Tax Changes, Baker's Budget And An Ethics Investigation: The Week Ahead On Beacon Hill
While President Trump's federal tax changes have been associated with some companies paying out big bonuses, much of its impact on residents, communities and states is still unclear. State House News Service reporter Matt Murphy tells us whether lawmakers in Boston have a good grasp of the tax bill's implications.
Matt Murphy, State House News Service: The short answer is probably no, and that's why you're seeing the revenue committee in the legislature planning a hearing for tomorrow, hours before the governor is planning to give his State of the State address. The speaker has hinted he wants to see what he can learn from inviting some of these experts in to talk about what the federal tax bill means for Massachusetts, and he's potentially interested in doing some things.
Carrie Healy, NEPR: This week, the governor is laying out his plans ahead for the Commonwealth. What are some of the indications of early measures that are likely to be priorities?
Given the timing of the speech, with his budget due to come out on Wednesday, I think we expect to see the governor teasing some of the initiatives that will be in the budget.
We know from his speaking appearance last week before municipal officials that he has teased out his local aid proposals. We will see a 3.5 percent increase in unrestricted aid to cities and towns, a significant boost of over a $100 million for school aid -- so that is out there. The governor has also hinted that he's going to do even better than the $2 million that he initially floated late last year to help schools screen for opioid and substance abuse problems among students, and to pay for that kind of education programs in schools -- so there's that.
But certainly, we'll be on the lookout for maybe some more health care proposals to try to try and get a handle on MassHealth spending and any other last initiatives.
This is a speech and a budget that will set the tone for his re-election year, so there could be some surprises in there.
Any indication where the revenue is coming from?
The administration agreed with the House and Senate on a 3.5 percent revenue growth rate for next year. That gives them some money to play with, but of course, fixed costs always eat up a lot of that between health care and pensions and debt service. They're not counting on money from the marijuana industry, which could start to trickle in.
There's also the potential, once the MGM casino comes online in Springfield, that that will generate additional revenue, but they're not banking on that, so that could be a cushion they are looking at as they build their budget plan.
Last week, I asked your colleague Katie Lannan about what, if any, impact the separation of Senator Stan Rosenberg from his husband, Bryon Hefner, has as the legislative year continues. She said lawmakers are really looking to see what the outside investigators discover before they form an opinion. By the end of last week, the situation has evolved. We learned there is a lack of confidence in the independent investigation of sexual harassment in the state Senate. Can you catch us up?
Yeah, absolutely, and I think that she was 100 percent right. I mean, the ability for Senator Rosenberg to come back and resume his presidency hinges on what this investigator finds, and certainly the separation from his husband is a personal decision, but also one that could play into senators’ confidence, as they look to see whether or not they believe there can be a firewall between the two of them, and that Bryon will not continue to be a distraction if they stay together, or they break apart, will play a role.
But we did see some good reporting out of WGBH and Mike Deehan, who used to work for us here at the News Service, about many staffers in the Senate who potentially have information to share with investigators, feeling a bit nervous about coming forward.
The whole idea of an independent investigator was to preserve confidentiality, but the subpoena power rests with the committee itself -- the Ethics Committee. And if these private investigators want to subpoena people to testify, they're going to have to ask for permission from the Ethics Committee, which exposes people's names to these lawmakers, which is enhancing, according to the reports, fear of being exposed to potential retaliations.
So that does put a bit of a cloud, or at least raise some questions marks, about the thoroughness of this investigation.
But it remains to be seen how this plays out, and whether or not the investigators will even have to subpoena people.
Has there been any talk about giving the power of subpoena to investigators?
Unfortunately, no. The Ethics Committee itself has been extremely tight-lipped, ever since they hired the investigator. The chairman of the Ethics Committee, Sen. Michael Rodrigues, has said you won't be hearing any more from him until the work of the investigators is done, and he's stuck to that.
And that has extended to even talking about process. They don't even want to discuss any facets of the investigation, whether it’s how the investigation is functioning, or the substance of it. So it’s been difficult to get any information out of them at all.