State Capitol Briefs — Tues. Feb. 4

Massachusetts  State House in Boston on Beacon Street
Massachusetts State House in Boston on Beacon Street

(STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE)

PATRICK: “IT’S NOT LIKE THE PRESSURE HASN’T COME OFF THE PROPERTY TAX”
State government has done a “tremendous amount” under his watch to take the pressure off property taxes, Gov. Deval Patrick said Sunday, defending work on an issue he featured during his first run for governor in 2006. While Patrick’s critics say he’s failed to deliver on his promise of property tax relief, with municipal officials protesting cuts in state aid, especially when adjusted for inflation, Patrick told WBZ Sunday that total state aid delivered in the state’s two big accounts – Chapter 70 school aid and unrestricted state aid – is up by about $500 million, with the value of municipal savings and alternative revenues facilitated by the state “to the good” in the order of $3.8 billion. “So it’s not like we’ve been standing still and it’s not like the pressure hasn’t come off the property tax,” Patrick said during an appearance on Keller at Large. The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation reported in January that property taxes increased by 3.6 percent in 2013, to a total of $13.4 billion. Between 1985 and 2012, property taxes rose an average of 5.4 percent a year, MTF said. During the interview, Patrick also said the state’s charter school funding formula “really doesn’t work” and described the job of engaging lawmakers, the public and advocates to fix that formula as a “real challenge.” Asked about lifting caps on charter schools to reduce waiting lists, Patrick suggested a statewide cap could be an answer since some communities are not taking advantage of existing charter school opportunities. “We have doubled the charter school cap so I’m all done listening to the suggestions that we aren’t supportive of charter schools,” Patrick said. “Charter schools are one of the solutions but not the only solution, and by the way not every charter school is successful.” – M. Norton/SHNS

HOUSE ADVANCES BILL TO CREATE STATE OFFICE OF HEALTH EQUITY
A new state office would be created and charged with preparing an annual plan to eliminate racial and ethnic health and health care disparities in Massachusetts, under legislation that’s gaining traction in the House. The legislation (H 3888) emerged this week from the House Ways and Means Committee and received initial House approval on Monday. It broadly calls for a new state office of health equity to facilitate interagency government initiatives to address “social and economic determinants of health and key health disparities issues” including care access and quality; housing availability and quality; transportation availability; location and cost; community policing and safe spaces; air, water, land usage and quality; employment and workforce development, and education access and quality. The bill further requires the state health and human services secretary to annually designate major initiatives affecting the health and health care of the state’s residents and prepare a disparities impact statement evaluating the likely positive or negative impacts of each initiative on eliminating or reducing disparities. The new office would also be required to holds public hearings and prepare an annual health disparities report card. The bill defines disparities as “differences in the incidence, prevalence, mortality and burden of diseases and other adverse health conditions that exist among specific racial and ethnic groups.” The bill is based on legislation sponsored by Reps. Jeffrey Sanchez and Byron Rushing, both Boston Democrats. – M. Norton/SHNS

MASS. BIZ CONFIDENCE STARTS YEAR STUCK IN NEUTRAL
Business confidence in Massachusetts nudged upwards by a negligible amount in January and remained hovering just about neutral, according to monthly index results released Tuesday by Associated Industries of Massachusetts. The trade group’s confidence index registered a 50.8, barely above its January 2013 reading of 50.4. While noting continued economic stabilization over the past year, “decent” growth and job creation, and an improved atmosphere in Washington since the October government shutdown, AIM Board of Economic Advisors Chairman Raymond Torto said in a statement that the economic strengthening “feels more like a prolonged convalescence than like robust health.” Torto flagged several ongoing concerns, including financial problems in emerging economies, the Affordable Care Act’s impact on employers, federal spending cuts and mixed consumer confidence reports. – M. Norton/SHNS

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