[Globe] Senate drops tax change that pitted trio of House women against leadership
By Stephanie Ebbert Globe Staff, October 22, 2019, 7:58 p.m.
For days, Beacon Hill has been abuzz about a dustup in the House between the leadership team of Speaker Robert DeLeo and a trio of newly elected progressive women.
The women had tried to halt a corporate tax change from being swept through the House as part of a supplemental budget bill last week. Two of them were not allowed to speak on the floor, while a third was scolded for not yielding to a member of leadership. All three spoke out on social media and in the Globe, saying they felt silenced by the leaders of the chamber to which they were elected.
Now, the other chamber has delivered the action they were seeking.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee removed the tax change from the supplemental budget it reported out to the full Senate Monday. While the House had insisted the measure was urgent, vital before Nov. 15 tax filings, the Senate refused to be rushed.
“We did not see this as the proper vehicle for making major tax policy changes,” Ways and Means chairman Michael Rodrigues said in a statement.
Business groups including the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Massachusetts call the measure a correction to the state tax code necessitated by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which put new limits on the deduction for the interest that corporate taxpayers pay on their debt.
Last week in the House, Representative Mark Cusack, the Braintree Democrat who chairs the Joint Revenue Committee, had argued for immediate passage of the tax change, saying any loss in state revenue would be more than offset by gains in economic growth. “There is a trickle-down effect any time you allow something like this to happen,” he argued.
But his Senate counterpart as revenue committee chairman, Senator Adam Hinds of Pittsfield , said Tuesday that he prefers to “allow for the due diligence and work at the committee level.”
The new House members made similar arguments in asking leadership to halt the tax change and consider it as part of broader revenue considerations. “What concerns me about this legislation is that it has not gone through the traditional means of vetting,” Representative Maria Robinson, a Framingham Democrat, said last week.
The amendment she offered to block, however, was criticized by House leaders as including errors and creating unintended consequences. House Ways and Means vice chairwoman Denise Garlick asked Robinson to clarify her intent, but the presiding officer did not give Robinson a chance to speak before calling a vote.
Two of her Democratic supporters, Representatives Lindsay Sabadosa, of Northampton, and Tami Gouveia, of Acton, tried to speak but the acting speaker called for a vote without recognizing them.
The amendment was defeated, losing some original sponsors, like Representative Mike Connolly, a Cambridge Democrat. Connolly acknowledged the language itself was flawed. “The unfortunate thing was, Representative Robinson was ready to offer a further amendment to respond to those criticisms,” he said. But “the vote was called and neither she nor others were allowed to speak.”
Connolly maintains the tax change would amount to a “favor to large corporate entities” and noted the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, a liberal-leaning research organization, estimated the state would surrender at least $37 million a year if the measure is passed.
“To put that figure in perspective, the recent MBTA fare hike will generate less than that amount, around $30 million a year,” Connolly said. “You think of all the pain and all the angst that we have experienced in contemplating that fare hike, and then in the blink of an eye the governor and House leadership are prepared to just whisk this tax cut through.”
Catherine Williams, a spokeswoman for the House speaker, said: “The House looks forward to reviewing the final Senate legislation once it is passed in the Senate and received in the House.”
Stephanie Ebbert is at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com.