State clears 2 new cannabis stores

By Colin A. Young, State House News Service

The seventh and eighth recreational marijuana stores in Massachusetts have been cleared to open as early as this Saturday, the Cannabis Control Commission said Tuesday.

Regulators issued notices to commence operations for the Temescal Wellness of Massachusetts retail locations at 10 Callahan Dr. in Pittsfield and at 252 Coolidge St. in Hudson. Both locations already operate as medical marijuana dispensaries and can begin selling non-medical marijuana on Saturday.

According to CCC documents, both stores were granted provisional licenses Sept. 20. The Hudson store was initially inspected by CCC staff on Oct. 16 and the Pittsfield store was first inspected on Oct. 18. Both received final licensure on Dec. 13.

The first non-medical pot shops in the Bay State opened on Nov. 20 and a total of five have opened to consumers, in Leicester, Northampton, Salem, Wareham, and Easthampton. Another store in Great Barrington is expected to open Friday.

Late last month, CCC Chairman Steven Hoffman said the CCC is in a “rhythm” now that could result in four to eight new retail stores coming online each month.

The commission will meet Thursday and is expected to vote to authorize two more final licenses for Temescal Wellness, allowing the company to grow up to 10,000 square feet of cannabis and also to produce marijuana products at its facility at 141 SW Cutoff in Worcester.

Getting from final licensure to commencing operations has taken roughly three to five weeks for the other businesses that have opened. The CCC on Thursday is also slated to vote on eight provisional licenses, including one for a Mass. Alternative Care retail store in Chicopee.

Police investigating body found off Pemberton Point

Chief John Dunn reports that the Hull Police Department is investigating after the body of an adult male was found in the waters off Pemberton Point today [Wednesday, Jan. 2].

Hull Police were called to a location off Main Street, near the commuter boat pier, shortly after noon. Officials located the body of an adult male believed to be in his 30s. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The initial investigation indicates that the incident is not suspicious, Dunn said.

This is an active and ongoing investigation. Additional information will be released as it becomes available, he said.



Small tax-break on tap for Mass. workers in 2019

By Michael P. Norton
State House News Service

 While there's growing talk of a possible national recession, Massachusetts workers are about to receive a $175-million income tax break and there's now a possibility that the 5 percent tax rate that voters approved in 2000 will actually happen in 2020.

As the weekend got underway Friday, the Baker administration quietly announced that all of the necessary economic triggers had been hit and the income tax will fall from 5.1 percent to 5.05 percent on Jan. 1.

In August, Revenue Commissioner Christopher Harding certified that fiscal 2018 revenues had easily outpaced the state's 2.5-percent trigger, and tax revenue growth in four consecutive three-month periods, the most recent one ending this month, was positive enough to force the rate reduction.

The tax relief means $84 million less for the state budget over the last half of fiscal 2019. Its impact over a full fiscal year is $175 million.

While the slight rate cut may not make a huge difference in take-home pay for workers, its $175 million annualized value exceeds the total $160 million increase in aid to local public schools this fiscal year and nearly equals the $200 million in this year's budget to combat the opioid and heroin epidemic.

In a press release issued Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito applauded the tax rate reduction.

“A strong economy and careful management of the Commonwealth’s finances have created the conditions for Massachusetts taxpayers to get a much-deserved break,” Baker said. “We are pleased that next year we will see taxpayers be able to keep more of their hard-earned money.”

“Next year the income tax rate will be the lowest it has been in decades, which will provide welcome relief to workers across the Commonwealth,” Polito said. “Massachusetts taxpayers deserve the boost that this rate reduction will deliver.”

Michael Heffernan, Baker's budget chief, called the reduction "a nice break for taxpayers."

In his first bid for governor in 2010, Baker made reducing the income, sales, and corporate tax rates to 5 percent a central theme of his campaign. After losing that year to Gov. Deval Patrick, Baker placed less emphasis on tax relief in his two successful campaigns for governor in 2014 and this year.

5 percent possible in 2020

Income-tax rate reductions did not occur in 2013 or 2017, but the former 5.3 percent rate fell in 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

In 2002, with Rep. John Rogers serving as House Ways and Means chairman under former Speaker Thomas Finneran, the Legislature pushed through a $1.1 billion tax bill over former Gov. Jane Swift's veto. That law froze at 5.3 percent the income tax rate, which voters in 2000 had ordered to be cut to 5 percent.

The 2002 tax law also cut the personal exemption from $4,400 to $3,300 for individuals and $8,800 to $6,600 for couples. Those exemptions were restored to their previous levels in the ensuing years, and triggers have slowly ticked the income tax rate back closer to 5 percent, but not quite there yet.

If triggers force the income tax back down to 5 percent on Jan. 1, 2020, another area of taxation addressed in 2002 will be back on the table.

State law currently requires that in the tax year after the income tax reaches 5 percent, the charitable giving deduction, which was in effect for tax year 2000 but subsequently suspended, will be restored.

Hingham PD seeks help with ATM break-in investigation

Hingham detectives are investigating a break into an ATM machine in which cash was stolen.

On Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 6 a.m., a customer attempted to use the ATM machine in Anchor Plaza on Lincoln Street. The customer inserted his card in the machine and it became jammed. He then noticed a screwdriver on the floor and called police.

Officers found that the service door beside the ATM had been forced open. Inside the service room, wires had been cut and the rear of the machine cut open. An unspecified amount of cash was stolen. 

This ATM is inside a small lobby beside Bruegger’s Bagel. The ATM is visible to Lincoln Street (Route 3A) traffic. The theft occurred sometime overnight.

If you noticed anyone or any vehicles in this area on Nov. 28, contact Det. John Marquardt at 781-741-1443. You can also leave an anonymous tip “Submit-A-Tip” link on the police department’s homepage at hpd.org.

The theft remains under investigation, police said.

Massport to invest $1B in air- and seaport expansion

By Colin A. Young
State House News Service

 

The Massachusetts Port Authority is planning to issue more than $1 billion in new debt over the coming years as it embarks on a series of projects designed to accommodate more passenger flights, larger cruise ships, and larger container vessels in Boston.

Speaking this week to a conference of investors who could buy some of the agency's debt, acting MassPort CEO John Pranckevicius touted some of the projects planned for Logan International Airport, Conley Container Terminal in South Boston, and the Ray Flynn Cruiseport as boons to the local economy and products of the economy's recent success.

At Logan, a roughly $750 million project will include an expansion of the international terminal and the reconfiguration of other terminals and gates, and a $250 million project seeks to redesign the roadways that service the busiest terminals.

"We have a workforce that has a tendency to do a lot of travel," Pranckevicius said, also pointing out the state's low unemployment rate and high income levels. "That economic stimulus generated from the policies here in Massachusetts are driving a lot of the airlines to add more service."

The expansions come while Logan prepares for some of its largest carriers – JetBlue, Delta, Southwest, and United – to increase the number of their daily flights to or from Boston.

Pranckevicious said Logan is on pace to serve 40.8 million passengers in 2018. In the next seven to 10 years, he said, Logan's annual passenger count is expected to jump to 50 million.

"We have a robust economy driving strong demand for air travel to and from Boston and from that demand, our airline business partners are seeing strong returns on their investments at Boston," Dan Gallagher, MassPort's director of aviation business and finance, said.

MassPort is also in the midst of investing about $850 million in the Conley shipping terminal – including the dredging of the harbor channel, the addition of a new berth at the terminal, and the purchase of new ship-to-shore cranes – to allow it to accommodate larger ships that carry more containers.

"As the global shipping industry evolves, in order to make sure that these assets continue to be a significant economic engine, we have put in place a plan to invest more than $850 million to adapt to the changing global industry," port director Lisa Wieland said. "That's because the businesses in New England and here in the commonwealth rely on Conley Terminal to connect to the global economy. It is New England's only full-service container terminal."

When the widened Panama Canal opened to ship traffic in 2016, Wieland said, shipping lines immediately began sending larger ships to Boston. Before the canal expansion, ships generally carried 4,000 to 6,000 containers. Weiland said once the canal expansion was complete, the terminal began serving ships carrying 8,000 to 9,000 containers.

"And the conversations we're having with the shipping lines, they're telling us to be ready for even bigger ships," she said.

Across the Reserve Channel, at the Ray Flynn Cruiseport, MassPort is developing plans that will allow larger ships to be homeported in Boston, rather than just visiting the city as a port of call. The port served a record 389,000 passengers on 152 ship calls last season, according to Wieland, and the cruise lines are eager to expand in Boston.

"Our growth has been basically outpacing the industry overall and beating the forecast we did a few years ago," she said. "The cruise lines continue to talk about new itineraries and larger ships in this market."