Mass. tax collections continue to roll along  

DESPITE ALL THE gloom and doom among budget officials on Beacon Hill, Massachusetts tax collections continue to roll along surprisingly well.

The state Department of Revenue said on Monday that tax revenues in September were down 1.4 percent compared to the same month last year, but overall through the first three months of fiscal 2021 revenues were up 1 percent to $7.27 billion.

In a cryptic press release, the Department of Revenue said income taxes withheld from paychecks and meals taxes were down, while sales taxes, motor vehicle sales taxes, and corporate and business taxes were up. The press release said September typically accounts for 10 percent of the state’s annual revenue, although it cautioned that the numbers this September were probably lower than usual because the due date for payments of certain sales, meals, and room occupancy taxes had been put off until May.

The growth in tax revenue during the first quarter of the year is fairly amazing, given the coronavirus pandemic, the shutdown of much of the state and national economy, and the resulting high unemployment.

The new numbers set an interesting stage for state officials and economists, who are expected to gather via Zoom on Wednesday to develop a consensus revenue forecast for the remainder of the fiscal year. The House and Senate will then get to work on a budget for the year, close to four months after the start of the fiscal year. (The state has been operating under a temporary budget using roughly the same level of spending as last year.) 

House and Senate lawmakers have been projecting a budget shortfall of $4 billion to $6 billion this fiscal year. House Speaker Robert DeLeo was the latest state leader to make that forecast, urging Democrats and Republicans in Washington to come together and pass another stimulus package.

“Without the assistance from Washington, which hasn’t been forthcoming so far, we’re very concerned,” DeLeo said. 

What none of the state leaders has fully explained is how the shortfall projection can be so high if revenue numbers are keeping pace with last year. The possible answer: Either the revenue numbers are surprising everyone, or spending during the pandemic is running far above what it was last year.

Gov. Charlie Baker has provided the most detailed explanation so far, saying he expects the state to “work our way through” the current fiscal year, presumably by tapping some of the state’s $3.5 billion rainy day fund.  Baker has warned that fiscal 2022, which doesn’t start until July 2021, will be the real problem. He has said more funding from Washington will be needed if the state is to weather shortfalls expected then.

BRUCE MOHL

FROM COMMONWEALTH

At the MBTA: Transit authority eyeing service cuts and budget workarounds to deal with a projected budget shortfall next year of $300 to $600 million….Attention riders: Expect delays of at least a year on the full delivery of new Red and Orange Line cars due to problems at the Chinese manufacturer’s assembly plant in Springfield….The MBTA, the state’s largest consumer of electricity, is embracing renewable energy with a three-year procurement for 70 percent of the transit authority’s power needs.

Medical parole for prisoners doesn’t mean automatic release, according to cases challenging the delays before the Supreme Judicial Court. 

Kevin O’Connor tries to pull off a high wire act in his first and only debate with Sen. Ed Markey — portraying himself as both a Charlie Baker and Donald Trump Republican. 

Opinion: The head of the state’s police chiefs association tells a pediatrician to stay in her own lane on the issue of qualified immunity.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

BEACON HILL

A federal judge says he’s not ready to rule yet on a lawsuit challenging Gov. Charlie Baker’s use of the state Civil Defense Act to invoke emergency orders to curtail coronavirus. (Boston Herald)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

The head of the police union in Williamstown decries hostile attitudes toward members of the force. (Berkshire Eagle)

Quincy city councilors approve a $3.6 million public safety radio system for the city’s police department. (Patriot Ledger) 

With Halloween approaching, Salem is getting more crowded with visitors than city officials would like. (The Salem News)

Four out of five members of the Worcester Board of Health vote “no confidence” in their chair, Edith Claros, saying she has been hostile and disrespectful. The disagreement stems from recent discussions about racial bias in policing. (Telegram & Gazette)

A  spike in COVID-19 cases in Framingham, a community designated as high risk, prompts city officials to start issuing fines for gatherings and to scale back in-person learning. (MetroWest Daily News

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

New guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns the coronavirus can be spread via airborne particles that can linger in the air for minutes or even hours. (NPR) USA Today explains the agency had previously changed course several times on the matter. 

Hundreds rally against Gov. Charlie Baker’s mandate requiring school-age children to get the flu shot. (MassLive)

IMMIGRATION

After ICE agents apprehended a Lynn man, a group of about 40 residents surrounded the vehicle until the agents released the man.  (Daily Item)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A presumably infectious President Trump, hours after tweeting that Americans should not fear COVID-19, returned to the White House where he promptly ripped his mask off for cameras on a balcony before walking inside. (New York Times) His pronouncements about the virus come as Trump receives access to a level of medical care few could imagine. (Boston Globe

ELECTIONS

Secretary of State Bill Galvin urges voters not to delay sending in their mail-in ballots for the presidential election. (The Salem News) More than 1.6 million Massachusetts voters have applied to vote by mail, Galvin says. (MassLive)

MassLive looks at five top takeaways from last night’s debate between US Sen. Ed Markey and his GOP challenger Kevin O’Connor. 

The two Boston city councilors who have declared runs for mayor, Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu, touted their fundraising success in September. (Boston Herald) Meanwhile, Mayor Marty Walsh has upped his spending on campaign consultants, a likely sign that he will be seeking a third term, despite no official declaration yet. (Boston Globe

ARTS/CULTURE

The Boston Symphony Orchestra and conductor Andris Nelsons have agreed on a three-year contract extension. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

The state Department of Transportation is seeking more public comment on the Cape Cod Rail Trail extension, a project bringing a bike path westward from Yarmouth into Barnstable. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan is questioning whether disgraced Amherst drug lab technician Sonja Farak may also have engaged in misconduct at the Hinton state lab in Boston. (Boston Herald

The first jury trial since COVID-19 hit takes place at US District Court in Springfield, amid lots of plexiglass, masks, and other precautions. (MassLive)

An attorney for the family of Malcolm Gracia spent Sunday going over evidence in the 2012 fatal shooting of the 15 year-old by New Bedford police in a public presentation. (Standard-Times)

The Supreme Judicial Court says a Level 3 sex offender who works as a self-employed home contractor does not have to report to the state database the address of each home where he’s hired to do work. (Boston Globe)

Officials at the Essex County sheriff’s office say 137 prisoners and 31 staff and vendors tested positive for COVID-19. (WBUR)

MEDIA

Los Angeles Times executive editor Norman Pearlstein is preparing to step down. (Los Angeles Times)