House fends off film tax credit change

Many budget amendments debated in back room


WITH NO RECORDED VOTES and many members absent from the chamber, the House retained the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax along with state aid for the movie industry during the start of a budget debate Monday.

In three hours of a sometimes feisty debate where roll call votes were occasionally sought but never granted, the House dispatched all the budget amendments that would alter state revenues by midday Monday.

The House nixed a plan for a permanent meals tax holiday. Democratic members spoke in favor of and then withdrew amendments that would close a “loophole” allowing corporations’ Bay State profits to be shielded in offshore accounts and another that would freeze the income tax rate at 5.15 percent rather than allowing it to continue ratcheting down toward 5 percent.

As the amendments were discussed on the floor, Second Assistant Majority Leader Paul Donato, a Medford Democrat, announced from the rostrum that discussions were being held in a back room to consider amendments in the field of transportation, education, local aid, constitutional offices, and state administration. There was also an oversight hearing conducted by the Transportation Committee on Monday.

Rather than take up amendments one-by-one, the House delegates the Ways and Means Committee to assemble tranches of amendments into so-called “consolidated amendments.” In a procedure resisted by the Republican minority, the consolidated amendments allow the membership to dispatch with whole bunches of proposals – some of which are reflected in the text of the consolidated amendment while others are not. Rank-and-file members lobby for their legislation in the members’ lounge during budget week.

The only amendment adopted during the portion of the budget debate devoted to revenue was a Rep. Brian Mannal proposal to increase the amount of tax credits available annually for conservation land donations. The Barnstable Democrat did not speak in favor of his amendment, which would raise the cap to $5 million, up from $2 million.

The tax credit launched in 2011 has led to the protection of almost 7,700 acres of Bay State land, according to The Nature Conservancy.

Rep. Angelo Scaccia, a Readville Democrat, took Speaker Robert DeLeo and others to task for defending the film tax credit, a form of aid to the movie industry that Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed eliminating to help pay for a proposed increase in the earned-income tax credit.

“Mr. Speaker, I love you, but you’ve got to think twice about this issue. You’ve got to stop protecting the rich and you’ve got to start helping those folks who are not in that ladder of success,” Scaccia said. Scaccia likened the issue to casinos noting that the opposition in the House reversed after DeLeo took over as speaker. At times singing and at other times rhyming – “those big movies that come and go like the winter snow” – Scaccia said, “If I hang around long enough, I’m going to see victory.”

House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano, of Quincy, and Community Development and Small Businesses Chairwoman Ann-Margaret Ferrante, a Gloucester Democrat, argued that analysis of the tax credit’s value had missed ancillary benefits to lawyers and builders. House Revenue Chairman Jay Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat, said the committee is studying the issue and attempting to determine the value of the film tax credit.

Facing some backlash, Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. William Straus filed a budget amendment to make sure a violation of the state’s new headlight requirements will not be considered a moving violation for insurance purposes. The new headlight requirement, originally pushed by Natick Democrat Rep. David Linsky, passed during informal sessions late last year and took effect earlier this month.

Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat, said the revision to the headlight law would be applied retroactively to April 7, 2015.

“We are left with what is a pure public safety statute that encourages in bad weather conditions that require the use of windshield wipers that headlights be on,” Straus said.

Straus’s amendment was included in a bundling of budget amendments concerning transportation, constitutional officers, and state administration assembled by the House Committee on Ways and Means. The consolidated amendment passed 154-0.

The bulk amendment did not include language proposed by South Boston Rep. Nick Collins that would have stripped the recommended five-year moratorium for the MBTA of the “Pacheco Law,” which governs privatization of state services.

House leaders also opted against including an amendment filed by Rep. Jay Barrows, a Mansfield Republican, that would have increased from 20 percent to 25 percent the amount all state employees insured through the Group Insurance Commission must pay toward their health care premiums.

Gov. Charlie Baker first proposed the higher premium contribution in his budget proposal, but House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey said House Democratic leaders rejected that idea because state employees were already being asked to pay more for health insurance through higher co-pays and deductibles imposed by the GIC.