Eileen McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, was the guest speaker at the annual legislative breakfast sponsored by the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce, held on February 16.
Ms. McAnneny prefaced her presentation with a note that the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan fiscal watchdog.
Commenting on the Baker Administration’s FY 2019 budget, she said that a spending increase based on a projected revenue growth rate of 3.5% was reasonable, but also reminded attendees that it reflected “a big bet on reduction in MassHealth spending growth.” MassHealth exceeds all other spending categories and historically “tax increases have not solved the MassHealth growth problem.”
Ms. McAnneny also focused on several of the eight potential questions approved for this year’s ballot and their potential impact.
One is a reduction in the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent, and a mandate for a two-day, sales-tax-free weekend each August. Retailers support this ballot initiative as it will help them compete with tax-free online sales. The budget impact could be a $1.3B loss in state revenue, said Ms. McAnneny.
Another ballot question would raise the minimum wage from $11 per hour to $15 per hour, raising it be $1 per hour each year for four years. The impact would be felt by all employers.
Also felt by employers and employees alike would be a law establishing a paid family and medical leave insurance program, giving workers access to up to 16 weeks of paid leave to care for a family member and up to 26 weeks of paid medical leave. Wage replacement would be capped at $1,000 a week.
A law relative to patient safety and hospital transparency would require a fixed nurse-to-patient ratio. The Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation opposes this provision, saying it should not be mandated and would add $880M to healthcare costs. The National Nurses Association is also against it, said Ms. McAnneny.
Popular among the populace is the possibility of a “millionaire tax” that would impose a state surtax of 4 percent on all income above $1 million. Supporters say the law would raise $2 billion, earmarked for public education and transportation. “The legislature is already spending it,” said Ms. McAnneny, but she foresees long term fiscal implications if it passes. “Money is fungible,” she asserted. Millionaires might just move away, and then the state will lose all their tax payments. This proposal does have to clear another significant hurdle: it requires a constitutional amendment and is being challenged in the Supreme Judicial Court.
Following Ms McAnneny’s presentation, local legislators were asked to add their observations. Rep. Joe McKenna raised the subject of teen wages and apprenticeship considerations as part of the proposed minimum wage increase. Rep. Brian Murray described the ballot initiatives as “not a good way to legislate; It’s like a meat cleaver.” Rep. David Muradian saw these ballot initiatives as a “result of the failure of the legislature to act.”
The Legislative Breakfast was held at the Charles F. Minney VFW Post 3329 in Millbury.
……………………….. Barbara Van Reed