Tax Relief

Tax relief stalls on Beacon Hill- POLITICO

NOT SO FAST — Beacon Hill leaders reluctant to suspend the state’s gas tax are finding little consensus on other ways to provide relief to residents facing record gas prices and rising inflation.

House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka continue to argue against shelving the 24-cents-per-gallon gas tax, with both Democrats saying Monday that the potential impact to the state’s bond rating outweighs possible savings for drivers.

“Twenty cents off $7 a gallon of gas is really not going to make anyone happy,” Mariano said at Monday’s post-leadership-meeting press conference. “We need to look at other ways to ease the inflation burden.”

But legislative leaders remained vague about the possible contents or timing of any relief package.

Mariano said he’s looking at “things that are more broad-based” and that would have “more of an impact on different segments of the population” than just drivers. Spilka said lawmakers could target “some tax breaks and credits” and cited past increases to the earned income tax credit as an example.

Gov. Charlie Baker also indicated he’d rather pursue broader tax relief — namely his proposed tax breaks for renters, seniors and low-income earners, and changes to the state’s estate tax — than pause the gas tax.

“The speaker’s kind of singing my song,” Baker said of Mariano. “We proposed about $700 million in tax cuts in our budget specifically to deal with the rising cost of everything.”

But GOP state Rep. Peter Durant, who led House Republicans’ unsuccessful push last week to suspend the gas tax, said “people need this relief now.” Durant suggested a sales tax holiday beyond the typical weekend in August; Baker unsuccessfully floated a two-month sales tax holiday last year.

“I’m very leery of the shiny object in the future. I don’t think it’s going to come,” Durant told Playbook. “I just think they’re kicking the can down the road and hope to see some turnaround in gas prices.”

GOOD TUESDAY MORNING, MASSACHUSETTS. Beacon Hill isn’t making much progress on punishing Russia for its bloody assault on Ukraine, either.

Mariano said the push to divest state pension funds from Russian companies has hit a roadblock.

“We’ve pretty much come to grips with the fact that getting at the investments that we might have through second or third parties — since we have no direct investments with the Soviet Union — would be a little bit too difficult,” Mariano said in reference to Russia.

And executive branch agencies are still reviewing contracts for any ties to Russian state-owned companies. Baker said “several” contracts are “requiring what I would call second- and third-level reviews to figure out where they originate specifically.”

TODAY — Baker makes a health care legislation announcement at Codman Square Health Center at 2 p.m. AG Maura Healey visits Baystate Medical Center at 11:30 a.m., Springfield Partners for Community Action at 1:40 p.m. and tours local small businesses at 2:30 p.m. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio” at 1 p.m. and WBZ’s “NightSide with Dan Rea” at 8 p.m.

Tips? Scoops? Need to debrief from the most dramatic episode of the most dramatic season of The Bachelor ever? Email me: [email protected].

— “Massachusetts reports 1,520 new coronavirus cases over the weekend, hospitalizations keep dropping,” by Rick Sobey, Boston Herald: “The daily average of 507 virus cases over the weekend was down from the daily rate of 565 infections from the previous weekend. For comparison, the omicron variant peak weekend was 20,329 daily cases in early January.”

— MAJORITY RULE: House Speaker Ron Mariano said he’s in “waiting mode” when it comes to naming a new majority leader to succeed now-U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Claire Cronin because “there are other changes that potentially may occur, so I would like to do them all at once if that’s possible.”

Mariano’s comment, made in response to a reporter’s question, comes as one of his division leaders, Lowell state Rep. Tom Golden, looks to become Lowell’s next city manager. Mariano said he could know what he’s going to do in “two or three weeks.”

— “Senate President Karen Spilka vows to ‘fight like hell’ for President Biden’s unity agenda, including for mental health reform,” by Alison Kuznitz, MassLive: “Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka, a vocal advocate for behavioral health reform, vowed [during a virtual White House briefing] Monday to support President Joe Biden’s mission to tackle the country’s worsening mental health crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

— “Package stores seek compromise in booze battle,” by Christian M. Wade, Eagle-Tribune: “Package store owners are urging lawmakers to avoid a costly ballot fight by passing legislation to expand beer and wine sales at convenience stores. A proposal heard by the Legislature’s Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure on Monday calls for gradually increasing the number of beer and wine licenses a single company can own — rising to 18 over the next decade. But the proposal offered by package store owners would set a new cap on how many total licenses can be issued to each business at seven, tighten limits on the sale of liquor and spirits, enhance ID requirements for sellers and increase penalties for businesses caught selling alcohol to minors.”

— “Fixing early ed system could cost $1.5 billion a year,” by Shira Schoenberg, CommonWealth Magazine: “Massachusetts’s early childhood education system is unaffordable and inaccessible to too many families, and it will cost an estimated $1.5 billion a year to improve it, according to a report released Monday by a special legislative commission looking at the economics of early education and care. The commission, led by Education Committee co-chairs Sen. Jason Lewis and Rep. Alice Peisch, calls for expanding the subsidies available to families while increasing financial support to childcare centers themselves and their workers. But it stops short of calling for universal public pre-kindergarten, as some activists have been calling for.”

— “Hackers hit Mass. background-check firm used by state agencies, universities,” by Dan Adams, Boston Globe: “Computer hackers made off with highly sensitive personal records on more than 164,000 job-seekers and license applicants in a virtual ‘smash and grab’ attack last November on Creative Services Inc., a Massachusetts company that conducts background checks on everyone from marijuana entrepreneurs to state employees, university faculty members, and workers at nuclear facilities. … The Mansfield firm said its security team was still investigating the motive and identity of the hackers behind the incident, which executives only disclosed in regulatory filings and letters to clients in February.”

— “Modernizing the bottle recycling program in Mass. would have big benefits, report finds,” by Miriam Wasser, WBUR: “Massachusetts could cut down on plastic litter, create less garbage, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save cities and towns millions of dollars every year by modernizing the way it recycles beverage containers, according to a new report by the nonprofit Reloop North America.”

— EYES EMOJI: Playbook asked Gov. Charlie Baker if he’s going to follow in Tom Brady’s footsteps and reverse his decision not to run for a third term. “That’s a very good take, by the way,” Baker replied on his way out of the post-leadership press conference. That’s not a no.

— “Boston City Council to weigh protest restrictions,” by Emma Platoff and Danny McDonald, Boston Globe: “Members of the public and some elected officials Monday pushed back on Mayor Michelle Wu’s proposal to restrict the hours when protesters may demonstrate at private residences, with some warning of First Amendment violations and raising the specter of lawsuits even as Wu’s administration insisted the measure was on solid legal ground. … Among them were several people who routinely protest outside Wu’s home in the early morning hours, who defended their right to be there and characterized her neighborhood as a crucial venue for voicing their dissent.”

— “Lower Neponset River placed on Superfund priorities list,” by Gintautas Dumcius, Dorchester Reporter: “The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday said that 3.7 miles of the Neponset River as it runs through Hyde Park, Mattapan, Milton, and Dorchester to Boston Harbor, are now listed as a national priority for cleanup as a Superfund site.”

— “Cheap fares, trains to more suburbs: This is what the MBTA was supposed to look like,” by Emily Sweeney, Boston Globe: “Imagine boarding the subway downtown and riding all the way to Lynn, Reading, Lexington, or Dedham — without ever switching trains. Or taking the Green Line from Boston all the way to Winchester and Woburn. That was the visionary plan for the region’s public transportation back in the 1940s.”

— FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: Kristen Halbert, a community activist, political strategist and Democratic State Committee member, will serve as finance director for Tanisha Sullivan’s campaign for secretary of state.

— “With few specifics and lots of support, Maura Healey leads the race for Mass. governor. But it’s (very) early yet,” by Matt Stout, Boston Globe: “[State Attorney General Maura] Healey has ridden a long-forming wave of support to piles of cash, early endorsements, and significant political capital. The field has narrowed around her, creating a head-to-head race with Sonia Chang-Díaz, a progressive state senator and first-time statewide candidate. Longtime admirers who have cheered Healey’s fast-moving rise within the party have quickly fallen into her column, giving her grassroots-level clout.”

— “Gillette supplies 70 percent of Russia’s shaving market, but it hasn’t cut ties with the country,” by Anissa Gardizy, Boston Globe: “Gillette has not cut ties with Russia, even as the country’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted other large firms to halt or scale back business operations there. The Boston-based shaving giant has a manufacturing facility in St. Petersburg where it makes more than 70 products, from disposable razors and double-edge blades to packaging. The plant accounts for nearly three quarters of the shaving product market in Russia.”

— “‘Things are growing worse by the hour’: Mass. Congress members weigh in on how US could help Ukraine,” by Gal Tziperman Lotan, Boston Globe: “Congress members expressed solidarity with [President Volodymyr Zelenskyy] and the Ukrainian people and denounced the bloodshed and destruction caused by troops of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, but some said it is unclear whether Putin’s ambitions can be contained by economic measures or if military action will be necessary.”

— PRIORITIZING MATERNAL HEALTH: New legislation from Assistant House Speaker Katherine Clark would expand a grant program to treat maternal mental health and substance-use disorders.

The pandemic has tripled the number of pregnant or postpartum women struggling with these conditions, Clark’s office said. The bipartisan, bicameral bill would reauthorize her “Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act” from 2016, scale up existing treatment and screening programs, more than quadruple the number of state programs receiving federal support and codify the Maternal Mental Health Hotline.

“Despite incredibly high rates of mental health issues during pregnancy, 75% of mothers never get treatment,” Clark said in a statement. “That ends now.”

— “Senator Ed Markey wants daylight saving time to stay for good,” by Rebecca Tauber, GBH News: “[Sen. Ed Markey’s] efforts to keep daylight saving time could be a rare bipartisan win. He says conservative Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has signed on, as well as nine other Republicans. Markey would only need 10 Republicans if he could get all the Democrats on board to pass his legislation in the Senate.”

— “US Rep. Richard Neal asks EPA, OSHA to probe health problems at Springfield courthouse; union grievance promises to bring in state inspectors,” by Jim Kinney, Springfield Republican: “U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal has asked both the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate conditions at the Roderick L. Ireland Courthouse, where environmental conditions are blamed for five deaths from ALS and 60 or more cancer diagnoses.”

— “Veterans balk at recommended closing of VA hospital in Northampton; Rep. Richard Neal says he will speak to President Joe Biden about keeping it open,” by Patrick Johnson, Springfield Republican: “As expected, Veterans Affairs on Monday recommended to the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission that the facility be closed. The report cites a declining veteran population in Western Massachusetts, the facility’s age and the amount of money it would cost to make it a modern hospital.”

— “OSHA cites ‘serious’ workplace health exposures at Pittsfield trash-burning plant,” by Larry Parnass, Berkshire Eagle: “Workers at a Pittsfield waste-to-energy facility risked breathing in smoke containing arsenic, cadmium and lead, the federal government says, a finding that confirms other accounts of hazards at the bankrupt plant.”

— “Seeking support: Worcester advisory committee suspends work out of frustration with city leadership,” by Steven H. Foskett Jr. “The city’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee voted Monday to suspend its work until it can get more support from city leadership. Members of the committee expressed frustration at the departure Friday of Chief Diversity Officer Stephanie Williams, who had been the group’s liaison with City Hall.”

— “As Omicron raged in January, job growth slowed in Mass.,” by Larry Edelman, Boston Globe: “Employers added 10,600 jobs in the first month of the year, down from a revised increase of 14,500 in December, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development said on Monday. The state’s unemployment rate rose to 4.8 percent in January from a revised 4.6 percent in the previous month.”

— “Mass. companies blast Texas governors’ transgender care penalties,” by Steph Solis, Boston Business Journal: “Multiple Boston-area companies signed onto a letter urging Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to reverse course on his effort to seek criminal penalties for parents who help their transgender children get gender-affirming care.”

— “Elon Musk gives Labor secretary a Giga-tour,” by Mike Allen, Axios: “Elon Musk hosted Labor Secretary Marty Walsh [over the weekend] at Tesla’s Gigafactory Texas outside Austin, during the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival.”

— “State Sen. Tom Sherman launches campaign for New Hampshire governor,” by Adam Sexton, WMUR: “State Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, is launching a campaign for governor, becoming the first high-profile Democrat to step forward and throw his hat in the ring to challenge three-term, Republican incumbent Gov. Chris Sununu.”

— “An unexpected comment from New Hampshire’s governor changes the calculus on marijuana legalization in the Granite state,” by James Pindell, Boston Globe: “[Gov. Chris] Sununu’s steadfastness to veto any [marijuana] legalization bill has been the reason why there has not been serious money or efforts behind the bills filed each year that would add New Hampshire to the list. … Speaking to the New England Council last week, Sununu gave an off-the-cuff response to a question where, for the first time publicly, he significantly softened his stance, especially as it relates to a specific bill being debated in the legislature.”

— “R.I. unveils 5 finalists for new license plate design,” by Brian Amaral, Boston Globe: “The plate would replace the iconic ‘Wave’ license plate, though some of the designs also feature waves. The reaction on social media was, frankly, brutal.”

TRANSITIONS — Meaghan Hohl, Christian Rodriguez, Macsonny Onyechefule and Jesse Rogers have joined Seven Letter’s Boston office. Hohl will be a central figure in the agency’s newly launched ESG practice — along with Scott Deitz, who is based in Washington, D.C.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY — to Miles Weber, Johanna Campbell Case and Lenny Alcivar.

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