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Poll shows Massachusetts residents want tax relief

Massachusetts House Speaker Ronald Mariano addressed his colleagues Wednesday, December 30, 2020, after being elected leader of the House.
Sam Doran
State House News Service
Massachusetts House Speaker Ronald Mariano addressed his colleagues, after being elected leader of the House in this archive image from 2020.

How should Massachusetts spend any extra cash? Tax cuts or expanded programs?

A new online poll found three quarters of Massachusetts residents wanted any extra tax revenue the state gets to be used on tax relief. Only a quarter of respondents instead wanted to then spend that money to expand state programs. The group Priorities for Progress conducted the pollin mid-March, talking to 500 likely voters. Chris Lisinski from the State House News Service says as lawmakers draft their budget, polls like this aren’t top of the radar.

Chris Lisinski, State House News Service: But it does certainly line up with the arguments that lawmakers are hearing from advocates they meet with and constituents they meet with. I think this is just another data point, reinforcing an approach we're kind of already seeing on Beacon Hill as both Governor Healey and now the House get ready to dive back into the topic of tax relief.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Procedurally, Chris, once that House proposal is released, what follows?

The House will take some time to let that sit out in public, let people get a sense of it and have representatives file amendments and then approve it. And then we start the waiting game of watching the Senate and seeing what kind of vision for tax relief they have over there. The Senate will approve its version. We'll have a long negotiation process between the two branches to try and nail down a final package the legislature, operating as one body, will send to Healey. And then it's... The ball's back in her court to see which items she'll support, which items she'll try and change, and perhaps anything she wants to veto.

Hundreds of thousands of families who get food aid through the Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP have gotten an extra paymentof at least $38 last week. That's not as much as under a federal COVID-era boost, but it is the first of three so-called 'off ramp' payments the state is paying for. Is there any chance the state will continue these added benefits beyond the three months, especially given food prices remaining so high?

I would say it seems unlikely at this point. Not a certain no. But, you know, legislative leaders have been talking about what a challenge it is to use state dollars to replace all of these expanded pandemic aid programs the federal government rolled out. And when you think about the price tag, this is something like $130 million for only three months for only 40% of the extra benefit the federal government had been providing. You know, I think that there's going to be a lot of caution from state lawmakers about where they direct resources to fill in federal gaps.

Your colleague Sam Drysdale reported last week on Governor Healey's free Community College proposal for adults, which has strong support from House and Senate leaders. Healey wants to budget the program at $20 million, but some wonder if that'll be enough. What's the latest here?

This is a program the Healey administration has specifically described as a last dollar program. So, ensuring that students will not be left without coverage, will not face costs themselves, but that doesn't mean that this MassReconnect program would need to cover the full tuition and fees cost for every single student. The administration told my colleague Sam Drysdale that some students might only need $5 per month from MassReconnect after scholarships and need based aid they already receive. Others might need $1,000 per month. So, that's where the $20 million estimate is. It's all costs currently not met for age 25 and older students who are enrolled in community college.

So, it sounds like they'd be requiring the use of that FAFSA form.

Yes, absolutely. Students will need to complete the FAFSA form to see what aid they can get from the federal government or other state aid. And then this new proposed program Governor Healey wants to roll out would plug in all of the other gaps that remain after those other sources of dollars.

It's important to note that Healey's proposal would give that free community college to people over age 25. But Senate President Karen Spilka is looking to also include younger adults as well. Are others on board with that expansion?

As far as we know, that seems to be a Senate specific priority right now. House leaders have signaled that they are on board with Healey's vision to do age 25 and older free community college or last dollar free community college. So this could emerge as a really significant point of difference between the two branches as they set. To reconcile a budget bill this year.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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