BOSTON (State House News Service) – As the House and Senate’s overtime talks around tax relief and economic development stretch on, Senate President Karen Spilka suggested Tuesday that Gov. Charlie Baker might end up being the one to put forward a bill to provide funding for things like housing, hospitals and electric vehicle policies.
The Legislature ended its formal sessions for the year on Aug. 1 without coming to agreement on a compromise version of a $4 billion economic development package that was to include $1 billion in tax rebates and reforms. The economic development bills (H 5034 / S 3030) are pending before a six-person, House-Senate conference committee that meets only in private.
House Speaker Ronald Mariano said Tuesday that “the conference committee continues to meet; we move towards a resolution,” but added that no agreements have been reached. Mariano reiterated that he wants more information about how the 1986 tax relief law known as Chapter 62F might affect the state’s financial picture before deciding how to proceed with the tax relief plan he and Spilka agreed to before the potential nearly $3 billion impact of the tax cap became known.
Spilka, who could not bring a tax relief bill to the Senate floor without the House first initiating action on it, said again Tuesday that she would prefer to act now and pointed to the state’s surplus of at least $5 billion (before any money to be returned under 62F is accounted for) as evidence.
“We had that the end of July, we have that even now, I believe we’ll have that in September. I believe that we can afford and should give tax relief, do our progressive tax policy. It’s a balanced package. I still believe that we should and can do that now and then look into the tax situation with 62F,” Spilka said. “I believe that we can do both.”
In a separate press scrum on the other side of the State House after an event that both Spilka and Mariano attended in the Senate Reading Room, the speaker said that Chapter 62F “is why we’re in this predicament, in my view,” and explained his reluctance to say whether he thinks the state can afford to do both forms of relief.
Asked if the tax cap law was the major sticking point in conference committee negotiations, Mariano agreed.
“I’m hesitant to commit almost $7 billion dollars to this project, potentially $7 billion with the $3 billion in 62F and the $3.5 [billion] or whatever we’re spending in the bill,” he said.
Mariano said there is “no timeline, per se” for having an agreement and reminded reporters that the first step towards action in either branch is for the three representatives and three senators negotiating the legislation to reach a deal.
As the talks drag on, money to address significant needs in Massachusetts remains hung up. Asked how the Legislature might deal with the funding it wanted to allocate through the economic development bill for things like housing, hospitals and electric vehicle infrastructure, Spilka said Tuesday that step could fall to Baker.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the governor does some of that in a supplemental,” budget, she said. “We, again, cannot initiate a budget, a money bill. We are dependent upon either the governor or the House. Unfortunately, there are some hard times being in the Senate. This is one of them … but that’s what our Constitution says and we need to live by it. But I do believe that some of that we’ll see in a supplemental.”
For his part, however, Mariano said there are still active talks around how best to move the items that have widespread consensus.
“I haven’t got any formal list of agreements from from anyone yet. But I think we can sort of guess that we’re both interested in making sure that hospitals are well financed and in a position to still operate, and a few other things in there that are mutually agreeable,” Mariano said. He later added, “We’d like to do more than one specific item. We would probably take a look at all the provisions in the eco dev that we agree with and they agree with, and do those in one fell swoop.”