Massachusetts was one of the states most affected when the Republican-controlled Congress in 2017 capped a tax break that allowed people to deduct their state income and local property tax payments on their federal taxes.
The so-called SALT (for state and local tax) deduction, previously unlimited, was capped at $10,000. The cap saved the federal government some $90 billion, with the bulk of the savings coming at the expense of taxpayers in a relatively small group of states, including New York, Connecticut, California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.
Now, as President Biden pushes for a $2 trillion infrastructure plan, some members of the now Democratic-controlled Congress have formed a SALT caucus and are threatening to vote against the plan unless the cap is repealed. “No SALT, no deal,” said Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat from New York. “This is existential for my state.”
But here in Massachusetts the congressional delegation appears to be staying out of the fray. No members of the delegation have joined the SALT caucus so far and there seems to be little appetite for playing hardball with the president, despite the potential benefits for many of their constituents.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, in comments to the New England Council last week, cautioned her colleagues to look at the big picture and not let the push for SALT jeopardize the infrastructure bill.
“I think taking this red line is really losing sight of the broader package and the big fights,“ Pressley said. “There are so many critical investments in this bill that the people that we represent need.”
A spokesperson for Rep. Lori Trahan said in an email that the congresswoman supports eliminating the cap but did not explain why she has not joined the SALT caucus. Several other members of the congressional delegation did not respond to requests for comment.
The politics of SALT are tricky. While the SALT deduction benefits a wide swath of taxpayers across many states, the biggest beneficiaries tend to be wealthy people with big homes who pay a lot of state income and property tax. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates the richest 5 percent would receive 85 percent of the benefits if the SALT cap is eliminated.
President Trump and Republicans capped the deduction in 2017 to help pay for tax breaks for others, including corporations. Many Democrats are convinced the GOP backed the SALT cap because its financial impact falls hardest on residents of blue states with higher tax rates.
That’s why the issue is a tough one for Democrats now. Many Democrats from blue states want to restore the tax break to help their constituents, but that approach runs counter to the belief held by many in the Democratic Party that the wealthy shouldn’t be receiving any tax breaks.
New York Rep. Alexandra Ocascio-Cortez is not joining the SALT caucus. “I think it’s just a giveaway to the rich,” she said.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said he recognizes the difficult politics of SALT, but he said ideals have to trump politics in such situations. “You have got to make it clear which side you are on — and you can’t be on the side of the wealthy and powerful if you’re going to really fight for working families,” he said.
Is it a go for Vineyard Wind? It sure looks like the long-delayed project is getting the green light, as Baker administration officials and the wind developer’s CEO schedule a press conference to talk about the future of offshore wind in Massachusetts. The New York Times, quoting sources, reports that the Biden administration will grant final approval today for the country’s first commercial-grade offshore wind farm. Read more.
Fare debate: The MBTA proposed cutting the fine for fare evasion from $100 to $50, but the Fiscal and Management Control Board thinks $50 is too high. Several members of the control board said they favored a $10 fine, which would be among the lowest in the country. The $10 fine also runs counter to an analysis by T staff that suggested the combination of a $50 fine and a team of 80 to 100 fare verification agents would be the best way to prevent people from boarding buses and above-ground Green Line trains without paying once a new tap-on fare collection system starts up in 2023. One interesting compromise proposal surfaced during the fare evasion debate — setting the fine at $10 now and raising it to $50 when the T implements fares based on the income level of the rider. Read more.
Ending state of emergency: Gov. Charlie Baker said he may lift the COVID-19 state of emergency at the same time as he allows businesses to fully reopen, which is now scheduled for August 1. Baker’s announcement came nas opponents of his sweeping emergency powers appeal a decision of the state’s highest court to the US Supreme Court. Read more.
MBTA notes: The MBTA announces plans to begin a complete redesign of the bus network next year. T officials also say the investigation into the March 16 derailment of a new Orange Line train near Wellington Station is zeroing in on pads attached to the truck that allows the vehicle to turn. And here’s a mystery — the biggest ridership day for the T’s bus and subway systems is Friday. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Today is the real opening day at brand-new Polar Park, home of the Worcester Red Sox. (Telegram & Gazette)
Boston police leaders tell a City Council budget hearing that they cannot guarantee the department can meet proposed targets for savings on overtime spending because officer injuries require shifts to be filled. (Boston Globe)
Attorney General Maura Healey strikes down Westport’s bylaws that would have prohibited the sale of recreational marijuana, because the bylaws were more restrictive than previously passed zoning ordinances. (South Coast Today)
The FDA allows the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds. (Associated Press)
Taking a page from the New Deal, President Biden is proposing the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps. (NPR)
Massachusetts churches collected more than $82 million in PPP loans. (MetroWest Daily News)
Biden leaves a Mother’s Day voicemail for Labor Secretary Marty Walsh’s mom. (MassLive)
Ed Markey, once seen as a distant figure in the cities and towns across the state, is suddenly everywhere, energized after his Senate win over Joe Kennedy III. (Boston Globe)
A new documentary on the opioid crisis features two Boston-based federal prosecutors. (Patriot Ledger)
Noisy dirt bikes illegally riding through Franklin Park and late night music blaring from huge speakers brought into the park are disturbing animals at the Franklin Park Zoo and may even be interfering with animal mating, the zoo director says. (Boston Globe) Globe columnist Marcela Garcia voices sympathy for the dirt bike riders and park partiers and says there’s been more concern for the quality of life of animals at the zoo than the people who use the park.
A group of physicians comes out against the building of a new power plant in Peabody, citing concerns about air pollution. (Salem News)
A federal judge reduces the life sentence of a former Quincy resident who was convicted in 1993 of planting a bomb that killed a Boston police officer. (Patriot Ledger)
A group of Boston clergy officials is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who shot and killed 73-year-old Delois Brown, an innocent victim of gunfire last month while sitting on her Dorchester porch. (Boston Herald)
The federal corruption trial of former Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia is now with the jury after closing arguments from federal prosecutors and the defense. (Herald News)
The Bristol district attorney’s office is investigating a car crash in which a New Bedford city councilor hit two parked cars at 1:30 a.m. (Standard-Times)
Edgar Bowser, who killed a Shrewsbury police officer nearly 50 years ago, dies in prison of complications from COVID-19 three months after he was granted medical parole. A release plan was never approved for him so he remained incarcerated. (MassLive)