Last night was quite the night for the State House & Senate. Despite having almost two years to do their job, legislators waited until the last minute on major bills with topics ranging from economic development and health care to education funding. Here are some highlights of the bills that were passed:
The Environmental Bond Bill (H4835)
The final bill added another $1B in earmarks from its original House and Senate versions, sending a $2.4B bond bill to the governor’s desk. This bill was loaded with pork projects like splash pads, skate parks, and golf courses. In a first in the nation push, it also calls on state agencies and communities to asses their vulnerability risk to natural disasters in order to plan for the future effects of global warming. Something tells me they should start prioritizing the exorbitant amount of debt they are leaving to future generations of this state with bond bills like this one rather than how the tiny state of MA plays into what they call a global crisis.
The Economic Development Bill
Going along with the trend of sneaking in as many earmarks as possible, the Economic Development bill was held until the final hours of formal session early Wednesday morning. This bill ended up doubling in cost, from a $600 million version to a $1.15 billion version once the closed-door conference committee had their way with it. The carrot at the end of the stick on this bill was the 2018 tax holiday weekend Aug. 11-12th. Although previous legislation recently set in place an annual sales tax holiday, it conveniently left out this year’s holiday. One positive takeaway was that a provision to allow the creation of regional tax districts to implement new taxes to pay for specific transportation-related projects was left out of the final version. This would have opened a whole new can of worms.
Welfare Expansion Bill (H4823)
The two branches ended up passing a bill (H4823) that would lift a cap on state welfare benefits while not accepting an amendment by the governor that would change how transitional aid is calculated. Baker specifically requested that SSI benefits (which have no work requirements) be factored into overall income the same way disability benefits and veterans benefits are. The House rejected this amendment on a party line with only Democrats Jim Dwyer and Colleen Garry voting to uphold it while the Senate passed it on party lines. In true liberal progressive fashion, Cambridge Rep. Marjorie Decker pointed out that the amendment “was never about saving money. This was always about punishing women of limited means.”
Clean Energy Bill (H4857)
A conference committee report was passed requiring an uptick in the renewable energy portfolio standard (REPS) for retail electricity suppliers to increase the number of kilowatt hours that have to be supplied from Class I renewable energy from 1% of sales starting in 2019 to 2% of sales each after 2029. That should be easy with zero-carbon emission hydropower on the way, but somehow, hydropower doesn’t count as renewable energy to meet these standards under the REPS. On the upside, this version of the bill left out a provision found in the Senate version that would ban single-use plastic bags in the state.
Now that you’re sufficiently saddened, we will give you the good news. The lurking Health Care reform bills that promised to raise premiums and implement provisions guaranteed to raise overall costs went nowhere and died a quiet death. Although it would have been common sense for the legislature to address the out of control cost of MassHealth, the very reason they had to implement the EMAC tax on businesses earlier this session, that was never going to happen with the sad versions of this bill that were revealed in the House and Senate. This is an issue that we will continue to push at the next session.
The Senate tried to pull a fast one by sneaking in a pro-union bill (S2644) as a response to the Supreme Court Janus decision. That decision prohibits public sector unions from collecting agency fees on workers who don’t want to be in the union. What this bill would do is allow unions to not represent those who don’t pay the agency fees, and would require the unions be given a list of employees home addresses, phone numbers, as well as the opportunity to meet with all new hires within a reasonable time frame after being hired. If the union was so great to join, shouldn’t the employees be coming to them rather than being legally stalked? Luckily the house didn’t take it up and let it die.
Another win was letting legislation calling for new “Community Benefit Districts” (H4546) die. This sneaky legislation allowed local districts to be formed to implement new taxes to pay for local projects. This was taxation without representation at its worst and found opposition on both sides of the aisle when it came up in the House and Senate recently, yet passed both chambers. No compromise bill was found.
Short Term Rentals (H4841)
A final conference committee bill on taxing short term rentals (H4841) passed both chambers and allowed for up to 17.5% tax on rentals through companies like Airbnb. It also would call for a public directory of those who rent their house (should it be home). The state hotel tax would apply to rentals and also allow for additional municipal taxes to be levied, calling for 35% of those revenues to go towards affordable housing projects. This bill is now on the governor’s desk and rumor has it that he will try to add on an amendment that would eliminate those renting their house for a certain amount of days from complying with these new provisions. A potential 17.5% tax on innovation websites like Airbnb is nothing more than a money grab for politicians who want to spend more, and the cost will just be passed onto Massachusetts residents. We hope the governor will veto the bill, it's not worth passing. We'll keep you posted as we hear more...