Rooney looking for 3 Rs in tax discussions

Says business open to new revenues, but wants reform, too

A KEY MASSACHUSETTS business leader says there is an openness to raising taxes and fees this year, but only if certain conditions are met.

“The sentiment in the business community is that there be three Rs – revenue, reform, and results,” said James Rooney, the president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. “We don’t want to get into conversations – and I’ll use the millionaire’s tax as an example – in which it’s just an infusion of cash with nothing attached – no reforms, no results, just more money for governance. That’s an emerging philosophy within the business community – that regardless of whether it’s that proposal or a user-based fee like a gas tax type of thing, if we’re going to support it, we want the other two Rs.”

Rooney is a member of a 21-member revenue working group announced by Senate President Karen Spilka on Tuesday, charged with recommending ways to reform and simplify the state tax code to reflect the changing economy. Rooney is also on a 26-member business group, which formed at the behest of House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who has appealed to the business community to get behind some sort of transportation plan. DeLeo has said “it’s all on the table” when it comes to what’s being discussed, including new revenues.

Both groups have given themselves through the end of 2020 to finish their work, but it appears momentum may be building for quicker action on some measures. House leaders during Monday’s budget deliberations convinced members to put off revenue-raising amendments until later this year when the House schedules a session devoted solely to new revenues.

Spilka said the work of her chamber’s revenue working group doesn’t preclude moving on some tax measures sooner.

“There is definitely a sense of urgency with education reform and transportation reform,” Spilka said, adding that climate change and housing could also be tossed into the mix.

The Senate group includes three Senate members (Democrats Adam Hinds and Will Brownsberger and Republican Ryan Fattman), officials from union and business groups, Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, and tax policy experts such as Peter Enrich of Northeastern, Eileen McAnneny of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, Marie-Frances Rivera of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, and David Sullivan, who currently works for the national Democratic Party but has an extensive background in tax and policy matters on Beacon Hill.

The House group consists of business groups only, and is heavily concentrated among chambers of commerce across the state.

Rooney said the business community generally prefers user-based fees. But he says that rule is not hard and fast. He gave as an example the community preservation act, which combines municipal surcharges on property tax bills with deed excise taxes collected by the state to finance investments in four areas, one of which is affordable housing.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Rooney said the community preservation act is something that the business community would normally oppose, but a review found the money going in was generating a significant number of housing starts in communities.

“It wasn’t just a pile of money that went into the housing department and you never know what happened to it,” he said.