Ruling could allow debate on budget tax amendments

The Senate Ways and Means Committee is expected to unveil its version

BOSTON (AP) — A ruling by Senate President Stan Rosenberg could open the door to debate over tax changes when the Senate takes up the roughly $38 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts in July.

The Amherst Democrat’s position is that the spending plan approved by the House last month is by definition a “money bill,” and can be a vehicle for hiking or lowering state taxes.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee is expected to unveil its version of the state budget this week, with floor debate likely the following week.

While it may seem counter-intuitive that a $38 billion budget would not be considered a money bill, that’s how the state constitution has been interpreted.

According to the most recent edition of the Legislative Research and Drafting Manual, agreed upon by both House and Senate counsel, a money bill “may either reduce general tax revenue or increase state tax revenue.” A straight appropriations bill that only involves expenditure of state funds would not be considered a money bill.

Another important distinction is that money bills must originate in the House of Representatives.

Former Senate President Therese Murray ruled in previous years that the House-approved budget was not a money bill and that any Senate amendments to raise or lower taxes were out of order.

The spending plan unanimously approved April 29 by the House included a little-noticed provision that increased the state cap on tax credits for conservation land by $3 million. Rosenberg’s spokesman said the Senate leader believes that’s enough to make it a “money bill.”

Senators from both parties welcome the ruling. Some members may seek to raise additional revenue to support state programs, while others might file amendments to cut taxes or rein in certain tax breaks and incentives.

Major changes seem unlikely, however.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo are firmly on record against any increase in broad-based taxes. The state’s tight finances also appear to weigh against any significant tax breaks.

Copyright 2015 Associated Press

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