The Weekly Political Report is prepared by a political consulting group, Rasky/Baerlein, and shared with me by John Nunnari.
$260 Million Revenue Proposal Pursued by Governor
Governor Deval Patrick’s office announced the administration’s revenue plans for FY2013 this afternoon. Governor Patrick plans to include a 50-cent increase on cigarette tax in Massachusetts making users pay $3.01 in taxes per pack of cigarettes. The tax increase would generate $73 million in additional revenue towards the Commonwealth Care Trust Fund to cover half of the cost associated with legal immigrants’ integration into the state’s subsidized insurance program as mandated by a recent Supreme Judicial Court decision. Similar to past revenue proposals, Governor Patrick’s plan will include a state sales tax on candy and soda to generate an estimated $62.5 million and an expansion of the bottle bill to include water bottles, juices, coffee, and sports drinks. The expansion of the bottle bill is estimated to generate $22 million in revenue with the plans of $5 million dedicated towards recycling programs and $10 million towards transportation and school building. In the past the Legislature has rejected Governor Patrick’s call for taxing candy and soda and expanding the bottle bill.
Governor Patrick’s revenue proposal also assures $5.2 billion in local aid to Massachusetts cities and towns. The majority of the local aid plan, $4.1 billion, will be sent to municipalities that classify as Chapter 70 and provide financial support for public education. Included in the aid is a $145 million increase in funding for local school districts which marks the highest level of state aid to local school districts in Massachusetts’ history.
House and Senate Pass $131 Million Budget Bill
This week, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a $131 million mid-year spending bill. The supplemental budget includes $27.6 million for the local sheriffs’ departments, $21.2 million for low-income heating assistance, $35 million for adult day health programs for the elderly and disabled, and $20 million to cover IT costs for various state agencies. House and Senate lawmakers rejected an amendment that would have instituted a meals tax holiday in mid-March. It was estimated that $8.8 million would have been waived in sales tax during the proposed six-day holiday. The bill also contains language that would prevent a steep increase in the unemployment tax rate paid by Massachusetts businesses. Without the bill, employers would see unemployment insurance taxes increase to $935 cost-per-worker, an increase of 25%. The spending bill will now go to Governor Patrick for his review.
Senators Eyeing Changes to the Green Communities Act
Senate leaders are drafting a bill aimed at lowering Massachusetts energy costs by updating the way utilities are regulated and energy contracts are awarded to utility companies. This move follows a daylong hearing in November where a number of business leaders complained about high energy costs. On Wednesday, Attorney General Martha Coakley called for an end to any “sweetheart deals” between energy generators and utility companies and recommended a switch to competitive bidding for energy contracts. Coakley wants to reform the state’s Green Communities Act, which currently allows no-bid negations between utilities and energy suppliers. Senator Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield), co-chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, has been tasked with producing a bill in the coming months.
Early Education Funding Boosted
On Tuesday, pre-kindergarten programs received $50 million in federal grant money to be used to support the state’s effort to bring early education to more Massachusetts children before they enter kindergarten over the next 4 years. Massachusetts finished second to North Carolina in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top- Early Learning Challenge. The Race to the Top funding will be spent on a combination of professional development, student assessment programs and support for communities and public school systems. In addition, Massachusetts will also spend $1.6 million on campaigns to promote early literacy and family literacy activities. After a study revealing that 39% of Massachusetts students in the third grade cannot demonstrate proficiency in reading, education officials have identified early education intervention as one of the key strategies to closing the achievement gap.
Massachusetts Unemployment Rate Falls to 6.8%
Massachusetts companies lost 6,200 jobs in December, despite a decrease in the unemployment rate to 6.8%. December’s decrease in jobs came after two consecutive months of employment increases. Massachusetts unemployment rate is at its lowest point since 2008 and is below the national unemployment rate of 8.5%.
John Nunnari, Assoc AIA
Executive Director, AIA MA
MA Chapter of American Institute of Architects
290 Congress Street, Suite 200, Boston MA 02110