State Capitol Briefs — Monday, April 28, 2014

Lawmakers are meeting with farmers and small business officials to determine the best course to allow farmlands to transfer through inheritance without incurring crippling estate taxes, according to House Revenue Committee Chairman Jay Kaufman. Kaufman said the committee could file legislation next session. The Lexington Democrat’s remarks came after a failed attempt by Whitman Republican Rep. Geoff Diehl to add a provision that he said would establish a $5 million threshold for the inheritance tax. Kaufman said there were technical problems with Diehl’s legislation and said the $5 million threshold would hardly make a difference for farm families in his town because of high land values. Diehl’s budget amendment was rejected 31-114. – A. Metzger/SHNS

Though he demurred from forcing a vote on any of the issues, Rep. Angelo Scaccia said lawmakers should take a harder line on well capitalized universities, Hollywood producers and highly paid state employees. The Readville Democrat who is dean of the House owing to his years in office, said during budget debate Monday that he wanted his colleagues to think about “tax fairness” and said he had filed three amendments “but I got my arms twisted, Mr. Speaker, and I’m going to give up on two of them.” Scaccia then proceeded to discuss all three proposals, saying that certain tax exempt non-profits, such as Harvard University and MIT. pay the City of Boston “a donut, zero dollars.” Scaccia also said top-state-earners such as State Police troopers and some university officials make “oodles and oodles of money,” enough to earn pensions of more than $50,000, and suggested every dollar over the first $50,000 should be subject to the state’s 5.2 percent income tax. “I’m going to refrain from that issue, but I think it’s food for thought,” said Scaccia, who then moved on to the “honeypot” of the state’s film tax credit. He said the $500 million in so-called tax expenditures were unaccounted for and generally go to Hollywood actors and producers, leaving others to bear the burden of funding state government. Scaccia then withdrew his amendment from consideration. – A. Metzger/SHNS

Just a couple of hours into its first day of budget debate, House members were invited into a room off the chamber to debate amendments dealing with the topics of education, local aid and higher education. Under House Speaker Robert DeLeo, the House in recent years has perfected the so-called consolidated amendment process, whereby top House Democrats talk to members about their amendments behind closed doors and then dispense with most or all of the amendments in a given category with a single vote on a consolidated amendment. House members retain the option of forcing debates and votes on their amendments, although most members abide by the consolidated amendment process, which often leads to amendments being dispensed with without ever surfacing on the floor. On Monday afternoon, House members were invited to a 5:30 p.m. meeting to discuss amendments placed in the categories of constitutional offices, state administration and transportation. All amendment categorized as “revenue” had been acted upon shortly after 4 p.m. Monday, according to a News Service review, and members had withdrawn 66 amendments from various categories of the 1,175 total amendments filed. – M. Norton, M. Murphy/SHNS

A weekly survey conducted by AAA Southern New England showed gas prices across Massachusetts rose eight cents per gallon over the past week. Prices have climbed 17 cents a gallon higher over the past month to hit an average of $3.68 per gallon. A year ago this time, gas was averaging $3.42 per gallon in Massachusetts. Survey takers found gas prices ranging from a low of $3.56 to a high of $3.89, with diesel averaging $4.08. Beacon Hill leaders last year raised the state gas tax by 3 cents per gallon and indexed the levy to inflation. Opponents of the indexing measure plan to place a repeal question on the November ballot. – M. Norton/SHNS

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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