BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS)–A longtime proponent of targeted tax relief, Senate President Karen Spilka on Monday didn’t make any promises about passing a bill, saying only that it remained under review.
The Senate is still “taking a look at” tax relief, after April tax collections fell far short of estimates, Spilka told reporters Monday afternoon.
Spilka has long called for permanent, progressive tax relief — including last summer, when revelations over Chapter 62F and the need to return nearly $3 billion in excess revenues to taxpayers upended planned packages on Beacon Hill.
Spilka insisted Monday that her chamber’s relief package, which will be unveiled after the fiscal 2024 budget process, must be smart and sustainable. “I said last spring, I said again in the summer, I said again in the fall and then January, that we should have permanent progressive tax relief that is smart and sustainable, and the Senate is taking a look at doing that,” Spilka said.
Spilka did not commit to a specific timeline, only saying it would happen “after the budget.” With this approach, the Senate appears to be diverging from the tactics used by the House and Gov. Maura Healey, who made tax relief proposals a central part of their budgeting proposals.
It’s not clear if the Senate Ways and Means Committee budget proposal due for release Tuesday will factor in any impacts next year from proposed tax relief, as both the House and governor did.
Asked if the Senate would put forward a relief proposal soon after or months after the budget rollout, Spilka replied, “We’ll see when we are ready.” Asked if the Senate’s version of the tax relief will resemble Healey’s $1 billion or the House’s $1.1 billion bottom line, Spilka opted for different metrics, saying the body “will be basing it off of consensus from the senators,” and again repeating that it would be “progressive, permanent, smart and sustainable.”
Spilka wouldn’t say what size tax package her chamber could afford after April tax revenues came in $1.435 billion or 23.1 percent below the most recent monthly benchmark.
Since news of the revenue shortfall broke, Healey has maintained a line that her budget team factored in a likely slowdown when they crafted her tax plan and her fiscal year 2024 budget bill, which sets aside funds for tax relief.
The Senate president echoed a similar sentiment, saying that the downturn was expected and accounted for when lawmakers and economists agreed on the consensus revenue number in January. “The month of April we took into account to a large extent when we did our consensus revenue, when we figured our budget. It was a significant drop. But again, the bottom line is we’ve always had ups and downs. We did last year, we did the year before and we will continue to have that and I think that that needs to be taken into account when we do a progressive, permanent, smart, sustainable tax relief,” she said.
During January’s consensus revenue hearing, analysts said they expected a “slowcession” where there would still be growth, but not the eye-popping increases of recent years.
Spilka was also noncommittal when asked whether she would include reform to capital gains tax and estate taxes, policies included in the governor’s and House’s proposals that have gotten backlash from progressive groups but which supporters say are central to addressing competitiveness concerns.
Both the House and Healey’s budget proposals cut the state’s 12 percent tax rate on short-term capital gains to 5 percent, though Healey’s bill would execute the cut percent more immediately, while the House’s version would taper down to 5 percent. Healey aims to triple the threshold at which the estate tax kicks in, from $1 million to $3 million, while the House proposed doubling the threshold.
Asked if her definition of “progressive” tax relief did not include these more controversial aspects of the Healey’s and the House’s tax packages, Spilka said nothing was off — or on — the table right now. “Again, we’re in the process of the Senate getting input and getting consensus and that will guide what’s in it and what’s not,” she said. “Nothing’s been rolled out — nothing’s been necessarily rolled in. We’ve had, we’ve already had a lot of discussion and input from senators and we’ll continue to take that input.”
Still, the Ashland Democrat said the budget and tax relief package together should be designed to help Massachusetts “to remain and be even more competitive.”
Spilka refrained from specifying what tax measures may be proposed by senators, aside from the earned income tax credit. Both Healey’s and the House’s tax relief plans called for expanding the child and family tax credit, senior circuit breaker and rental deduction cap, while overhauling the estate tax and short-term capital gains tax. “The Senate has focused years ago on the EITC piece, helping our lowest-income residents,” Spilka said. “Research shows that EITC is one of the best ways to give low-income folks the benefits and some money in their pocket, and then they turn it around and put it on main street, their local economies.”
The Senate last July had wanted to raise the state tax credit from a 30 percent match to a 40 percent match of the federal credit.
At their first leadership meeting after nearly a month, Spilka was not the only one who appeared at ease about April tax revenues plummeting by $2.163 billion from the same month last year.
“I’ll just add that unemployment is incredibly low,” Healey said to reporters. “We’re in a very strong financial position here in the state. We recently had an increase to our bond rating. And April’s numbers, while lower than that last year in April, are still the second highest recorded revenue in the commonwealth’s history. So you know, obviously we’re in the process of reviewing things and more analysis to be done, but I continue to be of the view that both the budget that we passed that we’ll continue to work on here with the Legislature and also a tax relief package remain what’s in order for the commonwealth.”
House Speaker Ron Mariano also said the downturn was expected. “Well look, we anticipated the potential downslope on the economy and that’s why we rolled in a few of our tax changes over two years, we incrementally made some changes,” Mariano said of the House’s tax plan.
Unlike Healey’s signature $600 child and family tax credit, the House wants to phase in the relief over a three-year span. The chamber also wants to reduce the short-term capital gains rate over two years.
“We wanted to be prudent. We think we were,” he said.