Apparent Clear Field for Rick Green in GOP Congressional Nomination

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By Matt Murphy

BOSTON — .A white Christmas followed by an arctic freeze was enough to keep newsmakers quiet this mid-holiday week like bears cozy in their dens, catching a few final Zzzzz before the new year begins.

Speaker Pro Tempore Pat Haddad projected a “very, very busy winter and spring, and summer,” but only time will tell how productive lawmakers will be in the second, abbreviated year of the two-year session that begins next Wednesday and runs through July.

The “aggressive agenda” in the Legislature? Health care, criminal justice and short-term rental taxation make most lists. But what about alcohol law reform?

A task force met its end-of-year deadline to file a lengthy report reviewing the state’s post-Prohibition liquor laws, and made a number of recommendations, from increasing the excise tax to lifting the cap on liquor licenses for grocery stores and allowing hard cider to get a little harder.

It’s unclear how seriously the Legislature will take the report, but it will help that the task force did not recommend taking control of liquor licenses away from the General Court and giving it back to cities and towns. Lawmakers seem to enjoy the modicum of power they hold over local alcohol licensing.

Treasurer Deb Goldberg also will probably lean on the group’s finding when she makes her annual budget request, able to point to a recommendation that the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission deserves a larger budget and more staff to do its job.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, according to a senior aide, will outline his goals for 2018 in late January, and until then the work around the State House is largely going on behind closed doors.

The administration is in full budget-development mode, and committee chairs in the House and Senate are combing through stacks of legislation that must be given a thumbs up or down by early February under the new legislative rules this session.

That will be of no concern to Transportation Committee chairman Senator Thomas McGee, however, who leaves the State House next week to become the mayor of Lynn. State Representative Paul Heroux also finally submitted his official letter of resignation this week as he prepares to take charge of city hall in Attleboro next week. The formal resignation will allow the House to schedule a special election for the Attleboro seat, while in the special election race for McGee’s seat it appears that Lynn state Representative Brendan Crighton will have no challengers on the North Shore.

Property owners, meanwhile, were trying to figure out whether they should bite the tax bit now before the calendar turns.

In high-priced communities around the country, homeowners were lining up to pay their property taxes for next year early, hoping that they would be able to take full advantage of a tax deduction that will be capped at $10,000 beginning January 1.

The speed with which Congress rushed through the tax reform bill ahead of the holidays caught many tax assessors flat-footed, uncertain of what to tell residents wondering how to maximize their tax benefit.

U.S. Representative Richard Neal, a state’s senior House member, requested an advisory from the IRS, which determined that property tax payments made in 2017 that exceed the cap would be deductible, but only if the city or town had officially assessed the property this year.

That means homeowners who pay in installments can push up their payment schedule to take advantage of the old rules, but can’t necessarily pay an estimated tax for 2018-2019 and expect to reap the same tax benefits they have in recent years.

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin also cautioned self-employed Bay Staters to think through their financial decisions despite the end-of-year time crunch amid a mini-rush to set up limited liability corporations. The new tax law includes benefits for so-called “pass through” entities such as LLCs, but not all professions will be able to capitalize on the new rules, he said.

With tax breaks getting a major overhaul, state legislators beat a December 31 deadline to make sure insurance discounts that many residents use wouldn’t expire. The House and Senate, as they have for years, suspended a rule that would have required companies and associations that offer group insurance discounts to give up the benefit if at least 35 percent of its members were not enrolled.

The Ways and Means Committee also advanced a bill that would require new and student drivers to display a decal on their vehicles identifying themselves as such in an effort to improve road safety. While it’s unclear when the decal bill might get a vote, roll call or otherwise, the House has approved the use of student-driver markers in the past, but the idea petered out in the Senate last session.

Speaking of petering out, that’s what happened to the Congressional candidacies of Scott Gunderson of Groton and Lou Marino or Fitchburg once Rick Green got into the race for the Third District. Green has essentially cleared the Republican field after Gunderson endorsed the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance founder this week and Marino said he’s looking at the First District seat – held by Neal – instead.

The same cannot be said of anyone on the Democratic side where the candidate tally is now up to 13.

The landscape may be looking bleak these days, but not only are the days actually getting longer, but the state is getting greener.

The Baker administration anointed 25 more communities as “green communities” this week, recognizing a commitment to reduce municipal energy consumption by 20 percent each. The designation also makes them eligible for grants that the state doles out to help them reach their energy goals.

A total of 210 cities and towns are now “green,” making the 141 communities that are not a shrinking minority almost 10 years after the Green Communities Act became law.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Federal tax reform leaves residents scrambling before New Year to understand the perks and pitfalls.

SONG OF THE WEEK: We’re on to Pasadena.