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Tax relief package makes it to Gov. Healey's desk for review

Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka (center) gives a pat on the shoulder to House Speaker Ronald Mariano, while the speaker is greeted by Senate Chief Court Officer Paul Dooley (right), as top Democrats file into a press conference to announce the details of their compromise tax relief package in this image from 9/26/23.
State House News Service
Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka (center) gives a pat on the shoulder to House Speaker Ronald Mariano, while the speaker is greeted by Senate Chief Court Officer Paul Dooley (right), as top Democrats file into a press conference to announce the details of their compromise tax relief package in this image from 9/26/23.

The big news last week was that the Massachusetts House and Senate overwhelmingly approved a tax relief and reform agreement that was nearly two years in the making. Gov. Maura Healey told the press she was looking forward to reviewing the details and she's focused on making the state more affordable, more competitive, and more equitable. State House News Service reporter Chris Lisinski explains how the package aligns with Healey's priorities.

Chris Lisinksi, SHNS: I think the governor is going to find that virtually every piece of this tax package aligns with at least one of those three themes that she's laid out as real priorities.

It kind of splits its attention between relief for individual taxpayers and families, like a significantly expanded child and dependent tax credit. Once fully implemented, families will be able to get $440 back per dependent. No limit on that.

And there was also relief aimed at making Massachusetts more competitive for businesses who want to locate here and retain employees here. Things like changing how taxes are calculated for companies to be based only on sales rather than a more complex formula is something that business groups have sought.

And you know, a third piece here that I think the governor will claim as fitting within her priorities is there's a lot of credits here aimed at boosting housing production in particular, which, as you and I both know, we cover this all the time, is such a central issue across all of Massachusetts because there's just not enough housing for people to live in.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Did lawmakers include anything she'll likely strike?

I don't think there's anything that jumps out at me as likely to draw a veto from the governor.

You know, there are a couple of pieces that have drawn some criticism from Republicans. These are two changes to voter approved tax laws.

One is thatlaw known as 62F, which listeners might remember from last year. That's what's sent checks back to taxpayers because state government collected too much. This tax bill would replace those proportional checks with an equal check for every taxpayer. So, even if you owed way more than your neighbor, you would each get the same amount of relief back.

The other controversial change is one to the new income surtax. Everyone who files a joint tax return at the federal level will need to do so at the state level, basically preventing married couples from avoiding triggering that $1 million surtax limit by filing individual returns. So, I don't think that Healey's likely to veto either of those, but those are what have emerged as the biggest pressure points so far.

Separately, last week, House lawmakers overrode some of Healey's budget vetoes. Those overrides amount to the state spending about $80 billion more this year. What are some of those items?

Some of the things that the House wants to ensure get the full amount of money they approved are the “Hey Sam” suicide prevention helpline and nonprofit security grants. These are grants to help groups like churches, synagogues, other nonprofits ensure that their facilities are physically secure. And there's money for community action agencies that Healey sought to reduce that the House wants to keep at its full levels. Really a wide range of different priorities, typically, each with a few million dollars at stake.

And speaking of budgets, Chris, there's another budget bill stuck in the legislative process, and that's the closeout budget for fiscal year that actually ended three months ago. How critical is it that lawmakers get this done fast?

It has to happen every year. The Legislature needs to act on this bill for the state to close its financial books for the fiscal year that's already over. You know, the state comptroller has a report that's due on Halloween each year. The close out budget needs to happen before then, however, that being said, the Legislature is the Legislature, and they have made a regular habit of blowing past any shred of a deadline and getting that closeout budget done whenever they feel like it.

But with all that budget stuff to deal with, I understand there are some policy priorities that could now take center stage in the state House and Senate. Chris, what's likely coming up?

Let's keep in mind that legislative rules call for formal sessions for the year to end Nov. 15 this year. So, we've got just about five, maybe six weeks left in that span.

We know that the House still has intentions to take up a wide ranging gun reform bill that Speaker Ron Mariano rolled out. This drew a lot of blowback in the summer and prompted Mariano and his team to punt it until the fall. But as far as we can tell, that still remains on the agenda. 

Over on the Senate side of the building, leaders have said they're interested in doing something about the early education and care sector and maybe taking yet another pass at legislation to rein in prescription drug prices. That's an idea that the Senate has taken up numerous times, but just hasn't found any traction in the House.

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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