House Democrats reject tax cuts, gas tax holiday | News

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BOSTON — House Democrats kicked off debate on a $49.6 billion state budget Monday by rejecting a push by Republican lawmakers to temporarily suspend the state’s gas tax and provide other financial relief for inflation-wary taxpayers.

The spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 calls for tapping state surplus funds to make targeted investments, expanding early education and child care options, workforce development, housing, criminal justice reforms and health care coverage for low-income residents.

Debate on the plan got underway Monday in the Democratic-controlled House and the first order of business was dispensing with GOP amendments to freeze the state’s gas tax, lower the capital gains business tax to 5%, overhaul the estate or “death” tax, and double the circuit breaker tax credit for senior citizens.

The proposals mirror parts of a $700 million tax relief package filed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker alongside his preliminary budget plan.

Republicans argued the state is awash with surplus tax dollars as consumers are paying higher prices for everything from gas to food amid record-high inflation, supply chain issues and the impact of economic sanctions against Russia.

“We’re seeing higher prices across the board for everything,” state Rep. Paul Frost, R-Auburn, who proposed the gas tax holiday, said in remarks. “Giving people and businesses a break from the gas tax for two months will help alleviate some of those expenses and provide immediate relief.”

But state Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, D-Boston, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, pointed out in opening remarks in the debate that House leaders are still considering Baker’s proposed tax cuts as a stand-alone bill but opted not to include them as part of the massive spending package.

“We felt that the immediate needs in making these necessary investments were more a pressing use of the funds for this budget,” he told lawmakers.

Rep. Mark Cusack, D-Braintree, who chairs the Legislature’s Revenue Committee that’s reviewing Baker’s package, said consideration of the tax breaks in the budget would be “preliminary” and urged his colleagues to reject the GOP amendments.

But GOP lawmakers argued the state budget was the best vehicle for the tax cuts and said that taxpayers are looking for relief from the state government.

While there are no tax breaks in the House budget, the spending plan doesn’t call for wholesale increases in taxes or fees and pumps another $785 million into the state’s reserves, bring the rainy day fund to a record level of $6.55 billion.

Overall, the House spending plan calls for boosting state aid to cities and towns by $30 million, or 2.7%, to more than $1.19 billion in the next fiscal year. Chapter 70 funding for public schools would also rise to more than $5.9 billion in the next fiscal year under the plan.

A centerpiece of the House budget proposes $70 million to increase salaries for early education and care providers who accept children with state subsidies. The move is aimed at increasing staffing at the facilities to provide more options for working families that are struggling to find child care.

Another key item of the House’s spending plan calls for $20 million to provide inmates at the state’s prisons and correctional facilities with free phone calls, while another $10.2 million would be used to eliminate supervised probation and parole fees for ex-convicts.

The House plan also calls for spending $110 million to provide free school lunches for all public school students through the end of the year.

House Republicans also made a renewed push during Monday’s budget debate to temporarily suspend the state’s 24-cent-per-gallon gas tax to provide relief.

Democrats rejected the proposal, saying it would negatively impact the state’s bond rating while providing minimal relief for most motorists.

Overall, House lawmakers added more than 1,500 amendments to the budget, seeking additional state funding for local pet projects and initiatives. Most of them will be withdrawn or rejected over the next few days before they come up for a vote.

The House’s rejection of the gas tax holiday amendment drew criticism from the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a conservative pro-business group, which said the state has more than enough money to provide some relief for consumers.

“Democrat state lawmakers across the Northeast and across New England are joining Republican state lawmakers to deliver relief for their state motorists but here in Massachusetts, 124 House Democrats refuse to work across the aisle and refuse to help their own motorists,” MassFiscal spokesperson Paul Craney said. “It’s shameful.”

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at

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