By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service
Posted Feb 18, 2019, at 4:15 PM
BOSTON - House Democrats selected sixth-term Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, who worked for and then succeeded former House Speaker Sal DiMasi, to chair the influential Ways and Means Committee on Thursday, elevating a younger lawmaker favored by the party’s leadership.
Michlewitz, 40, takes the top spot on the House committee responsible for the state budget after chairing the Joint Committee on Financial Services for two terms. In an interview, he said he was “ready to get to work.”
“Keeping the Massachusetts economy strong is my number one priority,” he said. “We’re very blessed and lucky to have a very diverse economy here in Massachusetts, but one thing in the House that I’m very proud of that we’ve done is to lead the way on the different emerging segments of the economy and not only fostering that growth but making sure that we protect the consumer as well.”
A native of Boston’s North End, Michlewitz graduated from Northeastern University and then Suffolk University’s MBA program. He also worked in politics as an aide to DiMasi before running for office himself.
In 2009, DiMasi resigned amid an ethics probe shortly before he was indicted on federal fraud charges. Michlewtiz won the special election later that year to fill DiMasi’s 3rd Suffolk District seat, and he has served in the House since then.
Several of Michlewitz’s colleagues praised his promotion Thursday. Rep. Jennifer Benson, who joined the House in the same freshman class as Michlewitz, said she was “really excited” by the news.
“We see eye to eye on so many things, and he has so much experience with bills and the major issues he’s worked on,” Benson said. “I think he’s a great person for the job.”
Michlewitz is part of the Legislature’s younger generation, but he already has almost a decade in office and close connections to Democratic leadership. During a rules debate last month, he spoke out against a failed proposal to implement term limits on the House speaker.
The memory of that move did not fade for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, which put out a press release Thursday criticizing Michlewitz’s promotion.
“Speaker DeLeo’s choice of Rep. Michlewitz as the next chairman of the Ways and Means Committee means Beacon Bill will continue to be an institution wrapped in secrecy,” Fiscal Alliance spokesman Paul Craney said. “Just a few days ago, Rep. Michlewitz sided with the Speaker on every vote against a bipartisan group of lawmakers on the important rules debate as reform-minded members tried to bring more transparency to the statehouse.”
In recent years, Michlewitz has played a key role in regulating fast-growing gig economy companies. He wrote legislation in 2016 that created new restrictions on rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft, implementing fees to fund licensing, background checks and regular safety inspections. Michlewitz also led negotiations on an agreement last year to begin taxing short-term rentals, including those on platforms such as Airbnb.
“Aaron is very knowledgeable,” said Rep. Frank Moran (D-Lawrence). “I think he’s going to do well. He has a lot of institutional knowledge, and I think he’s going to do a good job overall.”
As Ways and Means chair, Michlewitz will be responsible for the state’s budget, which Gov. Charlie Baker proposed at $42.7 billion for fiscal year 2020. Challenges are already building, though: after two straight months of less-than-expected revenues, the state faces a $403 million revenue gap.
Like Sen. Michael Rodrigues, who was appointed chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Michlewitz did not say Thursday whether he supported or opposed new taxes to create further revenues.
“We’re going to have to take a look at everything and that’s going to come with time,” he said. “We have the next 10 weeks here to go through the budget process and I think we’re going to make sure we’re taking a look at all options on the table.”