Massachusetts Democrats Keen on Major Tax Increases, But Maybe Not This Year

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By Chris Lisinski

Democratic leaders in both branches are now saying it’s unlikely the Massachusetts Legislature will pursue substantial new revenue proposals as part of next fiscal year’s state budget, with Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman Michael Rodrigues on Tuesday joining House Speaker Robert DeLeo in suggesting that those discussions should be postponed until later in the year.

DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said Monday that the House’s fiscal year 2020 budget set to be introduced this week would not include significant new taxes or fees and that “further action” on revenue proposals would come instead later this year. Rodrigues echoed that approach on Tuesday, saying he is “not anxious to jump into the revenue discussion at this time” — even as Senate President Karen Spilka said the decision has not been made.

“We’re not going to have time to get it done for this budget,” Rodrigues (D-Westport) told State House News Service on Tuesday. “We’re just not going to pull taxes out of thin air and increase them. We really need a holistic approach at taxes, at our tax code. There won’t be any major changes to the tax code in the budget. We just don’t have time.”

Rodrigues, like DeLeo, left open the possibility that lawmakers could take up a major revenue debate outside of the budget process. He noted the Senate will convene a working group to study the state’s tax code, but warned it could be “at least a year, if not longer” before that effort yields any actionable suggestions.

Lawmakers have called for a wide range of new taxes and fees to generate funding for transportation, education, and other items, particularly after a ballot question that would have taxed income above $1 million at a higher rate was invalidated by a court last year.

The House Ways and Means Committee plans to release its budget on Wednesday, queueing up debate for later in the month. The Senate is slated to take up the matter in May.

Governor Charlie Baker included several new taxes in his budget, such as a 15 percent tax on opioid manufacturers and an excise tax on e-cigarettes and vaping products. The Wednesday budget release will show whether House leaders agree with him.

Rodrigues said Baker’s proposals will still be considered in the Senate, although he did not indicate whether he supported them, and he acknowledged that senators may file revenue-generating amendments if the budget comes to them as a “money bill.”

“We’ll take them as we come,” he said. “We haven’t made that decision. We tend to deal with our budget collectively and as a group. We haven’t even thought about that, haven’t had that discussion as a Senate on how we’re going to handle various amendment proposals.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the Senate president said she had not yet decided on a timeline for considering additional revenues.

“We will decide when I meet with the senators as to what our approach is,” Spilka (D-Ashland) said.

Spilka did, however, tout the working group, which will be chaired by state Senator Adam Hinds (D-Pittsfield). In remarks at the 495/MetroWest Partnership’s annual advocacy day, she said the effort will explore potentially significant updates to a tax code that has not received scrutiny in years.

“Our personal taxes, our businesses, haven’t been looked at in a comprehensive way in decades,” Spilka said. “In fact, I can’t find when it was truly last really looked at. I believe we can do a better way of collecting taxes in a fair, more progressive way that creates a 21st-century framework where innovative, technology-driven businesses can develop and thrive — we clearly want them to thrive — but that captures new revenue.”