What do a regulatory panel of legal gambling experts and Democrats in charge of wielding supermajority margins in the House and Senate have in common?
Up until Friday afternoon, one answer was clear: paralyzing indecisiveness.
The state Gaming Commission did ultimately differentiate itself from legislative leaders, who still can’t find agreement, or at least an accord that will net the required unanimous vote, on how much to spend to help businesses and job-seekers compete and aid taxpayers struggling with high inflation. On Friday afternoon, they voted to identify “late January” as the launch date for in-person sports betting at casinos and the state’s slots parlor and to identify “early March” as the targeted launch date for mobile sports betting.
They needed triple overtime to get there. The commission met for eight-plus hours on Thursday, often tripping over disagreements with one another and coming up shy of their goal of stating when residents might be able to start betting under a law that was approved in early August.
“I am concerned about our ability to move forward,” chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein lamented as that meeting wound to its close.
By the time the clock hit 6 p.m., regulators still did not have consensus and opted to resume their work Friday on an “emergency” basis, the emergency being their inability to reach an agreement on Thursday. After three more hours of talk on Friday, they agreed on a framework that had been in play all day on Thursday.
Unlike lawmakers, who keep most of their many disagreements private, the gaming panel’s debate played out in full public, livestreamed, giving anyone interested a glimpse.
House and Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are testing the limits of the adage that no news is good news when it comes to the more than $4 billion economic development and tax relief bill they froze on Aug. 1.
They rolled out effectively the same platitudes about “constant communication” (Senate budget chief Michael Rodrigues) and choices about “what we can and can’t afford” (House budget chief chief Aaron Michlewitz) in their latest comments that closely resembled what the public has already heard for weeks if not months.
After hyping the critical nature of their planned investments in June and July, the budget chiefs are now showing no urgency about the bill. They declined to shed light on a timeline while appearing together at an unrelated event Wednesday, with Rodrigues saying only he expected an economic development bill to pop in the “near future” and then doubling down on that exact word choice when asked to provide more details. For those unfamiliar, phrases like “near future” are tossed about frequently on Beacon Hill and mean little to anyone.
Swimming in a sea of surplus tax revenues for the second straight fiscal year, Democrats still seem thrown off by the required return of nearly $3 billion to the taxpayers who paid it under a 1986 law that legislative leaders failed to realize was in play until it was basically too late to change it, or adjust.
They, and other voices on the left, might find that obligation especially frustrating. The yearslong effort that legislative leaders support to raise the tax rate on Bay Staters who earn more than $1 million could haul in about $1.3 billion annually; now, state government must return more than twice that amount to taxpayers.
And because the checks will flow out in proportion to taxes paid in, higher earners are in line for more substantial windfalls. In 2019, people who earned more than $1 million – the same population targeted with the surtax plan — paid about 23% of the state’s entire income tax haul, according to Department of Revenue data. They are likely in line to receive a similarly large share of the total outlay coming up under Chapter 62F.
“Unless policymakers act to clarify and correct the workings of 62F, this fundamentally flawed statute is poised to make after-tax income inequality in Massachusetts worse than it now is, while also reducing the resources available to support important priorities throughout the Commonwealth,” the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center wrote in a report this week.
Both branches gaveled out Thursday for a four-day holiday without any action on the stalled bill nor movement on Gov. Charlie Baker’s closeout budget bill for fiscal year 2022, which Comptroller William McNamara wanted to be complete by the end of September in order to meet his own Oct. 31 reporting deadline.
While lawmakers grapple with their spending choices, the dollars continue to flow, perhaps planting seeds of worry in some minds that the tax cap could come into effect again next year. The Department of Revenue reported that tax collections through the first quarter are $224 million or 2.5% higher than the projected year-to-date benchmark and $443 million or 5.1% ahead of the same surplus span in 2021.
Baker flew out to Utah for a conference hosted by one of his predecessors, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, after delivering his final annual address to the Providers’ Council, an event where he touted his work over the past eight years to boost human service provider rates and industry representatives poured on the praise.
As Baker took a victory lap, the frontrunner to succeed him kept her campaign on cruise control.
Attorney General Maura Healey, who easily secured the Democratic nomination for governor, made great effort not to diverge from a pre-planned message about housing, education, affordability and health care at her latest campaign event.
Asked three times how she might wield the office differently than Baker, Healey dodged every time. Instead of offering any type of example, she said she has “a lot of regard and respect” for the Republican governor and even suggested that the question itself puts the “cart … before the horse.”
Healey took a firmer stance on another topic later on Thursday, telling the Boston Globe via a brief statement from her press team that she would move to pardon state convictions for simple marijuana possession if elected, following President Joe Biden’s blockbuster announcement that he would offer pardons to those with federal marijuana possession convictions and undertake an expedited review of the drug’s classification.
Republican gubernatorial nominee Geoff Diehl criticized Biden’s proposal as “the latest in a series of outrageous moves” that “eliminate consequences for wrongful actions,” though he said he would respect the voter-approved law legalizing recreational marijuana here.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Beacon Hill lost a towering figure Saturday when former Senate Clerk William Welch died at 72. Lawmakers and former colleagues remembered him as a “consummate professional,” someone who was “even-keeled” and “always proper and correct.”
SONG OF THE WEEK: Taxpayers looking for relief beyond 62F, the comptroller trying to close the books on fiscal 2022, bettors wanting to know the actual day they can start wagering on sports — they’re all just waitin’, waitin’, waitin’, waitin’.