A deeper dive on Question 1 – Lowell Sun
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call looks at an important but little-known roll call vote from 2019 related to Question 1 on the November ballot.
BEHIND THE SCENES ON QUESTION 1
The first question on the November ballot asks voters if they favor a proposed constitutional change that would allow a graduated income tax in Massachusetts and impose an additional 4 percent income tax, in addition to the current flat 5 percent one, on taxpayers’ earnings of more than $1 million annually. Language in the change requires that “subject to appropriation, the revenue will go to fund quality public education, affordable public colleges and universities, and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation.”
Supporters say the change will affect only 18,000 extremely wealthy individuals and will generate up to $2 billion annually in additional tax revenue. They argue that using the funds for education and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation will benefit millions of Bay State taxpayers. They note the hike would help lower income families which are now paying a higher share of their income in taxes.
Opponents argue the new tax will result in the loss of 9,500 private sector jobs, $405 million annually in personal disposable income and some millionaires moving out of state. They say the earmarking of the funds for specific projects is a phony sham and argue all the funds will go into the General Fund and be up for grabs for anything.
While considering the measure in 2019, Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading) offered an amendment that was defeated 123-34 by the House and 33-6 by the Senate. The amendment would have required that the revenue generated by the 4 percent tax be in addition, not in lieu of, the amount of funding for education and transportation that the Legislature already spends on those two areas.
Amendment supporters said this will prevent a “bait and switch” scenario in which $1.9 billion in new revenue from the 4 percent tax is dedicated to transportation and education but then the Legislature takes from the money currently spent in those areas and spends it elsewhere. The net result would be that the $1.9 billion would be essentially spent in other areas rather than the two promised ones.
Amendment opponents said the intent of the amendment is clear and there is no evidence that this is a “bait and switch” amendment. They argued that the proposal is on solid ground and that there is no need to add this language.
“Question 1 supporters claim all of the revenues generated through the proposed surtax on income above $1 million will go to education and transportation, but the truth is this funding would be ‘subject to appropriation,’ which means the Legislature can spend it any way it wants,” said Jones. “I offered the amending language requiring that any revenues raised be allocated ‘in addition to’ and not ‘in lieu of’ funding that is already being spent in these two areas. Voters have an expectation that Question 1 will provide for increased spending on education and transportation, and my amendment would have offered some degree of certainty that that will actually happen. Without this stipulation, I’m afraid voters are being sold a false bill of goods that could result in a ‘bait and switch’ that provides no net increase in education or transportation spending.”
“The Jones amendment, twice proposed and defeated… during the constitutional amendment debates, was intended to codify proponents’ alleged intent and assurances and hold them to it,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation which opposed and defeated the last two graduated income tax ballot questions to amend the state constitution in 1976 and 1994. “The amendment would have enshrined in this constitutional amendment what is being blithely asserted by proponents, that all new revenue from the potential surtax on millionaires would supplement rather than supplant existing spending on transportation and education. If anyone needs evidence that this is a ‘bait and switch’ scam to deceive voters, they need look no further than those two defeats of that one amendment.”
Three key players who support Question 1 did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on the Jones’ amendment, including Questions 1’s co-sponsors Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) and Rep. Michael O’Day (D-West Boylston), as well as Andrew Farnitano, spokesperson for the “Yes on Question 1” campaign.
(Here is how your local legislators voted on the Jones amendment that would require the revenue generated by the 4 percent tax be in addition, not in lieu of, the amount of funding for education and transportation that the Legislature already spends on those two areas. A “Yes” vote is for the Jones amendment. A “No” vote is against the Jones amendment. Please note that this is not a vote on Question 1 itself, but rather a vote on the Jones amendment).
NO: Rep. James Arciero; Rep. Kenneth Gordon; Rep. Natalie Higgins; Rep. Rady Mom; Rep. Tram Nguyen; Rep. David Robertson; Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik; Sen. Michael Barrett; Sen. James Eldridge; Sen. Barry Finegold; Sen. Cindy Friedman; Sen. Anne Gobi; Sen. Edward Kennedy. YES: Rep. Colleen Garry; Rep. Marc Lombardo; Sen. Bruce Tarr. NOT YET ELECTED: Rep. Kimberly Ferguson; Rep. Vanna Howard; Rep. Meghan Kilcoyne; Rep. Michael Kushmerek; Rep. Dan Sena; Sen. John Cronin.
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
STEP THERAPY (H 4929) – The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill that limits the use of health care plan mandated prescription drug “step therapy” protocols and provides more exemptions to the mandate. Step therapy requires the patient to try less expensive options before “stepping up” to drugs that cost more. Conditions which would exempt a patient from trying the less expensive drug first include if the treatment will harm the patient, or if the patient previously tried the required treatment, or similar treatment, and it was ineffective.
Supporters said that insurers that utilize step therapy protocols require medical providers to prescribe lower-cost medications to patients first, and only grant approval for alternative medications when the cheaper options have failed to improve a patient’s condition. This results in insurers effectively choosing medications for the patient, even in cases where their providers have recommended an alternative. When patients change insurers, they are often forced to start at the beginning of the step therapy protocol again, which results in wasteful health care expenditures, lost time for patients and potentially devastating health care impacts on the patient.
“Providing access to groundbreaking treatments that help improve the quality of life for those fighting cancer, debilitating diseases and a wide range of other medical conditions is a vitally important step we need to take, which is why the Senate acted again today to pass this critically important legislation,” said Sen. Mike Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.
“This bill is a major step forward in ensuring patients and doctors have access to the right medication at the right time,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington), Senate Chair of the Committee on Health Care Financing. “We are finally joining over half the states in the nation in reforming step therapy practices, putting the focus back on health care providers working with patients to offer the best treatment possible.”
SPEECH PATHOLOGISTS (H 5094) – The Senate approved a bill that would allow fully licensed speech pathologists to be granted a provisional license to practice in Massachusetts during their 36-month fellowship. Currently, Massachusetts is one of only eight states that does not provide a provisional license that allows their students to begin practicing during their fellowship.
Supporters said that by forbidding their right to practice during their 36-month fellowship, the state runs the risk of losing professionals educated in the Bay State to other states where they become valuable members of their community and welcomed additions to the economy.
“The commonwealth has faced a shortage of the vital services our speech language pathologists provide our public-school children—an issue we should not have in a state that is home to eight graduate programs in the field,” said sponsor Rep. Paul McMurtry (D-Dedham). “This legislation will assure we do not lose these talented professionals to other states during their 36-month fellowship by providing them with provisional licensure to practice during that time.”
The House has already approved the measure and only final approval in each branch is needed for the bill to go to Gov. Baker.
ROSA PARKS DAY (H 3189) – The House approved and sent to the Senate legislation that would designate February 4th as Rosa Parks Day, in recognition of the historic civil rights leader. Parks famously refused to give her bus seat up to a white man On Dec. 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama.
Co-sponsor Rep. Mike Kushmerek (D-Fitchburg) said he co-sponsored the measure in order to bring awareness and representation to the heroic actions of Rosa Parks during the Civil Rights Movement. “February 4th is the birthday of Rosa Parks, so it will be a great reminder to all those within the commonwealth to reflect on the role she played in raising international awareness of the struggles for civil rights…I am ecstatic that the house has acknowledged the importance of honoring Rosa Parks.”
SEXUAL ASSAULT COUNSELORS (H 5363) – The House approved and sent to the Senate a proposal that would create a task force on sexual assault counselors to make recommendations on establishing statewide certification and updating training standards for sexual assault counselors.
“The standards for training and certification haven’t been updated in decades and sexual violence survivor serving organizations are interested in creating a consensus around updating those standards through this task force before filing new legislation,” said co-sponsor Rep. Natalie Higgins (D-Leominster) … “I worked and volunteered as a sexual violence counselor for nearly a decade across two different organizations in two counties and support the efforts to reconsider the minimum standards of training.”
“While we are proud to have systems in place to provide services to victims of sexual assault here in Massachusetts, we must make sure that those who victims turn to at their most vulnerable moments are properly trained and qualified for the sensitive work they do,” said co-sponsor Sen. Michael Moore (D-Millbury). “This legislation will ensure that all rape crisis centers and sexual assault counsellors will meet the same strict standards, regardless of how their service is provided.”
SIKH MONTH (H 4569) – The House approved and sent to the Senate legislation making the month of April Sikh Appreciation Month in recognition of the significant contributions Sikhs have made to the Bay State and to the United States.
“Designating Sikh Appreciation Month is a way to honor the Sikh community for sharing the importance of equality, service to others, freedom of religion, inclusiveness and cultivating a space where everyone is welcome,” said co-sponsor Rep. Christine Barber (D-Somerville).
“April marks important celebrations for Sikhs, especially Vaisakhi, the spring festival celebrating the birth of Sikhism as a collective faith,” said co-sponsor Rep. Patricia Duffy (D-Holyoke). “It is a time to honor the Sikh values of truth, compassion, generosity, service and spirituality.”
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature’s job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late-night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.
During the week of Oct. 24-28, the House met for a total of three hours and 21 minutes and the Senate met for a total of one hour and 38 minutes.
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org