STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS - LUNCH EDITION - WEDNESDAY, FEB. 26

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

BAKER CHIDES RIVALS ON TAX STANCES

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, who has declined to take a no-new-taxes pledge and promised never to cut local aid, criticized his Democratic rivals Wednesday for refusing to rule out tax hikes, and called a proposal for a graduated income tax "bad economic policies." A special commission appointed by the Legislature recommended Tuesday that lawmakers look at instituting a graduated income tax, which imposes a higher tax rate on higher income earners and lower rates on those who earn less. The Tax Fairness Commission, appointed to find ways to make the state tax code simpler and fairer, finalized its recommendations Tuesday. A graduated income tax would require a state constitutional amendment because the constitution requires a uniform rate. Massachusetts taxes income at a flat rate of 5.2 percent. "The graduated income tax and my opponents' unwillingness to rule out tax hikes are unimaginative and bad economic policies that will hurt Massachusetts families at a time when they can least afford it," Baker said in a statement released Wednesday. "Massachusetts certainly doesn't have a revenue problem after years of tax hikes, but it does lack good fiscal management and creative policies to make government more efficient. I believe we can grow our economy, improve our education system, and strengthen our communities without raising taxes.


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We did it during the Weld-Cellucci Administration, and it can be done again." During a forum Tuesday night, tax hikes were a topic of conversation among the five Democrats running for governor. Proposals to create a graduated income tax have been defeated by voters at the polls five times, and lawmakers have shown little interest in recent years in debating the idea. - C. Quinn/SHNS

LOTTERY SALES BOUNCING BACK IN FEBRUARY

A brief February thaw inspired Lottery players to head to the stores and buy more tickets than last month, driving sales up over January, Lottery Executive Director Beth Bresnahan told the Lottery Commission on Tuesday. Lottery sales in January were down $8 million compared to January 2013. Sales of Instant Tickets and Powerball were down $2 million in January, while Lucky for Life and KENO sales declined by $1 million. The decline was driven by poor weather conditions, with cold temperatures and snow affecting foot traffic in stores, according to the executive director's report. In addition, the cash prize payout in January was 75.5 percent, above the 72.3 percent Lottery officials budgeted for payout. The year-to-date prize payout percentage rose from 70.5 percent to 71.4 percent. Sales for the week of Feb. 16 were up $4.5 million compared to the same week last year, and sales for this month are up $8.5 million so far. Net profit for the first seven months of the year is $34 million ahead of last year, according to Bresnahan. Lottery profits are returned to cities and towns in the form of local aid. - C. Quinn/SHNS

PROTESTERS PRESS STATE TO DROP INVESTMENTS IN FOSSIL FUELS

A group of demonstrators rallied in front of the State House Wednesday in an effort to stop the state from investing in fossil fuel companies through its pension fund. The protester group, which included students, educators, retirees and activists, is pushing a Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) bill (S 1225) that would divest the state pension fund from fossil fuels. Devyn Powell, a Tufts University international relations and environmental studies senior, told the crowd of about 60 protesters that the future of her generation will be affected by burning fossil fuels due to the energy source's role in climate change. "Divestment is a way to take that action now. Divesting from the fossil fuel industry is a way to take power away from the fossil fuel companies whose very business model is based on bankrupting my future," Powell said. Divestment in fossil fuel companies has become an issue in the race to replace gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman as treasurer and overseer of the pension fund. Among the three Democrats running for that office, Deborah Goldberg and Sen. Barry Finegold say they support careful divestment in fossil fuels, while Rep. Thomas Conroy supports working with other states on a larger-scale divestment plan. Republican Mike Heffernan has said divestment would hurt the state retirement fund's performance, while calling socially responsible investing a "worthy goal." Downing's bill is currently before the Public Service Committee, which like other joint committees faces a March 19 biennial deadline to make decisions about bills. - M. Deehan/SHNS