Massachusetts Speaker DeLeo Says It’s “Too Early” To Rule Out Tax Increase In State Budget

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By Katie Lannan

BOSTON –With the first crack at next year’s budget — the version written by Gov. Charlie Baker — due in 16 days, it’s still too soon to decide if new taxes should be on the table, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said Monday.

“Much too early to discuss that at all,” DeLeo said when asked about the possibility of new taxes or tax hikes in fiscal 2019.

Two years ago, DeLeo and his then-Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey offered an earlier guarantee of no tax increases in the fiscal 2017 budget, ruling them out in December 2015.

Baker has until Jan. 24 to file his fiscal 2019 budget proposal. The House Ways and Means Committee, newly helmed by Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez of Jamaica Plain, will put forward its own version next, followed by the Senate.

Tax collections midway through fiscal 2018 are shattering benchmarks by $728 million, and two major tax policy questions are on track for votes in November – a reduction in the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent and a surtax of 4 percentage points on household income above $1 million.

Speaking to reporters after meeting privately with Gov. Charlie Baker and Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler, DeLeo pointed to the budget and two other major pending pieces of legislation as his priorities as the two-year legislative session inches into its second year.

Chandler, who joined DeLeo and Baker for her first leadership meeting since taking the reins of the Senate last month, added in a priority of her own as the speaker was ticking off the items on his to-do list.

“I think probably some of the major items that we’ll be taking a look at will be the criminal justice legislation, the health care legislation — ” DeLeo said, referencing two bills that have already cleared the Senate.

“Housing,” Chandler interjected.

“Housing,” DeLeo continued. “Believe it or not, we’re getting ready fairly soon to start the budget debate. I know the governor later on this month will be coming out with his budget, and then it will be up to the House and then obviously on to the Senate, so I think those are probably three of the major items that we’ll be taking up.”

Last week, presiding over the first formal Senate session of 2018, Chandler said senators would “fight for the future of the Massachusetts family,” in part by “ensuring that the spectrum of housing in Massachusetts does not shut anybody out.”

The Senate passed a sweeping health care bill in November, and Health Care Financing Committee House Chairman Peter Kocot has said he’s been working on a bill for release early this year.

Both branches last year passed hefty criminal justice reform packages that, among other measures, eliminate some mandatory minimum sentences. A six-member House-Senate conference committee kicked off closed-door negotiation on the differing bills on Dec. 18.

Declining to give a timeframe for a compromise, DeLeo said he hoped a final bill could be sent to Baker “as soon as possible.”

“I agree with that one,” Chandler said, prompting a positive response from DeLeo.

“Good,” DeLeo said. “Good, good.”