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LATEST UPDATES

James Kelcourse
James KelcourseSeptember 16, 2020 at 12:13am
Massachusetts Announces Extension of Administrative Tax Relief for Local Businesses

BOSTON – Governor Charlie Baker, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo today announced an extension of administrative tax relief measures for local businesses that have been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, especially in the restaurant and hospitality sectors.

This includes the extension of the deferral of regular sales tax, meals tax, and room occupancy taxes for small businesses due from March 2020 through April 2021, so that they will instead be due in May 2021. Businesses that collected less than $150,000 in regular sales plus meals taxes in the twelve month period ending February 29, 2020 will be eligible for relief for sales and meals taxes, and businesses that collected less than $150,000 in room occupancy taxes in the twelve month period ending February 29, 2020 will be eligible for relief with respect to room occupancy taxes. For these small businesses, no penalties or interest will accrue during this extension period.

“Our Administration is committed to supporting local businesses and Main Street economies recovering from the impact of COVID-19, and we’re glad to work with our legislative colleagues on this additional measure to provide administrative tax relief,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Extending the tax relief measures we put into place earlier this year will help support companies across Massachusetts including small businesses in the restaurant and hospitality industries.”

“Providing this tax relief is an important step to support local businesses throughout Massachusetts and we are glad to work with our legislative colleagues on this important issue,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “This extension allows certain local companies to defer remitting regular sales tax, meals tax, and room occupancy taxes, an important tax relief measure for businesses that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

For businesses with meals tax and room occupancy tax obligations that do not otherwise qualify for this relief, late-file and late-pay penalties will be waived during this period.

“The Senate is committed to further assisting our restaurant and hospitality industries hit hard by COVID-19,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka. “As we continue to safely reopen and recover, we will work with our partners in the Administration and the House to mitigate the economic distress felt by local businesses brought on by the unprecedented public health crisis.”

“As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to affect our economy, the House is proud of its ongoing efforts to reinforce restaurants, such as its passage of a restaurant recovery package thanks to the work of Chair Michlewitz and the membership,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “We support the deferral of tax collections as it will provide a clear business pathway, especially to our restaurant and hospitality industries.”

The Department of Revenue will issue emergency regulations and a Technical Information Release to implement these administrative relief measures.
James Kelcourse
James KelcourseJuly 30, 2020 at 9:46pm
Baker-Polito Administration Allocates $50 Million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund to Schools and Colleges Across the Commonwealth

BOSTON – The Baker-Polito Administration announced today it will allocate more than $50 million in federal CARES Act funds to benefit education in elementary and secondary schools, as well as colleges and universities. The funding from the federal Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund will improve early literacy, expand remote learning opportunities, and cover costs associated with reopening certain schools and colleges, as well as boost financial aid for college students in greater need of financial assistance.

As part of the federal CARES Act, governors in each state were granted a share of discretionary dollars to ensure continuity of educational services during the COVID-19 crisis. The Baker-Polito Administration previously allocated nearly $1 billion in federal funds to help municipalities, school districts, and colleges and universities in the Commonwealth address COVID-related expenses.

The funding announced today will support the following initiatives:

· Up to $10 million for early literacy programs that provide extra help to students through Grade 3, aimed at remediating learning loss children may have experienced since schools closed in March, as well as accelerate reading skills of children in high-need communities;

· Up to $7.5 million to expand access to online courses, including advanced placement, early college or dual enrollment courses;

· Up to $25 million to cover COVID-related expenses associated with reopening colleges and universities, as well as certain non-public elementary and secondary schools. Funds will be allocated based on the number and percentage of low-income students these schools enroll;

· Up to $2.5 million in financial aid for low-income college students attending public colleges to ensure they can cover emergency expenses to continue their education;

· And up to $5 million set aside in an emergency reserve fund.

“Our administration is committed to supporting every student in our schools as districts and universities prepare for the start of the school year,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “This $50 million investment represents flexible funding that can be used for a variety of critical resources for schools and colleges as they begin to reopen and bring kids back into the classroom, especially in our most vulnerable communities.”

“These additional resources will help us target funding to support schools and colleges recover from effects of the pandemic,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “Our administration looks forward to our continued collaboration with school officials statewide on how to best support the safe return to classrooms this fall.”

“Besides supporting financial stability and continuity of service in both K-12 and higher education, this plan will give more students access to high-quality online learning opportunities,” said Education Secretary James Peyser.

“We know districts will need more funding this year than in a typical school year, and I am pleased to see this money added to the financial support that is already on its way to districts,” said Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley.

“At a time of great uncertainty for those of us in higher education, this investment in our public colleges and universities and most especially, in our underserved students, will help ease the financial burdens associated with COVID-19 and lay the groundwork for a productive fall semester,” said Carlos E. Santiago, Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education.

Funding announced today builds on the nearly $1 billion previously allocated to schools, childcare programs, colleges, and universities.

· In June, the Baker-Polito Administration announced the allocation of approximately $200 million from the Commonwealth’s federal Coronavirus Relief Fund for costs related to reopening public schools.

· Other funding sources to support school reopening include:

$500 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund previously allocated to cities and towns.

$194 million in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund grants.

$45 million to support the reopening of childcare programs serving low-income children.

$19 million for special education residential schools.

$25 million in federal funds for a matching grant program to help school districts and charter schools close technology gaps that inhibit remote learning.
James Kelcourse
James KelcourseJuly 28, 2020 at 10:40pm
Legislature Accelerates Interim Approach to Budgeting
New Bill Raises Four-Month Tab to Nearly $22 Billion

Matt Murphy7/28/20 6:28 PM

JULY 28, 2020.....The House and Senate on Tuesday quickly passed a $16.53 billion interim budget to keep the government funded through October, a plan that would give the Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker more time to understand the state's fuzzy but dire financial picture in the middle of the ongoing pandemic.

The House and Senate are in the final scheduled days of their formal legislative calendar for the two-year session, but as a result of COVID-19 impacts neither the House nor Senate have produced a full-year spending plan and will have to take the rare step of holding a special session later this year to take up a budget.

The Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker agreed on a $5.25 billion one-month budget in June to keep state services funded through July, and Baker filed another $5.51 billion budget bill last week to cover spending through August.

The Legislature, however, responded Tuesday with an appropriations bill that would give them more time and remove the need to figure out immediately how and when to return for a special post-July 31 session to deal with a spending plan for the rest of fiscal 2021.

"Today, the Senate and House Committees on Ways and Means have agreed to a three-month interim budget that will provide near-term fiscal stability for our Commonwealth," House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz and Senate Ways and Meas Chairman Michael Rodrigues said in a joint statement.

House and Senate leaders are also expected to "imminently" announce an agreement with the Baker administration on a funding level for local aid for the full-year, according to Rodrigues and other officials. An agreement over local aid would be intended to give cities, towns and school districts predictability heading into the fall when the Massachusetts Municipal Association has said many cities and towns will probably have to revisit their budgets, depending on what actions the state and Congress take.

More than 100 towns went into the new fiscal year with temporary budgets that were authorized by the Division of Local Services, while others were able to hold socially-distant Town Meetings to get full-year budgets approved based on what information they had at the time.

"We are committed to finalizing a full-year budget that is fiscally responsible and responsive to the needs of our state, but key to developing that budget is further clarity around potential federal action, our economic recovery and continued trajectory of COVID-19," Michlewitz and Rodrigues, both Democrats, said.

Rodrigues later told the News Service that the bill essentially level funds state programs and services through October, financing state government at the lower of either the fiscal 2020 budget appropriation or Gov. Charlie Baker's budget proposal from January.

"It is what we figured out collectively is necessary to keep the lights on and the bills paid at a minimum over the next three months," he said.

Assuming Baker signs the bill, the Legislature and governor will have appropriated $21.78 billion to cover spending over the first four months of the fiscal year. At that rate of spending, the state's budget would balloon to over $65 billion, well above the $44.6 billion budget Baker filed in January. But budget officials said state spending is weighted toward the early part of the fiscal year, and would eventually slow down.

"Many expenses are front-end loaded, so you have to make an annual payment up front so it's always the first half of the fiscal year is much higher monthly costs than the second half of the fiscal year," Rodrigues said.

Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan has worked closely with House and Senate budget leaders since March to monitor state finances and the coronavirus's impact on tax revenue, and a spokesman for the administration said it would "carefully review" the interim budget once it reaches the governor's desk.

"The Administration appreciates the efforts of the Legislature to help ensure the continued delivery of essential government services with an interim spending plan during this period of economic uncertainty," said Patrick Marvin, spokesman for the Executive Office of Administration and Finance.

Massachusetts is one of eight states without a fiscal 2021 budget, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), but the organization said some states will full-year budgets are already planning to return for special sessions to adjust those plans in response to revenue declines.

Rodrigues, in remarks on the Senate floor, said it was "prudent and responsible" to wait longer before producing a full-year spending plan for fiscal 2021, which began on July 1.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has created extreme uncertainty for the states of our public health and economy," Rodrigues said.

The Westport Democrat said legislative leaders want "greater clarity" on whether Congress and the White House will deliver additional federal aid for state and local governments, as well as more information on the impacts of the state's reopening strategy on the economy and the trend of the virus moving into the fall.

"If we were to attempt to pass a full year budget without this critical information we would be forced to make challenging and painful decisions without knowing the full extent of our resources or the state of the crisis," Rodrigues said.

Eileen McAnneny, the president the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association, said she wasn't surprised to see the Legislature push off budgeting decisions until they have a better idea of what kind help Congress might provide.

"The fact that it's for three months indicates that they either think there will be uncertainty for quite a while or there are other considerations for when to schedule the special session," McAnneny said.

The spending bill passed on Tuesday expires on Oct. 31, meaning the Legislature will either have to return before the Nov. 3 general election, when relatively few will be facing serious challengers, or extend again.

"If they had done a four-month it might be more obvious what they were doing," McAnneny said.

"It's also my understanding that the Senate is preparing to have a revenue discussion around the time they finalize the budget," she said, adding, "Given the size of the potential shortfall there will probably have to be some combination of cuts, revenue increases and use of the rainy day fund."

McAnneny, in a follow-up conversation, stressed that it was not a certainty that the Senate would take up taxes later this year. Sen. Adam Hinds, the Senate chair of the Revenue Committee, has been leading that branch's exploration of tax reform this session.

Sen. Adam Hinds, the Senate chair of the Revenue Committee, has been leading that branch's exploration of tax reform this session.

"We have reengaged the Senate revenue working group with a new mandate to consider the current reality and to think through a plan to meet potential challenges, depending on federal action and where we stand with the economic recovery and where the pandemic is," Hinds said.

Hinds said the working group, which still plans to release long-term tax reform recommendations this year, will continue to meet through the fall and has "expanded what it's looking at and accelerating."

"At this point it's far too premature to know if, let alone when, action will be required," Hinds said.

Hinds took to social media after the interim budget was released and Tweeted that not only did it level fund unrestricted municipal aid and Chapter 70 school aid, but it included a $107 million increase in school funding for inflation. He later deleted the Tweet, and told the News Service, "I defer to the chairs of Ways and Means. The reality is, the details haven't been finalized."

Economists and fiscal analysts have projected that the $31.15 billion in state tax revenue that officials once predicted could wind up at least $6 billion lower because of the pandemic and the business closures enacted by government to control the virus's spread.

Baker and the Legislature have not yet updated that revenue projection, and the trajectory of the virus's infection rate will have a huge impact on whether the economy can spring back to life, or if a second surge forces more business slowdowns.

Waiting, however, doesn't come without its own downsides.

McAnneny said that if the state were to simply level fund government services for the year, it would shrink the projected $6 billion revenue gap by about $1.5 billion.

"The upside is they're not spending more than last year," McAnneny said. "The downside is they're potentially not making changes to realize fully annualized savings."

The budget bill approved by the Legislature prevents the Baker administration from seeking savings over the next three months "through reductions in eligibility standards or benefit levels as compared with items funded in the general appropriations act for fiscal year 2020."

The bill would also give Secretary Heffernan some flexibility to respond in the event Congress delivers on another relief package for the states.

"If federal programs, or other alternative funding sources, are available to supplant state funding for the same purposes, the secretary may reduce the state's portion of said funding in a manner commensurate with the additional federal revenue received for said purpose," the bill states.
   

MEET JIM

As a resident of the district since childhood, I understand the unique promise our community offers to everyone who lives, works or visits here. As a small business owner, husband and father of two young boys, I also know the challenges that we face in continuing to realize that promise for ourselves and the generation to come.

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CAMPAIGN ISSUES

EDUCATION

Education will always be a top priority of mine. As a member of the Joint Committee on Education, I will work with the Administration and leadership to ensure that funding for our schools continues to increase as it has over the last 2 years.

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CONSTITUENT SERVICES

As your State Representative, I have worked tirelessly to make sure that you are well-represented on Beacon Hill.

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JOBS & ECONOMY

As a small business owner, I understand what it takes to be self employed in today’s competitive economy.

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