Rosenberg and DeLeo at odds — again

Differ on whether Senate can take up tax measures

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

ANOTHER RIFT has opened between the House and Senate, this time over whether senators can consider changes in tax policy when they debate their annual state budget proposal.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said last week that he was certain the House opened the door to tax proposals last week when it adopted an amendment to its fiscal 2016 budget bill increasing the cap on a tax credit for conservation land. Rosenberg said the tax credit provision meant the budget qualified as a so-called money bill. Money bills must originate in the House but, once passed, head to the Senate where senators are free to push their own tax and revenue measures..

House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Monday said he has a different interpretation.

“I don’t think it’s a revenue bill. No, I would disagree. I think a revenue bill involves that where, very simply, you’re talking about the increasing of revenue and I don’t think the budget that we did did that at all. So I feel clear that it’s not a revenue bill,” DeLeo told reporters, standing next to Gov. Charlie Baker after the two met with Rosenberg for their weekly meeting.

Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka said Monday that members of the Senate will be free to file amendments proposing tax decreases or increases, new tax credits, and the elimination of existing credits once the budget gets filed next week. She wouldn’t say whether the Ways and Means Committee’s proposal will include any tax policy changes.

Asked how he might receive tax changes in a state budget after promising not to raise new revenues, Baker told reporters he remains committed to that promise.

“I don’t like to speak to hypotheticals because a lot can happen between now and the time the combo platter finds its way back to our office, but what I would say is we made a commitment to the voters of Massachusetts that we weren’t going to raise taxes and we intend to honor that,” Baker said.

The governor filed separate legislation alongside his budget bill in March to double the earned income tax credit for low-income earners, and recommended paying for the increase by phasing out the controversial film tax credit for movie productions.

Sen. Benjamin Downing, a Democrat from Pittsfield, said last week he is considering filing an amendment to increase the earned income tax credit while freezing the current 5.15 percent income tax rate, which could fall in future years to 5 percent if economic triggers are hit.

Baker said he’s hopeful the Legislature will act on his earned income tax credit proposal “separate and apart from the budget process,” and believes the income tax should continue to fall if the requisite triggers are met.

DeLeo declined to speculate what might happen in conference negotiations with the Senate if broader tax changes are made in the Senate’s version of the budget.

“Let’s see what down the road means, what happens,” DeLeo said.

House and Senate leaders have been able to agree on numerous budget bills this year but the session has gotten off to a slow start largely due to a weeks-long disagreement over rules changes governing the flow of bills.