actually say that, of course. Instead it quotes someone who did: former Senate President Stanley Rosenberg.

“In the past, constitutional amendments have been very differently constructed,” Rosenberg explained when he endorsed the initiative. “This one, because it is focused specifically on money for education and transportation, will stand a better chance of being approved. And also because it is very clear that it [affects] people who make more than $1 million.”

It was just that kind of cynical “wheedling and deceiving,” wrote the majority in spiking the proposed amendment, that Article 48 was designed to block. The place for jury-rigged legislation that cobbles together widely disparate provisions is the Legislature, not in initiative petitions placed before the voters. A ballot question isn’t a wish list. It must present a unified and coherent statement of public policy. The millionaires tax missed the mark by a mile, and the SJC gave it what it deserved.


The Boston Globe
Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Voters won’t be able to weigh in on the millionaires tax.
How about the Legislature?
By Matt Stout

In a decision policy makers and advocates have waited for months to arrive, the Supreme Judicial Court on Monday sounded a death knell for the so-called “millionaires tax.”

The decision’s impact was immediate and far-reaching, turning what was supposed to be a ballot question to fund transportation and education initiatives with up to $2.2 billion in new annual revenue into a litany of questions about where lawmakers and state officials go from here:

Two billion dollars is a lot of money. What happens to the state’s transportation systems?

The decision was a major blow for advocates who believe the state’s transportation system needs more money, especially after a plan to automatically boost the gas tax based on inflation lost at the ballot box in 2014.

Governor Charlie Baker has countered that the state’s “current tools” for funding it are “pretty good.”

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other options advocates could push.

James Aloisi, a former state transportation secretary, said attention could turn to a tax based on the distance motorists drive, and higher fees on trips through ride-hail services like Uber, which currently stand at 20 cents a ride.

Chris Dempsey, who leads the nonprofit Transportation for Massachusetts, said his group’s focus will shift toward creating an “incentive-driven” transportation system. That could include toll changes to encourage drivers to use highways during off-peak hours. He said that could be discounts, rather than increases, on tolls.

So voters won’t be able to weigh in on a millionaires tax hike. Does this mean the Legislature will?

It will certainly turn up the pressure on the Democrat-controlled Legislature to act. But how they could move, and whether it includes transportation- or education-focused tax initiatives, is unclear.

Led by the House and Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, lawmakers have in recent years veered from instituting any new broad-based taxes, in what some saw as a deferment to the millionaires tax ballot question that public polls showed had widespread support.

But within hours of Monday’s decision, some officials quickly called for the Legislature to consider tapping into new revenue streams to replace the $2.2 billion that the question could have generated. That included Senate President Harriette L. Chandler, who said the Legislature needs to “take a hard look” at it, and Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who said the decision shifts responsibility squarely on lawmakers to act as early as next legislative session.

“I think if you go out and explain to voters why [new] revenues are necessary at this particular moment in time, they’ll understand it,” Walsh said.

What about the other ballot initiatives floating around Beacon Hill?

The SJC’s ruling doesn’t technically interfere with any other potential ballot question. In fact, a separate question on nurse staffing levels met legal muster Monday.

But it’s hung like a cloud over negotiations surrounding other questions, with advocates for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and mandating paid family and medical leave on one side, a business-backed group backing a question to reduce the sales tax to 5 percent on the other, and lawmakers in the middle.

The intent of the so-called “grand bargain” is to strike a compromise and keep the petitions off the ballot. But neither side could say how big of a wrench the SJC decision could throw into their talks.

Steve Crawford, a spokesman for the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition, said formal discussions have yet to even resume since advocates said they hit a standstill earlier this month.

Jon Hurst, of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said the group, which is behind the sales tax petition, is still open to negotiating but that it is also still prepared to take it to voters.

Ditto for Raise Up, Crawford said.

Both face a July 3 deadline for submitting signatures.

What’s the political fallout of all this?

The petition’s sudden death is a political win for Baker, a Republican governor who has generally been against new taxes but had avoided taking a formal position on the question.

And it removes a key talking point for his Democratic rivals, Jay Gonzalez and Robert K. Massie, both of whom have openly supported the millionaires tax.

Democrats also viewed the ballot question as a potential draw for left-leaning voters, who often turn out to cast a ballot for president but not as much for midterm elections.

Other ballot questions could still stir energy amongst progressives, including one that seeks to repeal the state’s antidiscrimination law on transgender rights. US Senator Elizabeth Warren will also be up for reelection, providing another outlet for all that pent-up enthusiasm.

Adam Vaccaro of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


The Boston Herald
Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Millionaire tax not dead yet
State sen. pledges to bring bill on issue
By Brian Dowling

As the Massachusetts High Technology Council took a victory lap celebrating the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision to block a ballot question on the so-called millionaire tax, a state lawmaker promised to revive the popular proposal to boost spending on education and transportation next year.

State Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) said in a statement he will revive the millionaire tax — in identical fashion to the ballot initiative — when lawmakers return in January 2019.

“Income inequality is at unacceptable levels in Massachusetts and, at the same time, our transportation infrastructure is woefully inadequate and our schools are struggling to provide a quality education to every student,” Lewis said. “If we don’t act boldly and comprehensively to address these issues, then we will put the future of our communities and state economy at risk.”

The proposal would have added a 4 percent surtax on incomes above $1 million and directed the resulting $2 billion to be spent on education and transportation.

Lewis said his proposal wouldn’t face the same constitutional challenges since it is a legislative proposal. It would need support in two successive sittings in the Legislature, then it could go before voters as soon as 2022.

Lewis said polls indicated “overwhelming public support for the proposal” and lawmakers previously voted with 70 percent support to move the ballot initiative forward.

Speaking to members of the Massachusetts High Technology Council — which fought the millionaire tax in court — Chairman Aron Ain, the chief executive of Kronos Incorporated, said the ballot initiative’s aim to tell lawmakers how to raise and spend state funds was unconstitutional.

“Allowing any special interest group, regardless of their objective, to permanently enshrine budgetary decisions and favored spending priorities in the state constitution is simply a bad idea for the commonwealth and it has always been prohibited it,” Ain told a gathering of the group yesterday at the Seaport Hotel.

“To do so would open a Pandora’s box of budget-by-bumper-sticker efforts for years to come with devastating efforts for our long-term fiscal stability,” Ain added. “The decision issued by the Supreme Judicial Court yesterday reinforces that this type of end-run around the process is something the Massachusetts Constitution simply does not allow, and we applaud the court for its careful consideration and wise decision.”

The SJC blocked the ballot initiative on the grounds that it included too many unrelated subjects — taxation, education and transportation.


State House News Service
Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Winchester senator hopes to revive income surtax on wealthy
By Andy Metzger

After the state's highest court torpedoed a proposed new tax on Monday, a Winchester Democrat announced his intention to pick up the pieces for another try next session, when his plan will have the support of the next Senate president.

Sen. Jason Lewis's proposed constitutional amendment would create the same policy as the so-called Fair Share Amendment or Prop 80 - as proponents and opponents alternately dubbed it - but he would follow a different procedural course to advance it.

If the effort is successful, the earliest it could appear on the ballot would be 2022, and it's unclear whether Democratic legislative leaders, having spent the past several years talking about the need for new revenues, would want to wait that long to address tax increases.

Lewis's proposal would avoid the legal snag that derailed activists' years of work, though it would face new political hurdles both within the Legislature and in voting booths - if it makes it that far.

The proposed amendment that the Supreme Judicial Court tossed off the ballot on Monday would impose a 4 percent surtax on incomes over $1 million, earmarking that revenue for spending on transportation and education.

"Income inequality is at unacceptable levels in Massachusetts and, at the same time, our transportation infrastructure is woefully inadequate and our schools are struggling to provide a quality education to every student," Lewis wrote in a statement posted on Facebook Tuesday. "If we don't act boldly and comprehensively to address these issues, then we will put the future of our communities and state economy at risk."

Steve Crawford, who worked on the citizen's initiative to advance the surtax question, said he has seen other lawmakers advocate for the same approach as Lewis.

Concerned that the proposed tax would discourage growth in the state and hit small businesses, a group of prominent business group leaders sued Attorney General Maura Healey last fall, arguing she erred in approving the question for the November 2018 ballot. The proposal improperly combined the unrelated subjects of taxation and spending on education and transportation, the court determined in a decision written by Justice Frank Gaziano.

"A parent of young children, who lived in a rural part of the Commonwealth and did not own a motor vehicle, would be unable to vote in favor of prioritizing funding for early childhood education without supporting spending for transportation," Gaziano wrote.

Whether they intend to write new statutes or amend the state constitution, citizen initiatives cannot include multiple unrelated independent provisions, but there is no such restriction on bills and constitutional amendments that originate in the Legislature.

The state constitution mandates a flat income tax, and voters have repeatedly defeated efforts to institute a graduated or progressive income tax over the years, so in order to tax the biggest earners at a higher rate, proponents of the surtax would need to amend the constitution.

The Fair Share movement, led by the liberal group Raise Up Massachusetts, collected around 150,000 signatures, more than enough to put the matter before the Legislature, which advanced it in two back-to-back sessions in 2016 and 2017.

Any member of the 40-seat Senate or the 160-seat House can sponsor a bill to amend the constitution.

A citizen's initiative needs 50 lawmakers' votes in back-to-back sessions - a number the surtax amendment far exceeded - while a legislatively sponsored constitutional amendment needs the support of 101 lawmakers in back-to-back sessions. In both cases, once a proposed constitutional amendment has cleared the Legislature, it would go before voters unless it is deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Judicial Court.

Before the high court's ruling, a lawyer for the plaintiff business leaders acknowledged that there would be no legal argument to keep a proposed amendment off the ballot if it had been sponsored by a lawmaker.

But while a legislatively-sponsored amendment would avoid legal challenges, it would arguably be a heavier lift, politically. Beyond the 101-lawmaker threshold, a legislatively sponsored amendment would lack the grassroots origins and built-in organization of a citizens' initiative. In the case of the surtax, it might also carry the whiff of defeat – even if it was struck down by a seven-member court with two justices dissenting.

Lewis faces a primary challenge from Melrose Democrat Samantha Hammar, and Paul Craney, who opposed the surtax as spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, suggested that election had something to do with Lewis's proposal.

"Someone's worried about his primary challenger," Craney wrote to the News Service.

The Senate president controls the constitutional conventions that an amendment would need to clear. A spokeswoman for Sen. Karen Spilka, who is scheduled to become Senate president next month, did not respond to a request for comment on Lewis's proposal.

In response to the court ruling, Spilka said, "I respect the decision of the Supreme Judicial Court, and thank them for their considered deliberation on this matter, Income inequality and the opportunity gap, however, remain serious threats to Massachusetts' continued prosperity. I believe in Massachusetts’ bold vision of leadership, and that includes the notion that the wealthiest among us are able to contribute a little bit more to ensure a thriving Commonwealth for all of our residents."

A spokeswoman for Spilka, who is scheduled to become Senate president next month, said she supports Lewis's proposal.


The Salem News
Monday, June 18, 2018

A Salem News editorial
Legislature needs to strike a deal on ballot questions


In Massachusetts, residents need look no further than Proposition 2½ to know ballot questions have always been a blunt instrument for political change.

Approved by voters in 1980, Prop. 2½ went into effect two years later, the high point of a citizen’s revolt against reflexive tax hikes at the state and especially the local level. The measure, which garnered 56 percent of the vote, essentially caps annual growth in a community’s property tax revenue at 2.5 percent.

Almost 40 years later, the battle over Proposition 2½ is in many ways still being fought.

Its proponents are quick to note it struck a blow against the “Taxachusetts” stereotype — between 1980 and 1985, property taxes as a percentage of income fell from 76 percent above the national average to 13 percent above, the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes. Critics, meanwhile, point to an ever-increasing reliance on state aid by cities and towns, and near-constant, divisive override battles.

It is a lesson legislative leaders should take to heart as they try to cut through the thicket of initiative petitions set to go before Bay State voters this spring. While the Supreme Judicial Court Monday nixed the so-called “millionaires tax,” which would have dunned the state’s top earners for another 4 percent in taxes, there are still several remaining questions that have conflicting aims. If they all pass, with their conflicting agendas and less-than-nuanced approaches to policy, the state will be dealing with the aftermath in both the public and private sectors for decades to come.

Lawmakers can still reach what is being called a “grand bargain” on the measures, but they must move quickly to pass compromise legislation that would render the questions moot. The last day to file signatures for initiative questions is July 3, and statewide ballots are printed soon after.

“The ball is really in the Legislature’s court now,” Lew Finfer, chair of Raise Up Massachusetts, told Statehouse reporter Christian M. Wade last week. “We’re quickly running out of time to reach a compromise and get it passed.”

Among the remaining ballot questions are measures that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, require paid medical leave and cut the sales tax. Labor unions have pressed for the wage and medical leave changes, while the retail industry has pushed hard to see the sales tax, one of the highest in the nation, cut to 5 percent from 6.25 percent.

While it is not unusual for employers and employees to be at odds, it is rare to see the lines so clearly drawn on the ballot. And it is difficult to predict how citizens will vote come November. A poll released late last week by Suffolk University showed residents favored by a wide margin increasing the minimum wage, a measure opposed by business groups. But they also support cutting the state sales tax, which is favored by the retail industry but opposed by social service leaders.

Monday’s Supreme Judicial Court ruling only adds to the drama. Supporters of the millionaires tax — or Fair Share Amendment, depending on whose side you are on — are now much less likely to budge on their other key initiatives.

“We are incredibly disappointed that a few wealthy corporate executives and their lobbyists brought this lawsuit that blocked the right of Massachusetts voters to amend our state’s Constitution,” Raise Up Massachusetts said in a statement Monday. ... While we determine our next steps, the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition remains strongly committed to winning a $15 minimum wage and paid family and medical leave for all Massachusetts workers this year, in the Legislature or on the ballot.”

Lawmakers would do well to bring both sides back to the negotiating table until their “grand bargain” is struck. Otherwise, they risk another four-decade fight.


State House News Service
Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Over grumbles, lawmakers swiftly move wage, benefits deal to Guv's desk
By Michael P. Norton


Massachusetts lawmakers on Wednesday agreed to historic wage and benefits legislation designed to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers, but the bill's passage was tainted with charges that legislators had backtracked on important worker issues in order to appease the retail industry sector.

Under the bill, the hourly minimum wage will rise from $11 to $15 over a five-year period and a $1 billion paid family and medical leave program overseen by state government and backed by a payroll tax will be launched so workers can more easily take care of themselves and their families without facing fiscal crises.

Legislators scrambled to assemble the so-called grand bargain bill after interest groups, fed up with the lack of action on Beacon Hill, initiated ballot drives and forced legislative leaders to engage with them at the negotiating table, or risk having major policies written into law by voters.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who says he favors bipartisanship and compromise, was largely a bystander in the negotiations and has declined to stake out positions on the issues while encouraging legislators to work on alternatives to the ballot questions. Baker on Wednesday said it was "great news" that a deal had been reached and the votes to engross the bill -- 126-25 in the House and 30-8 in the Senate -- indicate a veto, however unlikely, could be overridden.

The House later voted 119-24 to enact the bill and the Senate enacted the bill on a voice vote with just two senators present.

While two groups were behind the three questions, the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition that is pushing the minimum wage and paid leave questions escaped the hostile criticisms targeted Wednesday at the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which leveraged a sales tax reduction ballot question into a series of concessions that did not sit well with some lawmakers but were viewed as just a part of the compromise by most in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

Sen. Marc Pacheco said on the floor that the retailers "successfully held us up" with the potential sales tax cut. Sen. Barbara L'Italien called it an "impossible" vote, and Sen. Cynthia Creem said she felt she had to choose between standing with labor and standing with women.

"The compromise legislation passed today contains very costly initiatives that will negatively impact the thousands of small business owners and their employees that RAM represents. The retail marketplace has never been more competitive, and the margins have never been smaller. The new payroll mandates passed today will significantly increase costs, resulting in businesses being less competitive, forcing some doors to close and good jobs to be lost. This is not rhetoric, but reality," RAM President Jon Hurst said Wednesday evening. "At the same time, the results would be far worse had these measures gone to the ballot, and the Legislature deserves credit for bringing the parties together to bring a balanced resolution."

As many cheered the $15 per hour minimum wage moving forward as part of Wednesday's deal, one worker from a Boston McDonald's says union rights are the next goal.

"When fast-food workers first went on strike demanding $15 an hour and union rights five years ago, no one gave us a shot," Mackinley Celestin, a McDonald's worker from Boston said in a statement released Wednesday by the Fight for $15 campaign. "But now, workers in Massachusetts are on a path to joining more than 10 million Americans across the country who have already won a $15 an hour minimum wage since our Fight for $15 began. Our momentum is unstoppable, and once we win $15 an hour, we are going to keep speaking out, protesting, and going on strike until we win the union rights we’ve demanded since Day One."

The compromise bill that passed the Legislature on Wednesday would deliver a $15 minimum wage in five years, rather than the four years proposed in the initiative petition sponsored by the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition, and also does not tie the minimum wage to inflation, as the ballot question does.

Though Raise Up said Wednesday that it will not bring its paid family and medical leave question to the ballot if the deal agreed to Wednesday becomes law, the coalition of more than 100 groups said it will not decide until next week whether to drop its ballot effort to raise the minimum wage.

Democrats on Monday absorbed a stinging defeat when the Supreme Judicial Court ruled a surtax on wealthy residents was not eligible for the November ballot, and some lawmakers said a piece of Wednesday's deal rolling back time-and-a-half pay for working Sundays and holidays marked an unforgivable retreat from a benefit that workers have relied upon for decades to boost their incomes.

"My no vote is against taking thousands of dollars away from the paychecks of retail workers in particular. For a person working full-time at a retail job, (it would be) about a $3,200 cut in pay," Pacheco, one of the six Senate Democrats to vote in opposition to the deal, said. "A $3,200 cut in pay for the worker, but the big box store smiles all the way to the bank because what we're saving is on the backs of those workers."

Once the Legislature had sent the compromise bill to the governor's desk Wednesday evening, a Baker spokeswoman said only that he would review it.

Colin A. Young and Katie Lannan contributed to this report.


Beacon Hill Roll Call
Volume 43 - Report No. 25
Week of: June 18-22, 2018

Raise minimum wage, family and medical leave and sales tax holiday (H 4640)
By Bob Katzen


House 119-24, Senate 30-8, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill that would hike the minimum wage from $11 to $15 over five years; increase the wage for tipped workers from $3.75 to $6.75 over five years; phase out over five years extra pay for employees who work on Sundays and holidays; institute a permanent sales tax holiday on a weekend every August; and establish a $1 billion family and medical leave program funded by a payroll tax paid for by both employers and employees.

Dubbed the “Grand Bargain Bill” by its supporters, the compromise bill is in response to the likely successful effort by the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition to get the minimum wage and paid leave questions on the November ballot; and the likely success of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts (RAM) to get a question on the ballot to reduce the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent.

Raise Up Massachusetts has agreed not to bring its family and medical question to the ballot while RAM has agreed to drop its effort to reduce the sales tax to 5 percent. The fate of the minimum wage ballot question is undetermined. The version passed by the Legislature differs from the ballot question version in several ways. The legislative version gives the raise to $15 over five years rather than the four years on the ballot version; does not include tying the minimum wage to inflation; and includes phasing out extra pay for employees who work on Sundays and holidays.

RAM President Jon Hurst had mixed feelings about the compromise but ultimately embraced it. “The compromise legislation passed today contains very costly initiatives that will negatively impact the thousands of small business owners and their employees that RAM represents,” said Hurst. “The retail marketplace has never been more competitive, and the margins have never been smaller. The new payroll mandates passed today will significantly increase costs, resulting in businesses being less competitive, forcing some doors to close and good jobs to be lost. This is not rhetoric, but reality. At the same time, the results would be far worse had these measures gone to the ballot, and the Legislature deserves credit for bringing the parties together to bring a balanced resolution.”

Meanwhile, critics of the compromise say that RAM was able to extract compromises from Raise Up by using the sales tax cut as a bargaining chip. The Supreme Judicial Court had just ruled that a proposed ballot question imposing an additional 4 percent income tax on taxpayers’ earnings of more than $1 million cannot go on the November 2018 ballot. Supporters of that measure saw millions of tax dollars lost as a result of the decision and said that reducing the sales tax would cause a fiscal crisis and require cutbacks of many programs.

“This bill empowers workers, recognizes the needs of business owners, and ensures that Massachusetts residents will no longer have to choose between caring for a sick relative or losing their job,” said Rep. Paul Brodeur (D-Melrose). “It is the result of months of negotiations and demonstrates that regardless of what happens in Washington, here in Massachusetts we focus on cooperation and compromise.”

“I fundamentally disagree with the premise that we have to give up some workers’ rights in order to gain new workers’ rights,” said Sen. Kathleen O’Connor-Ives (D-Newburyport). “This bill ends time and a half on Sundays in order to start paid family and medical leave and phase-in a $15 minimum wage. This was a strategic decision in order to prevent these issues and the sales tax roll-back from going on the ballot. I would rather see the ballot question process play out and then respond as a Legislature and raise lost revenues by ending wasteful corporate tax credits if the sales tax was rolled-back to 5 percent.”

“This deal represents a series of compromises made in the best interest of the commonwealth,” said Rep. Joseph Wagner (D-Chicopee). “By reaching a thoughtful balance, this package will protect Massachusetts workers while promoting a competitive environment for our local businesses.”

“My ‘no’ vote is for a better minimum wage” said Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton). “My ‘no’ vote is for hardworking Massachusetts citizens, many of whom depend on the guarantee of a fair wage for working Saturdays and Sundays. My ‘no’ vote is for the rights of Massachusetts voters who brought this initiative forward so that the people would be able to decide the issue for themselves.”


State House News Service
Friday, June 22, 2018

Weekly Roundup Ain't it Grand?
By Craig Sandler


After this week, Charlie Baker has got to be feeling like a million bucks.

The one question he least wanted to answer - do you or do you not support the millionaire's tax? - was non-answered for him, when the Supreme Judicial Court disallowed the ballot question that would have raised the annual tax on income over $1 million by four percentage points.

Four years in the making, and four excruciating months in the deciding, the central referendum topic of the year was yanked off the agenda with the tap of a Send button, probably denying Democrats $1.9 billion in new revenue for education and transportation and denying their gubernatorial candidates a standard behind which to rally progressive forces.

The SJC ruled that by combining two disparate issues in one question - the tax hike and the purposes for which it was required to be used - the Raise Up coalition of unions and progressive organizations violated Constitutional strictures on drafting referenda. It will be looked upon as a very costly error.

Though no one knew how the court would rule, or claimed they knew, there still was an air of presumption about the new $1.9 billion, because the question was polling so favorably. Now, Democratic candidates who advanced the need for investment in schools and transit must explain how they will pay for their ambitions. And they're denied the chance to lower Baker's sky-high approval numbers by tormenting the governor for his lack of a firm stand on the matter.

Therefore, Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls Jay Gonzalez and Robert Massie were considered losers in the decision, as Beacon Hill plunged into its much-beloved pastime of labeling stakeholders as victors or vanquished.

Raise Up: huge loser. AG Maura Healey: kind of a loser, because she certified the question as valid when it wasn't. Assistant AG Juliana deHaan Rice definitely a loser, on this one, because she argued the case on behalf of the Commonwealth.

Conversely, Chris Anderson and the Mass. High Technology Council he heads were obvious winners, along with the Council's legal team at Goodwin Proctor. Baker unquestionably a winner, because he now doesn't have to alienate anyone by declaring on the question. And, don't forget, that question was going to pull a certain, unknown quantity of voters to the polls this November, and it was polling well, and it's reasonable to think the motivated ballot-casters would lean more progressive than moderate. Now that that debate won't pull people out, Baker looks that much more secure.

The elimination of the millionaire's tax gave business groups more room to negotiate on other ballot initiatives, and that they apparently did with great vigor and no transparency. Two days after the bombshell ruling, the complex of compromises commonly dubbed the Grand Bargain was sitting before the governor, ready for him to resolve some of the state's most prominent policy proposals with a single signature.

In breathtakingly short order Wednesday, the House unveiled, reported from Ways and Means, and then passed a package in which long-debated and fiercely-negotiated provisions affecting virtually everyone in Massachusetts were settled. The Senate followed suit, and by 8 p.m. Baker had the bargain.

The Mass. Retailers Association dropped its proposal for a sales tax increase, but accepted an increase in the minimum wage, in return for which it won an end to the state law requiring workers be paid time-and-a-half for Sunday and holiday hours. The minimum wage increase from $11 to $15 an hour will occur in five years, not four, as the Raise Up ballot question proposes, and tipped workers won't see their minimum rise as much as in the question. There will be a permanent annual sales tax holiday on state lawbooks (again, if the governor signs the compromise). Raise Up and the unions won their long-sought paid leave program, covering sick time, family care, maternity and paternity, and bereavement absences from the workplace.

Lawmakers' response to the sweeping deal bore the classic marks of the successful compromise: no one seemed gleeful or miserable, no one seemed overly happy, but most seemed satisfied. Sen. Barbara L'Italien called it an "impossible" vote. Sen. Cynthia Creem said she felt forced to choose between workers and women. But, obviously, the majority made their peace with the mix of pros and cons (including L'Italien and Creem).

The most aggrieved parties, those angry about backtracking on premium pay, began to claw back on Thursday as the Senate passed a wage theft bill that they say will give the attorney general new tools to tackle about $700 million in waged earned by workers but not delivered by their employers each year. The bill passed unanimously and a majority of House lawmakers have signed on to a similar measure. The grand bargain may give the wage theft bill momentum.

The proposal for extra taxes on the wealthy was dismissed for this election, but not forever. The ubiquitous Sen. Jason Lewis told reporters to expect its re-emergence next session, though the earliest it seemingly could come before voters is 2022. More immediately, the biggest piece of remaining suspense is over whether Raise Up really will pull its minimum-wage question, if coalition members signal they didn't get enough.

The death of the millionaire's levy and passage of the Bargain knocked a few items that would have led the news some weeks down to sidebar status. Like: the governor defying his president on the planet's top issue of the week, enforcement against illegal border crossings, and announcing Massachusetts won't send any National Guard presence to the Southwest border after all (Monday). Like the first license award under legalized marijuana (Thursday). Like a massive, complicated health reform initiative clearing the House, setting up a very tough conference committee (Tuesday). Like the North-South Link suffering perhaps its most serious setback to date after 30 years of public conservation (A $12 billion to $21 billion cost estimate, Monday).

A shame, really, that big stories can't be banked like sick days.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Super Ballot Question Settlement.


State House News Service
Friday, June 22, 2018

Mass. among few states that did not respond to eminent domain ruling
By Colin A. Young


Thirteen years ago Saturday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a private organization could legally use eminent domain powers granted by the city to seize private property in a seaside Connecticut neighborhood and hand it over to another private corporation in the name of economic development.

The 5-4 ruling in Kelo vs. City of New London -- which revolved around a divorcee who sought a new start in life in the working-class Fort Trumbull neighborhood only to have the government take her little pink house to make way for a luxury hotel and office space -- led to a public outcry and spurred 44 states to take legislative action to strengthen private property rights.

But what happened to Susette Kelo could still happen today in Massachusetts, one of the few states that did not change its laws in the wake of the Kelo decision, an attorney who represented the New London homeowners said.

"Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that made no statutory or constitutional changes in response to Kelo. Virtually every state did, but Massachusetts was one of the few that did not," Dana Berliner, an attorney from the Institute for Justice, told the News Service. "It also has not had any state high court decision or court of appeals decision about eminent domain since Kelo. So really Massachusetts is in a tiny minority of states that have had zero response on any level."

Since the Kelo case was decided, 44 states have passed laws aimed at curbing the abuse of eminent domain for private use -- 40 states have changed their statutes to limit the use of eminent domain, 30 have narrowed their definition of what constitutes a public use, 25 have changed their definition of blighted property, and two have outlawed the transfer of condemned property to private parties entirely, according to the Institute for Justice.

"The Kelo decision said that individual protection from eminent domain is now up to the states," Berliner said. "What has happened is that in some states you have great protection and in some, you have terrible protection. That should not be the case, that if your home is in New Hampshire it can't be taken for private development, but if it's in Massachusetts it can be."

In Massachusetts, efforts to put guardrails on the use of eminent domain since the 2005 decision have routinely been turned aside.

"Massachusetts really has not done much since Kelo. Our laws may be a little different, but there was a pretty big uproar at the time and a number of states did take some action. We were one who did not," House Minority Leader Brad Jones said.

Jones has routinely filed constitutional amendments and legislation to address concerns that cropped up after the Kelo decision. None have become law.

"I think some of the concern was that if we tighten up our laws, we may be tightening them and we couldn't necessarily foresee every circumstance," Jones said when asked what the concerns about updating eminent domain laws were in the wake of Kelo. "I'm not saying that I agree with this, but I think the sentiment was, 'let's not overreact or since we can't envision every scenario let's not create a situation where we have precluded ourselves from something.'"

The minority leader said he would have been "more comfortable if Massachusetts had gone forward and established a bit more of a brighter line" about whether economic development is a suitable public use.

"While there is a public interest in economic development, we shouldn't use the power of the state simply to say, 'we're going to take your land simply to benefit somebody else,'" he said.

Though the state has not taken legislative action, Jones said he thinks the overwhelming public opposition to the Kelo ruling -- public polling after the 2005 decision showed that as much as 95 percent of the public disagreed with it -- has helped limit the use of eminent domain in Massachusetts.

"I think the Kelo decision probably made the exercise of eminent domain, even if it was allowed, people want to make sure they're really doing it for what the public would generally accept as a public use, building a new road or a new school or something like that."

'...taken for public use...'

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution gives governments the power to take private property "by eminent domain" -- regardless of the owner's wishes -- so long as the government proves the property is needed for a public use and the owner is paid fairly for the property. Massachusetts law supports that right for municipalities.

The last line of the Fifth Amendment -- commonly referred to as the "takings clause" -- stipulates that "private property (shall not) be taken for public use, without just compensation." The crux of the Kelo case was whether the development plan championed as a significant benefit to the local economy by the city's development corporation, city and state qualified under the Constitution as a public use.

The Institute for Justice argued in favor of a narrow interpretation -- that the taking of the condemned property must be by government or by a private owner that is legally required to serve the public, like a public utility company.

The city argued for a broad interpretation -- that "public use" could be understood to be the same as "public purpose" or "public benefit" because the redevelopment would create jobs, increase tax revenue to the city and grow the local economy, all of which would benefit the public. Five of the nine Supreme Court justices agreed.

Berliner said Massachusetts law does not make clear whether private property can be taken "purely for economic development."

"There is no statute that either says that such eminent domain is allowed or that it is prohibited," she said. "It is fair to say that eminent domain for economic development alone may be legal under Massachusetts law -- we won't know for sure until the Massachusetts Court of Appeals considers the issue."

Berliner said the Institute for Justice has worked on eminent domain cases in Massachusetts since the Kelo decision, including in Somerville and Carver.

'A miserable situation'

Though some of New London's Fort Trumbull neighborhood, where the city's private development corporation took 15 parcels from seven property owners, has been cleaned of contamination, some roads have been replaced and the utilities have been upgraded, virtually none of the promised developments have come to fruition in the 13 years since the Kelo ruling.

In the years since the Supreme Court's decision, Susette Kelo has testified before state and federal committees, and advocated for restrictions on eminent domain use in other states. Her story first became a book and has now been adapted to a movie.

"It's nice that people are keeping this up in the forefront. I think people need to be reminded of what happened here," she told The Day newspaper of New London in an interview marking the 10th anniversary of the court's ruling. "I don't know so much that I need to be reminded, but I think it's good that people still have an interest in what happened here. It shouldn't happen to anybody in this country."

After reaching an agreement with the state of Connecticut in 2006 to have her pink house spared from the wrecking ball and rebuilt elsewhere in New London, Kelo moved across the Thames River to Groton. From her home there, Kelo can look across the river and see the peninsula where her house once stood. In 2015, she said she had not returned to her old property since she left and her insistence that the Supreme Court made the wrong decision had not wavered.

"It was a miserable situation. It was wrong," Kelo said. "What they did was wrong then and it’s still wrong today."


The Boston Herald
Friday, June 22, 2018

Survey rates Mass. leftmost of 50 states
By Joe Battenfeld


When it comes to far left liberalism, we’re not just good. We’re the best.

Better than New York. Better than California. Even liberal little Vermont can’t touch us.

And there’s new evidence to back up our claim to liberal fame.

The American Conservative Union has put out its new ratings of all 50 states, and the Massachusetts Legislature came out the absolute worst when it comes to fiscal and social conservatism. Dead last.

“It’s tough not to regard Massachusetts as the shining example of bad liberalism in America,” said Ian Walters, communications director of the American Conservative Union Foundation.

Basing its ratings on votes ranging from tax hikes to reductions in spending, the ACUF found that more than 100 of the 160 Massachusetts House members ranked a score of under 10 percent, putting them in the “Coalition of the Radical Left.” And 29 members of the state Senate joined the coalition.

Only a single legislator earned an award for “excellence” — that’s Rep. James Lyons of Essex County. And just 10 others got an “achievement” award, indicating a score of between 80 and 89 percent — or essentially a B grade. All of them, not surprisingly, are Republicans, and just one was in the Senate — Ryan Fattman.

The state Senate rated as more radically liberal than the House. Even among Republicans, the score was 60 percent, or a D mark.

The highest ranking Democrat was Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, whose score was 38 percent.

The rankings are based on a series of 16 votes taken in the House and 13 votes in the Senate last year, including putting the so-called “millionaire tax” on the ballot, which just this week was struck down by the Supreme Judicial Court, and an amendment to cut the income tax rate, which failed miserably.

Other votes included: Gov. Charlie Baker’s amendment to institute cost-saving reforms at MassHealth; an amendment to cut funding to the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and bills reducing funding for free school lunches, the state travel and tourism office, and a rental assistance program.

The ACUF also counted votes on an amendment laying the groundwork for single-payer health care, and bills reducing funding for community organizations, cutting funding for the Transformative Development Fund, and funding for the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

This is the third year in a row that Massachusetts lawmakers snatched the worst ranking, so we are remarkably consistent anyway.

As for the most conservative Legislature in the nation, you might be surprised to know it’s Tennessee.

And don’t forget — one person’s bad liberalism is another’s exceptional liberalism. Massachusetts liberals are proud of their ranking.

So next time you see someone from Vermont — like Bernie Sanders — turn up your nose and tell them they got nothing on you.

 

NOTE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml


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