By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on one roll call and local senators on three from the week of September 23-27.
REPEAL TECH TAX (H 3662)
House approved 156-1, Senate 38-0, and Gov. Deval Patrick signed the bill repealing the controversial 6.25 percent sales tax on computer system design services and modification of prewritten software.
The tax had been a major source of controversy from the moment it was approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Patrick just three months ago as part of a $500 billion-plus tax package designed to fund many of the structural and financial problems that plague the state's transportation system. It is estimated that this service tax would have generated $160 million in new tax revenue. An attempt to repeal the tax failed on a 54 to 97 margin in the House in April and on an 8 to 30 margin in the Senate in July. Since that time, the GOP members of the House and Senate led a charge to repeal it. Finally, in mid-September the governor and the Democratic leadership joined the voices calling for repeal.
Supporters of the repeal said the tax would hurt the state's important technology industry. They argued the repeal sent a strong signal that the Bay State is business-friendly and helps businesses and innovators to thrive. They noted that higher than expected increased state tax revenue will make up for the loss of revenue.
The lone opponent of repeal said the estimated $160 million in revenue is needed to begin to solve the state's transportation problems. He noted that the Legislature reduced this tax substantially from the broader version originally filed by Gov. Patrick.
A lot of the debate centered around the genesis and history of approval of the tax. The Democratic leadership said that many businesses and business organizations originally supported the tax hike but later opposed it. The leadership noted that it did exactly what it said it would: promise to monitor the impact of this hike and act accordingly.
Republicans said that many businesses and business organizations opposed the hike right from the beginning. They said the Democratic leadership ignored these cries and went ahead and approved the hike anyway.
(Both roll calls are listed below. The roll calls are on repealing the tax. On both roll calls, a "Yes" vote is for repealing the tax. A "No" vote is for the tax.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson, No/Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes/Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No/Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, No/Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No/Yes.
INCREASE GAS TAX BY 5 CENTS PER GALLON (H 3662)
Senate 11-26, rejected an amendment that would increase the current 24-cents-per-gallon gas tax to 29 cents per gallon. The tax was already hiked by 3 cents per gallon in July from 21 cents to the current 24 cents.
Amendment supporters said the additional tax would help with transportation projects by compensating for the loss of revenue from the repeal of the computer services tax. They said there is a direct correlation between the gas tax and repairing the state's roads and bridges.
Amendment opponents said this additional tax would hurt thousands of working families and people who have lost their jobs and/or homes. They said it would also hurt already overburdened businesses and urged the state to live within its means.
(A "Yes" vote is for the 5-cents-per-gallon additional hike. A "No" vote is against the hike.)
Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No.
REPEAL AUTOMATIC INCREASE OF GAS TAX (H 3662)
Senate 9-28, rejected an amendment that would repeal the indexing of the gas tax to inflation.
Supporters of repeal said this indexing amounts to a permanent regular increase in the gas tax. They argued that future legislators, not some faceless, unaccountable economic index, should decide whether to raise the gas tax.
Opponents of repeal said the indexing is a fair indicator of whether the gas tike should be hiked. They noted that indexing is essential to ensure that there is sufficient money to pay for any rise in the costs of the materials that are used for road and bridge repairs and other transportation projects.
(The roll call was on repealing the indexing of the gas tax to inflation. A "Yes" vote is for repealing indexing. A "No" vote is for indexing.)
Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No.
ALSO ON BEACON HILL
PAID SICK LEAVE (S 900) -- The Committee on Labor and Workforce Development Committee heard testimony from both sides of legislation requiring employers with 10 or more employees to give them one paid sick day for every 30 hours worked, up to 56 hours. Employees of companies with six to 10 workers would be entitled to up to 40 hours while companies with fewer than six employees would only be required to offer 40 hours of unpaid leave benefits. The sick days could be used by a worker to care for his or her own illness or that of a spouse, child or parent. It would also include routine medical exams.
Supporters said this bill would help an estimated 1 million workers who are at risk of being fired if they or a family member is sick. They argued families should not have to choose between medical care and a day's pay.
Opponents said this mandate would hurt businesses. Some said the issue should be addressed on the federal level so that there is an even playing field in all 50 states.
CARS, CARS, CARS -- The Transportation Committee held a hearing on legislation including a bill that would reduce from five minutes to two minutes the amount of time drivers are allowed to idle their car (S 1636). Supporters said that the proposal would help protect the environment. Other matters on the agenda would require that students on school buses wear seat belts (H 3027); require the Registry of Motor Vehicles to provide a translator in one of 48 languages for all non-English speaking applicants for a learner's permit (H 3052); require a "learner's permit decal" to be displayed on the window of a vehicle being driven by anyone with a learner's permit (H 3086); and require all cars in a funeral procession to have their warning lights blinking (S 1690). Current law only requires this by the first and last car in the procession.
INSTANT RUNOFF ELECTIONS -- The Committee on Election laws will hold a Statehouse hearing on October 16 at 2 p.m. in Room A-2 on several pieces of legislation providing for "instant runoff voting" (IRV), a system designed to ensure the election of candidates who receive an absolute majority, rather than a simple plurality. All candidates on the ballot are ranked by voters in order of their preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate who received the fewest number of first-choice votes is eliminated. The second choice of the voters who supported the eliminated candidate now becomes their first choice and is added to the totals of the remaining candidates. The same process is repeated, if necessary, until a candidate is the first choice of a majority of voters.
Supporters say the system would prevent candidates in a crowded election field from being elected with less than 50 percent of the vote. They also argued that it prevents "spoiler" candidates from tipping an election and allows people to vote for their favorite candidate without fear of helping to elect their least favorite candidate. Opponents say that IRV is confusing and does nothing to truly reform an election process that is controlled by fundraising and money.
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? During the week of Sept. 23-27, the House met for a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes while the Senate met for a total of five hours and 49 minutes.