Big money and unfinished Beacon Hill business
No revenue constraints for now; setting priorities is key
THE LEGISLATURE PASSED a slew of bills at the end of the session, but there was still a lot of unfinished business, according to two Massachusetts policy analysts who compared notes on The Codcast.
Evan Horowitz, executive director of the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University and the host of this week’s podcast, said money wasn’t the problem. Between federal aid and a huge state surplus, Horowitz said, Massachusetts had billions of dollars in extra cash.
“This session has been marked in a way quite different from earlier legislative sessions by the fact that there wasn’t a clear revenue constraint. That wasn’t what was stopping legislators from doing things,” he said.
Marie-Frances Rivera, president of the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, said the problem was setting priorities.
“There are big things that we need to do and I think that part of the reason why there was such chaos at the end of the session is because people are pretty shortsighted about what’s happening right now and aren’t really looking at the long term and what we’re trying to build,” Rivera said.
She said lawmakers need to get focused and address the state’s challenges in a more straightforward way. She suggested the Legislature designate specific months of the year to address key problems – for example, February for early child care and education and March for the MBTA.
“We need to pace ourselves and commit to meeting deadlines,” she said. “We’re not really having the constructive conversations that we need to have to really solve these issues.”
Rivera also urges caution on the tax cap, a voter-passed law from 1986 that was triggered this year and requires $2.9 billion in excess tax collections to be returned to taxpayers. Rivera says some of the money would go back to people who could really use it, but a lot of the money would go back to people who don’t really need it.
“There are lots of things we could do with that money,” she said, suggesting the law could be tweaked to steer the money toward addressing some of the state’s long-term problems.
Rivera also isn’t backing away from her support for a constitutional amendment imposing a tax surcharge on income over $1 million. The so-called millionaire tax, which comes before voters in November, is expected to add $1.3 billion to $2 billion a year to state coffers.
“Perhaps we have a surplus on the books right now, in this fiscal year, but we have to look at what’s the 10-year plan, what’s the 20-year plan. Our infrastructure is crumbling, right, so what revenue streams are we putting in place that are fair?” she asks.
Horowitz said he is worried about Beacon Hill’s ability to spend the money wisely. “Given what we saw this session about how legislators use money when they have it, what makes you confident that they will use the millionaire tax revenue in the ways that you are laying out?” he asked.
“To be totally honest, I’m not confident,” Rivera said.
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Tight primary races: Andrea Campbell and Chris Dempsey open slight leads in the Democratic primary races for attorney general and auditor, according to a new tracking poll, but the ranks for the undecided voters are large. The poll was done by the center-left group Priorities for Progress, whose organizers are supporting Campbell. Read more.
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Arroyo files show ‘no crime committed’: Suffolk County DA candidate Ricardo Arroyo claims vindication from police records released on Friday, but his rival, current DA Kevin Hayden, says the materials prove very little. Arroyo also released only a portion of the files he obtained through a court order. Read more.
Joint effort: Five New England states band together to seek solutions for bringing electricity from offshore wind farms ashore. Read more.
DPU oversight hearing: Beacon Hill lawmakers plan an oversight hearing on the Department of Public Utilities, which is coming under fire for doing a poor job watchdogging safety issues at the MBTA. Read more.
Call for master plan: Ann Kelleher and Diane Valle of the Pier 5 Association say planning development piecemeal in Charlestown isn’t working. A master plan is needed, they say. Read more.
Voters need more information: With so many voters in the dark about candidates, Danielle Allen of Harvard, Liam Kerr of Priorities for Progress, and advisor John Griffin say our democratic institutions are failing voters. Read more.
A Labor Day message: Steven Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, says the future of work is not for sale. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu wants to streamline cannabis permitting procedures, but some neighborhood groups and city councilors are pushing back on the idea. (Boston Globe)
Wu also announced the formation of a new city office to help with job training and child care. (WBUR)
Liz Truss takes office as the new prime minister of Great Britain. (New York Times)
Vice President Harris touts the Biden administration’s pro-union policies in a Labor Day speech in Boston. (Boston Globe)
A federal judge will appoint a special master to review records seized from former president Donald Trump’s home to determine if any of them are protected by attorney-client privilege. (Washington Post)
The Associated Press offers a roundup of the governor’s race and other contests on today’s ballot.
The Telegram & Gazette publishes transcripts of its interviews with state Senate candidates Worcester Mayor Joe Petty and YWCA executive Robyn Kennedy.
Activists prepare for a ballot fight to maintain a new law granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. (Standard-Times)
A New Bedford woman who lost her home and $200,000 in equity due to $10,000 in unpaid property taxes reached an $85,000 settlement with New Bedford and real estate development company Tallage Davis. (Standard-Times) CommonWealth wrote about the lawsuit when it was filed.
In her annual Labor Day report, Attorney General Maura Healey reports leveling $11.8 million in fines and restitution against companies for violations of wage and hour and other worker protection laws. (MassLive)
Demand for Boston office space is 34 percent below pre-pandemic levels. (Boston Globe)
CVS offers $8 billion for a company that employs doctors who make house calls. (New York Times)
A judge rules that a protester was wrongly arrested outside Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s home for violating a new city ordinance and should instead have been given a civil citation. (Boston Herald)PASSINGS
John Durkin, the Worcester school superintendent for more than a decade, dies at 90. (Telegram & Gazette)