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.

Gov. Baker issues Independence Day proclamation

Whereas Nearly 241 years ago today, our Nation's Founders declared, "these United Colonies are, and of Right, ought to be free and Independent States."; and

Whereas This Declaration marked an influential milestone in the history of human freedom and liberty; and

Whereas On this anniversary of the signing of our Declaration of Independence, we pay tribute to the courage and dedication of those patriots who established our great country. We celebrate the values of justice and equality that strengthen our country; and

Whereas At the core of our country's Declaration of Independence, "all men are created equal" and "they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." In pursuit of these ideals, generations of Americans have unveiled new hopes of freedom that simply cannot be bound by the borders of our country; and

Whereas As citizens of our beloved Commonwealth, celebrating our country's cherished independence, we should not only take pride in our vibrant history, but also look to the future with hope, confidence, and grace; and

Whereas We offer immense gratitude to all the patriots of both our past and present who have sought to advance freedom, establish virtue, and build foundations of peace. Because of their sacrifice, this country remains a beacon of hope for all who dream of a life filled with liberty, justice, and happiness; and

Whereas As members of the "shining city on the hill," we exemplify all that is possible for a body of free people,

Now, Therefore, I, Charles D. Baker, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, do hereby proclaim the July 4th, 2017 to be,


And urge all the citizens of the Commonwealth to take cognizance of this event and participate fittingly in its observance.

Given at the Executive Chamber in Boston, this first day of July, in the year two thousand and seventeen, and of the Independence of the United States of America, the two hundred and forty-first.

By His Excellency Charles D. Baker, Governor of the Commonwealth
Karyn E. Polito, Lt. Governor of the Commonwealth
William Francis Galvin, Secretary of the Commonwealth

God Save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Track, temps alter storm outlook, but officials urge caution

By Michael P. Norton

Warmer temperatures along the coast and a changing storm track have lowered the projected snow totals in eastern Massachusetts, but Gov. Charlie Baker early Tuesday morning warned that high winds and periods of heavy snowfall will create "extremely difficult" driving conditions and advised drivers to stay off the roads if they can.

"The roads for the most part have people on them, but nothing like a typical commute," Baker said.

While he has not instituted a travel ban, Baker said, "If people can stay off the roads for the rest of the day, and give the crews the space and the time and the ability to clean up after all of this, that would be terrific."

New York, Connecticut, and western Massachusetts are experiencing significant snowfall and the snow is moving east, Baker said at an 8 a.m. briefing with transportation and public safety officials in Framingham.

"This storm is still coming. It's still real," Highway Administrator Thomas Tinlin said.

The latest estimates Baker said, call for 8 to 12 inches of snow in Boston and 10 to 24 inches elsewhere in the state.

Meteorologists are predicting six inches or less of snow in parts of the South Shore, southeastern Massachusetts, the Cape and the islands.

Winds are expected to reach 40 to 50 miles per hour and 50 to 70 miles per hour along the coast, which may lead to power outages when combined with the effect of heavy snow, the governor said.

Non-emergency state workers were not required to report to work Tuesday and state offices are closed.

"We full expect everybody will be back at work on full strength tomorrow," Baker said.


Threats to Jewish community ‘horrible and destructive,’ Baker says

By Matt Murphy, State House News Service

One day after three institutions were evacuated in Massachusetts due to a multi-state wave of bomb threats, Gov. Charlie Baker called continued threats against Jewish community organizations around the country “horrible and destructive.”

“I thank God that so far it's just been threats and not anything more than that, although there are definitely incidents of, sort of, isolated incidents of small acts of violence against people because of their religious persuasion,” Baker said at a press conference Wednesday.

According to reports, two schools – the Solomon Schechter Day School in Newton and MetroWest Jewish Day School at Temple Beth Sholom in Framingham – and the Anti-Defamation League's New England offices in Boston were the targets of bomb threats Tuesday morning.

No bombs were found, but the phoned threats marked another escalation of the recent spate of anti-Semitic activity around the country that has included the desecration of cemeteries and other acts of hatred.

Baker, who attended an event with FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, said he did not speak with him about the Massachusetts incidents, but his administration has been in touch and is working with the FBI.

“There's no excuse for this. There's no reason for it. It's horrible and destructive and we will work collaboratively with our colleagues in law enforcement to do everything we can to make sure that people can safely and securely and enthusiastically practice their faith here in the Commonwealth,” Baker said.