It’s the week we’ve all been waiting for! That time when State House leaders meet behind closed doors and pretend to publicly debate their annual budget.
To give an idea of what they’re working off of, the proposed House budget comes in at roughly $49.6 billion. This budget would increase spending by $2.015 billion, totaling 4.23 percent over the current budget, and that’s before they add in all of their pet projects. For some perspective, the state had a surplus of more than $5 billion last fiscal year and is currently more than $2 billion ahead of expectations this fiscal year. This is on top of the more than $2 billion of federal American Rescue Plan Act money yet to be spent.
The Student Opportunity Act of 2019, which reformed and increased school funding, is fully funded after having a rocky start with the start of the pandemic. This is just one example of the fully loaded budget. Local aid is boosted, free school lunches will be funded for another year, and we will now eliminate costs for incarcerated people to make phone calls. You know your state government is rolling in dough when funding cheaper phone calls for prisoners starts to make the list of top priorities.
One thing this budget was missing was any hint at tax relief for the taxpayers who have been overpaying taxes in the billions of dollars range. Even the Governor’s budget included some tax relief measures, as did many other states who were in a similar fiscal situation. A silver lining in this budget is the increase in the state’s rainy-day fund to $6.55 billion, which will put us in decent condition if the looming recession comes to fruition.
MassFiscal’s policy team went through the more than 1,500 amendments filed to see what these lawmakers felt needed to be added. While there were many proposing wasteful spending, there were some more perplexing than others. They tended to fall into a few different categories:
Going “Green” Costs A Lot of Green
Amendment #775- Earmarks $15,000,000 for the Department of Energy Resources for the Massachusetts Offers Rebates for Electronic Vehicles truck grant program.
Amendment #929- Earmarks at least $15,000 for solar charging benches to expand access to outdoor work spaces.
Amendment #1257- Makes the op-in building stretch energy code stricter, eliminating the combustion of fossil fuels for heating etc., requires solar roofs and EV charger wiring, and adds this into the base energy code by 2028.
Amendment #1261- Authorizes municipalities to require all new building permit applications to be all electric, and ban natural gas hookups starting January 2022.
Amendment #1348- Earmarks $20,000,000 for additional staff and administrative capacity to oversee transit electrification
Amendment #1355- Appropriates $125,000 for a “leaf blower trade-in grant” for the Town of Lexington for assistance to landscapers to transition to electric powered lawn equipment.
Amendment #1358- Appropriates $1,500,000 for grants to municipalities and zero-interest loans to landscapers to transition away from gas-powered equipment.
Amendment #1400- Earmarks $56,000 for the purchase of an electric mail delivery truck for the Westford public schools in the town of Westford.
Amendment #1419- Establishes a Zero Carbon Renovation Fund to award grants for zero carbon retrofits, and directs the comptroller to transfer no less than $250,000,000 from the General Fund.
Funny If They Weren’t Using Our Tax Dollars
Amendment #270- Earmarks that not less than $24,500 for the Town of Medway Fire Department for the paramedic pedal program without increasing the line item.
Amendment #295- Earmarks $500,000 for the restoration of the Stone Building in Hemlock Gorge Reservation in Wellesley.
Amendment #314- Earmarks $12,000,000 for water infrastructure improvements at a Golf Course in Weston.
Amendment #480- Earmarks $200,000 for the construction of pickleball courts in Beverly.
Amendment #818- Earmarks $50,000 for Arlington’s Outdoor Water Bottle Filling Station Initiative.
Amendment #847- Earmarks at least $25,000 for the Puppet Showplace Theater’s free outdoor Brookline Bonanza: Puppetry for All! Program.
Amendment #1233- Appropriates $7,060,000 for grants to movie theaters with declines in ticket sales.
Finally, the Good Ideas
Amendment #465- Rebates fuel taxes for farm equipment to farmers through the end of the year.
Amendment #467- Suspends the gas tax on gasoline and diesel fuel through the end of the year.
Amendment #468- Exempts estates valued under $2 million from the estate tax.
Amendment #469- Sets the tax rate for short term capital gains at 5%, as opposed to the current rate of 12%.
Amendment#1039- Suspends tax on gasoline until average price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline is less than $3.70; provision expires 6 months after passage unless extended.
Amendment #1121- Repeals language allowing free calls from and to inmates.
Amendment #1474- Suspends gas tax for 60 days and directs the comptroller to transfer the amount of revenue that would have been collected from the General Fund to the Transportation Fund.
So, as you can see, the House isn’t holding back this year unless you’re talking about tax relief. MassFiscal’s policy team will be monitoring and reporting back on what happens this week. Feel free to follow us on social media, as we will post frequent and immediate updates on our Twitter and Facebook pages. We’ll be sure to let you know what comes out of the smoke-filled rooms and on to the Senate!