State House News

“Essential” Tax Relief And Reform Reaches Healey’s Desk

Source: State House News Service
Author: Sam Doran, Alison Kuznitz, Colin A. Young

Guv Has Until Oct. 8 To Act on Compromise

Senate President Karen Spilka (right) speaks to reporters outside her office Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023 joined by Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues

Senate President Karen Spilka (right) speaks to reporters outside her office Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023 joined by Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues

After nearly two years of fits and starts, a long-awaited tax relief and reform package made it to the governor’s desk Thursday after senators overwhelmingly approved the legislative agreement.

The roughly $1 billion tax bill is among the most significant pieces of legislation to reach Gov. Maura Healey since she took office in January. The Arlington Democrat has been prodding lawmakers to finish their tax talks since she was a candidate last year.

In a statement Thursday, Healey called the Legislature’s product “comprehensive” and said she would be looking it over. She has until Sunday, Oct. 8 to act on the bill, which she could choose to amend and send back to lawmakers.

“As I’ve said on the campaign trail and from day one of this administration — tax cuts are essential for making Massachusetts more affordable, competitive and equitable. I thank Senate President Spilka, Speaker Mariano, Chairs Rodrigues and Michlewitz and the Legislature for taking this important step,” the governor wrote. “This is a comprehensive package that delivers relief to families and businesses, including through our proposed Child and Family Tax Credit, and I look forward to reviewing the details and delivering for Massachusetts.”

The child tax credit was one of Healey’s signature pledges on the campaign trail last fall. The governor sought a $600-per-dependent credit, though House and Senate leaders landed on an eventual credit of $440 in their compromise agreement.

Sen. Walter Timilty, a Milton Democrat, said he agreed with the governor’s initial $600 credit proposal and expressed hope the Legislature could work on that “in the future.”

“I’m very happy with what we did today. I would have liked to have gone with more, but today is a great day for all of us, I believe,” Timilty told the News Service.

Sen. Susan Moran, who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Revenue, also signaled a pathway for expanded tax relief when asked about the governor’s $600 child and family tax credit.

“I appreciate the governor always shooting for the heights and really giving some kind of wind beneath the wings of the Legislature to really do something important,” Moran told the News Service. “And I look forward to continuing to work with the administration on that as we see where this step takes us — and maybe after that, reach even higher heights.”

The Senate accepted the conference report 38-1, with Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Marlborough casting the lone vote of dissent. President Karen Spilka of Ashland voted “yes,” which can sometimes be an emphatic sign of support from the chamber’s leader, who generally does not vote in roll calls.

Democrats then rebuffed a Republican attempt to suspend a rule and introduce amendments to the House-Senate compromise, before taking a final enactment vote and sending the paper to Gov. Maura Healey’s desk at 1:30 p.m.

Other components of the package include raising the estate tax threshold from $1 million to $2 million while eliminating the so-called cliff effect by imposing a credit of $99,600; increasing the earned income tax credit from 30 percent to 40 percent of the federal credit; doubling the senior circuit breaker tax credit from $1,200 to $2,400; and increasing the rental deduction cap from $3,000 to $4,000. The package also slashes the short-term capital gains tax rate from 12 percent to 8.5 percent and overhauls how Massachusetts calculates taxes owed by multistate companies.

“With inflation the way it is, every dollar goes a long way, and this will help people meet their daily needs,” Timilty said after adjournment. “It’s very important for all of us.”

The House approved the package 155-1 on Wednesday and kept its informal session open Thursday so that it could take its final enactment vote, ensuring that the bill could reach the governor’s desk by the afternoon.

The compromise between the House and Senate was crafted since June by a six-member squad of reps and senators led by the chambers’ budget chairmen — Sen. Michael Rodrigues, Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, Sen. Susan Moran, Rep. Mark Cusack, Sen. Bruce Tarr, and Rep. Michael Soter.

Gov. Charlie Baker kicked off the tax relief discussion in January 2022 when he filed his own proposal. To Sen. Patrick O’Connor, the ranking minority member of the Ways and Means Committee, the 2022-2023 tax relief talks represented something “very uniquely Massachusetts.”

“And that’s the fact that in January of 2022 we had a Republican governor file a bill with his administration, and they looked at, how can we make Massachusetts competitive and how can we make Massachusetts a more affordable place to live? And then that governor decided not to run for reelection, and 14 months later, a Democratic governor, with her administration, took a hard look at how to make Massachusetts competitive and how to make Massachusetts a more affordable place to live. And they filed almost an identical bill,” the Weymouth Republican said.

On the chamber floor, Tarr, O’Connor, and Sen. Rebecca Rausch all expressed notes of discontent with some elements of the compromise. But when the roll was called, Eldridge, who did not speak during the session, was the lone dissenter.

Tarr, the branch’s Republican leader, labeled three sections as “poison pills” — a new requirement that taxpayers who file jointly at the federal level also file their state income taxes jointly; an alteration to the state’s tax cap law, known as Chapter 62F, that would spread excess tax revenues back to taxpayers in equal shares rather than proportional to the taxes they paid; and a change to the cap on money going into the state’s rainy day fund.

Rausch said she “wish[ed] we could have done more” with the proposal, such as by including teenagers in the child and dependent tax credit, but called it a “good compromise.”

The only Democrat during the brief debate to cast a negative light on some aspects of the bill, Rausch looked ahead to next budget season and wondered aloud what services may be cut as a result of a smaller tax haul.

“[W]ith this bill, we’re cutting $1 billion from our coffers, wiping out the new revenues of Fair Share almost to the penny,” the Needham Democrat said. “If we don’t increase our revenues, whether through ultra-high-earning corporate taxation or otherwise, then the only other option for us is to put services on the chopping block. So come budget time next year, what are we gonna cut?”

Referring to “revenue that we’re losing today,” Rausch called for a future “debate in this chamber, on this floor, about revenue.”

As Tarr and Rodrigues collegially sparred during multiple budget and tax debates this year, the bipartisan duo enlisted the use of a prop — a large paper “I.O.U.” they exchanged, representing the promise of future tax relief measures.

Rodrigues presented the note back to the Republican leader with a handshake Thursday, and Tarr “marked the I.O.U. paid.”