Senate rejects bid for multiple public hearings on tax hike bills

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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MAY 24, 2016…..As Senate leaders agitate for new taxes and more revenue to meet service demands, Senate Democrats on Tuesday rejected a proposal aimed at requiring multiple public hearings around Massachusetts on tax increase proposals.

Weymouth Republican Sen. Patrick O’Connor offered an amendment that called for the House and Senate Ways and Means committees to conduct at least six hearings on bills referred to those committees that establish new taxes or fees or expand existing taxes or fees. The amendment called for three days’ notice prior to each hearing and specified that each hearing would be conducted in a different region.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said the hearings would constitute a procedural safeguard.

“Dialogue won’t hurt this issue. It will only help it,” Tarr said. “And we should make informed decisions when in fact we’re contemplating an increase in taxation.”

Before the amendment was rejected on along party lines, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Karen Spilka of Ashland said the Ways and Means committees receive “hundreds if not thousands” of bills and many have some impact on taxes.

“Needless to say this would be incredibly time-consuming and very burdensome,” said Spilka.

Ways and Means Committee members often reach out to “interested parties” for their views on tax proposals, Spilka said, and tax-related bills are often the subject of public hearings before other legislative committees before they reach the Ways and Means panels.

“This amendment adds many new steps which would unnecessarily slow down the work of the committees on Ways and Means,” Spilka said.

The Legislature’s Revenue Committee usually reviews tax legislation.

Last week, lawmakers meeting in a Constitutional Convention voted 135-57 to advance a constitutional amendment adding a 4 percent tax on household income above $1 million. State revenue officials estimate that proposal, if advanced by the 2017-2018 General Court and adopted by voters in November 2018, would raise taxes by nearly $2 billion.

The Revenue Committee held one public hearing on the amendment — on Jan. 19, 2016 — prior to voting to advance the proposal.

“There are absolutely no tax increases” in the Senate’s nearly $39.5 billion fiscal 2017 budget bill, Spilka said during debate on the bill Tuesday.

After Sens. Dan Wolf of Harwich and Patricia Jehlen of Somerville lamented the lack of state revenues to support increased government investments, Spilka noted that the Senate budget factors in a third consecutive annual reduction in the income tax rate, this time from 5.1 to 5.05 percent. The last three reductions, she said, mean state government has “lost” $450 million in tax revenues. Tarr countered that those lost revenues have been “gained” by taxpayers.

Copyright 2016 State House News Service

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