Your weekly briefing with the latest news and updates regarding the economy, public policies, state and federal legislation, industry news & info, and market insights & trends that shape the future of Massachusetts. AIM’s Government Affairs is committed to providing our members with the latest information affecting their business and working hard to identify, research, and address issues that they care most about – from health care, employment law, sustainability, budget, taxes, and more.

Weekly Public Policy Briefings

June 22, 2022

EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe:  Will remote work help Boston’s startup scene?

The pandemic forced many companies into a massive, unplanned experiment in remote working. Local tech startups discovered they could hire talented coders, marketers, and salespeople from all over the country. Now, one question is whether that ability to draw talent from all over hurts or helps Boston’s startup scene.

Lars Albright, who has started several successful tech companies here, is betting on continued success. After selling his most recent startup, SessionM, to Mastercard and working for a few years for the credit card giant, he’s shifting to investing in startups and opening a Boston outpost for Silicon Valley firm Unusual Ventures.

“This access, where you can reach into talent pools that are not physically located in Boston, is a tailwind for companies that are trying to find the best possible talent,” Albright said in an interview over coffee at Thinking Cup on Newbury Street. “They can still be headquartered in the area, but reach out and find that talent in other parts of the country.”

EXTERNAL: Boston Globe: Massachusetts lawmakers are fighting the clock to finish their term. But they’re facing an unusual crush of circumstances

There are looming Supreme Court decisions. A tax relief plan has yet to materialize. And there’s mounting pressure to act, including from a lame-duck governor hoping to button up the last of his legislative legacy.

With 42 days to complete major business, the Massachusetts Legislature’s typical late-session logjam of budget negotiations and unfinished work is being complicated by an unusual crush of circumstances.

House Speaker Ronald Mariano has privately urged lawmakers to speed the pace of their closed-door negotiations, on issues such as climate and energy legislation. Democratic leaders say they’re crafting various contingency plans for if, or when, Supreme Court decisions sweeping away abortion rights and gun safety requirements upend decades-old law.

The glut of proposals, both known and unknown, virtually guarantees there will be a torrent of major new laws put on the books this summer. It also raises the potential for a cluttered cutting room floor come Aug. 1.

“When you’re trying to make things happen and you don’t have the ability to just say, ‘Do it,’ it’s frustrating as hell,” Mariano said in an interview. The timing of the Supreme Court decisions — due within days — is “awful,” he said. “It’s the worst. Because we’re gone July 31. People have elections. No one wants to come back in the midst of a fight if they have one. It’s a challenge.”

Senate President Karen E. Spilka said the Senate is ready for a “busy and productive” final six weeks, including confronting “events outside our control.”

Perhaps of the highest interest to many on and off Beacon Hill: a potential tax relief package.

Lawmakers have been pressed for months by Governor Charlie Baker, business leaders, and others to ease the burden on taxpayers at a time when inflation is running at a 40-year high and state revenues have far exceeded expectations. For Baker, who’s not seeking reelection, it’s also topped his final-year agenda: He tied a $700 million package of tax breaks onto his final budget proposal, and has repeatedly, and publicly, prodded the Legislature to take action.

EXTERNAL: Mass Live:  COVID vaccinations for kids under age 5 available Tuesday: How to find one in Massachusetts

Children under 5 years old and as young as 6 months old will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Massachusetts beginning Tuesday.

The long-awaited milestone in the vaccination push against the coronavirus comes days after an advisory panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unanimously approved the shots for the only age group yet to receive them.

“We know millions of parents and caregivers are eager to get their young children vaccinated, and with today’s decision, they can,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director.

Booking an appointment in Massachusetts

Parents and guardians in Massachusetts can begin booking appointments for their children on Tuesday, state officials announced Sunday. In the coming weeks, the Department of Public Health expects to have 400 vaccination locations open across the commonwealth.

Many children are expected to receive their shots at a pediatrician’s office. But the vaccines will also be available at community health centers, state vaccination sites, mobile clinics and some pharmacies, depending on the pharmacy and the child’s age, Gov. Charlie Baker’s office said.

Parents can start contacting their pediatrician’s offices on Tuesday or use the state website vaxfinder.mass.gov to find other available locations. As of Monday, the website did not yet allow parents to search for vaccines for children under age 5.

EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe:  Local parents of small children are divided over whether to get them vaccinated against COVID – The Boston Globe

Katherine Haenschen told her 2-year-old son they will both be crying at the next visit to the pediatrician — the boy, because he’ll get stuck with a needle, and the mom because she’ll be overjoyed to finally protect him from COVID-19.

“We put our children in car seats. We put safety covers over electrical outlets,” she said. “This is another piece of doing the best we can to protect our children.”

But in her eagerness to vaccinate her child, Haenschen, a Northeastern University professor who lives in Brookline, may be in the minority among parents.

As the long-awaited and newly authorized COVID-19 vaccines for children 6 months through 5 years old start arriving in the state this week, it remains an open question whether parents will leap at the chance to vaccinate their kids.

survey in April by the Kaiser Family Foundation found only about one in five planned to vaccinate their child as soon as the vaccine became available.

And that’s about what Dr. Lloyd Fisher, a Worcester pediatrician, expects from his patient population. He ordered enough vaccine for 20 percent of them, and the doses arrived Monday morning.

EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe:  The Fed will put the economy in a coma if that’s what’s needed to whip inflation

What a mess.

Consumer prices are accelerating faster than at any time since the early 1980s. The average 30-year mortgage rate is approaching 6 percent, the highest in 14 years. The stock market is melting down.

And here’s the kicker: Times will most likely get tougher before they get better.

As the Federal Reserve drives up interest rates in a high-stakes bid to bring down inflation, more people will be out of a job. Real wages (adjusted for inflation) will stagnate or fall. Businesses will fail. People who can least afford it will take the biggest hit.

Still, if we’re lucky and all the breaks go our way — most helpful would be an end to the war in Ukraine, which has led to spikes in food and energy prices — we may dodge a full-blown recession.

Instead, inflation might gradually recede, as the higher borrowing costs engineered by the Fed restrain but don’t crush consumer spending and business investment. In this “soft landing” scenario, a version of which was laid out by the central bank last week in its most recent projections, the economy would continue to expand, though at a far slower pace than last year. Unemployment would climb but not dramatically.

EXTERNAL: WBUR:  Child care is in crisis. Here’s what’s being done about it

here’s more than one way to tally the cost of child care.

The sticker price for families is certainly high: Tuition in Massachusetts is the highest among the 50 states. But the system takes other tolls.

Traducido en español por El Planeta Media.

Most child care providers run their businesses on razor-thin margins and can only afford to pay their staff around the state’s minimum wage. And there are broader impacts: parents stay out of the workforce, businesses are short-staffed and children miss out on educational opportunities.

While these struggles are not new, the pandemic has made them harder to ignore. As staff quit and centers closed, a struggling system was pushed closer to a breaking point. And more business leaders and politicians began to see child care not as a private burden for families and caregivers, but as an urgent public problem.

EXTERNAL: The Eagle Tribune:  Biz leaders want state to cover ‘overpayment’ waivers

Business leaders are calling on the state to cover the cost of providing state waivers to hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts’ jobless claimants who owe ‘overpayments’ for unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Charlie Baker filed a $3.5 billion economic development bill in April that included $300 million to cover state waivers for overpayments, but a legislative committee yanked that provision from the spending plan before releasing a scaled-down version of the bill earlier this week.

On Thursday, the state Department of Unemployment Assistance’s advisory board tabled a proposal to approve the Baker administration’s overpayment waiver plan, noting the uncertainty over funding for the waivers. The six-member panel voted to postpone a decision on the proposal until its meeting next month.

Board member Chris Carlozzi, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, requested the delay in making the waiver policy permanent. He said authorizing waivers without allocating the funds would be an “unfunded mandate” that would saddle employers with the cost for the overpayments.

EXTERNAL: The Boston Herald:  Gas prices tick down to $5.00 a gallon in Massachusetts: ‘We may see below $5 in the next week’

Drivers aren’t exactly cheering as they head past their local gas station, but pump prices are finally moving in the right direction across the Bay State.

The average gas price for regular in Massachusetts ticked down 4 cents in the last week to $5 a gallon, according to AAA Northeast. The state’s average gas price hit an all-time record a week ago when it was $5.04 per gallon.

“It’s encouraging to see prices finally edge down,” Mark Schieldrop of AAA Northeast told the Herald on Monday. “We may see below $5 in the next week.”

Prices have skyrocketed in the last few months following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. and other countries have banned Russian oil.

Gas is now 70% more expensive than this time last year, when the average for regular in Massachusetts was $2.95 a gallon.

The average in the Bay State was $4.73 a month ago, and the hope is that last week’s downward trend continues to move prices back toward that.

EDUCATION

EXTERNAL: State House News: Hour’s Late, But Early Care Push Still Alive

Senate Promising Proposal That Would Be “Transformative”

BOSTON, JUNE 21, 2022…..Workforce support and affordability for families will be key components of an early education and care bill set to surface soon in the Senate, top Democrats in that branch said Tuesday.

Lamenting the pandemic’s drag on women’s participation in the workforce and the challenges that families face in paying for and accessing care, Senate President Karen Spilka told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce the Senate would “be releasing a bill shortly” but did not offer a specific timeline.

“This legislation, if and when fully implemented, will be transformative in expanding access to high-quality, sustainable and affordable early education and care for young children and families in Massachusetts,” Spilka said, drawing applause from the crowd gathered at the InterContinental Hotel for her breakfast address. “It’s overdue.”

Spilka said the forthcoming bill also “recognizes that our workforce needs significant supports, through salary, and education and training.”

Formal legislative sessions conclude for the year on July 31. By waiting until so late in the session to offer a plan, senators are leaving themselves with a tight timeline to produce and pass a bill and to get buy-in from their House counterparts on whatever the Senate ultimately proposes on child care.

With several major bills unresolved, the Senate president said she is “feeling very optimistic” about what lawmakers can accomplish by the end-of-session deadline.

Spilka pointed to a compromise voting reform package that’s now on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk and said she is “extremely hopeful” that a comprehensive mental health reform bill can become law, now that the Senate and House have each approved their own bills.

Mental health is one of several areas where House and Senate lawmakers have both passed legislation but will need to agree on final language before sending Baker a bill, along with bills addressing energy and climate, governance at the state soldiers’ homes in Chelsea and Holyoke, legalization of sports betting, the cannabis industry, and the state budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

Both branches infused their budgets with funding aimed at shoring up the early education and care field after the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, though they allocate the money differently.

Spilka said the Senate’s fiscal 2023 spending plan “invests a record $1.13 billion — that’s $1.13 billion — to transform the child care system,” formalizes the practice of reimbursing providers based on enrollment rather than attendance, and dedicates a new $250 million to continue the Commonwealth Cares for Children, or C3, stabilization grant program for care providers.

Sen. Jason Lewis, the Senate chair of the Education Committee, said those grants, which originated during the pandemic, have been “truly transformative for the sector.”

Lewis, a Winchester Democrat, said lawmakers are talking about how to make the grants permanent and about increasing subsidy reimbursement rates and “providing direct support to the workforce for things like scholarships, so that folks can get associate’s degrees [or] bachelor’s degrees, loan forgiveness programs and other workforce supports.”

“A key part of the sector is having a workforce that is well-compensated, with the training and the professional development and the credentialing that they need, and so that will definitely be a high priority in the legislation, along with increasing affordability for families and also helping providers to be able to provide high-quality care that is sustainable,” Lewis said.

Lewis and Rep. Alice Peisch, the Education Committee’s House chair, led a special commission that in March reported that the early education and care system in Massachusetts does not meet the needs of many children, families and employers and issued a series of recommendations it said would require “upwards of $1.5 billion annually over time” to fully implement.

The Education Committee last month advanced a bill that Peisch and Lewis described as “a significant step forward in the multi-session implementation” of the commission’s recommendations. Senate and House versions of the bill (S 2883, H 4795) are now in the custody of each branch’s Ways and Means Committee.

HEALTHCARE

EXTERNAL: The Boston Herald:  Mental health bill clears state House

The state House on Thursday unanimously approved a bill which would expand access to mental healthcare across the commonwealth.

“Behavioral health care is as important as physical healthcare,” State Rep. Adrian Madaro, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery said. “This bill could not be more timely, or more needed.”

The bill, an act addressing barriers to care for mental health, would require insurance coverage without prior authorization for acute mental health treatment and for annual mental health wellness exams.

The state Senate, in November, passed their version of the bill, S.2584, which has similar provisions, but also sets a reimbursement floor for mental health clinicians at the rate primary care providers receive for preventative services.

“I am so grateful to Speaker (Ronald) Mariano, (House Ways and Means) Chair (Aaron) Michelwitz, Chair Madaro, and the entire House for advancing a version of the Mental Health ABC Act 2.0,” Senate Pres. Karen Spilka said ahead of the House’s Thursday vote.

“If there is any silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that more people are willing to talk openly about their need for quality mental and behavioral health care. Yet our delivery system is broken, and people can’t easily get the care they need and deserve,” she said.

SUSTAINABILITY, CLIMATE & ENERGY

EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe:  As gas companies plan for a climate future, their vision: more

Up on the fourth floor of Westin Copley Place this week, hundreds of natural gas representatives mingled among glossy posters and tables littered with branded baseball hats and Oreos. Among the niceties and exchanges of business cards it became quickly clear — the climate crisis is very much on people’s minds. Another thing became clear, too. The solution, as they see it, is more gas.

“Additional natural gas pipelines are the answer to many of the questions we face today,” Amy Andryszak, chief executive of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, told a panel audience Tuesday.

It was the 27th annual gathering of the Northeast LDC Gas Forum — nicknamed the “Best Deal-Making Conference” in the industry, according to the organizers, and seemingly as good a place as any to get the gas industry’s view of the climate crisis as it is lived every day in the executive suites, field sites, and maintenance trucks of the scores of companies that operate in New England.

Elsewhere in the world, on this very day, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres issued the latest of his increasingly desperate pleas for world action, saying that the planet is headed toward climate chaos and that “new funding for fossil fuel exploration and production infrastructure is delusional.”

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe:  Pfizer COVID-19 appears effective for kids under 5

Federal health officials said Sunday that kid-sized doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines appear to be safe and effective for kids under 5, a key step toward a long-awaited decision to begin vaccinating the youngest American children.

EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe:  The whiter the Boston neighborhood, the easier it can be to find a restaurant with a license to serve booze, report shows –

As the Boston City Council debates efforts to get more liquor licenses in the hands of entrepreneurs of color, a new report is putting hard numbers behind what many Boston politicians and restaurateurs have known for years: Generally speaking, the whiter the Boston neighborhood, the easier it is to find a restaurant with a license to serve booze.

The city’s four neighborhoods with the highest number of white residents — at least 75 percent for each — hold eight times as many liquor licenses per person as Boston’s four most diverse neighborhoods, where the population is at least 75 percent people of color, according to the report, which was published by OFFSITE, a firm that focuses on training and development for those in the bar and restaurant industry.

There are other damning stats: Just 2 percent of on-premise liquor license holders identify as Black, according to the report, in a city where Black residents make up 24 percent of the population.

A key problem: Boston doesn’t control its own destiny when it comes to its liquor license cap. The process of expanding the number of liquor licenses throughout the state is controlled nearly exclusively on Beacon Hill, an antiquated vestige of an era when Protestant state legislators feared that, if left to their own devices, Irish Catholic leaders in Boston would flood the city with whiskey.

Taxation & Budget

EXTERNAL: The Boston Herald:  Biden is ‘considering’ gas tax holiday with prices around $5 a gallon, would save drivers about $3 for average fill up

Drivers paying more than ever before at the pump could possibly see gas prices dip a bit, as President Biden on Monday said he’s exploring a federal gas tax holiday.

“Yes, I’m considering it,” Biden told reporters about a potential gas tax holiday. “I hope to have a decision based on the data, I’m looking for by the end the week.”

The federal gas tax is 18 cents a gallon, so a gas tax holiday could save the average driver about $3 each fill up. The average price for regular is now $5 per gallon in Massachusetts, resulting in the average motorist paying more than $70 to fill up their tanks.

“It’s not going to be a huge relief for most people,” said Michael Klein, professor of international economics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

Klein also noted that gas tax revenue is earmarked for highways and bridges.

“We have huge infrastructure needs in the country, and that (a gas tax holiday) would be damaging to meeting those needs,” Klein said.

Biden’s comments about the gas tax on Monday come after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Sunday said a gas tax holiday is “certainly worth considering.”

“President Biden wants to do anything he possibly can to help consumers,” Yellen said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Gas prices have risen a great deal, and it’s clearly burdening households, so he stands ready to work with Congress.”

It remains to be seen how a federal gas tax holiday would affect demand, noted Mark Schieldrop of AAA Northeast.

“Overall, I still think the forces of supply and demand, and what’s going on with the economy will have the biggest impact on the long-term trend of gas prices,” he added.

EXTERNAL: State House News: Estate Tax Changes appearing More Likely

The odds of estate tax reform appeared to improve Tuesday, and a potential tax relief package could also feature some ideas that haven’t yet been publicly floated, Senate President Karen Spilka said Tuesday.

With inflation high and the state on track for another major revenue surplus this fiscal year, legislative leaders for weeks have been saying they plan to produce a tax relief package but a plan has not surfaced with less than six weeks remaining to get a bill through the Legislature and to Gov. Charlie Baker.

Spilka, at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast, teased some areas under consideration.

“We are currently in discussions about a tax relief proposal, which may include changes to the Earned Income Tax Credit and the estate tax, among others — some of which you may have heard suggestions, some of which not,” she said. “And we will continue to ensure that Massachusetts is open, competitive and inclusive and that these same values will guide our tax relief proposal.”

Baker filed his own nearly $700 million relief package in January, which featured breaks for seniors, renters, parents, and low-income workers. Baker’s bill, one of dozens still before the Revenue Committee, also proposed lowering the short-term capital gains tax rate and changing the threshold where the state’s estate tax kicks in — currently $1 million.

Estate tax changes appear to be emerging as a broad area of consensus, though the Democrats who control the Legislature may differ in their precise approach from what Baker proposed. The estate tax is a transfer tax on the value of a decedent’s estate before distribution to any beneficiary.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation has described Massachusetts as an “outlier among the states” on the estate tax, noting that the Bay State and Oregon’s $1 million taxation thresholds are the lowest of the 12 states with estate taxes.

Under Baker’s plan, the threshold at which the estate tax kicks in would double to $2 million. While the current tax applies to the full value of estates over $1 million, Baker’s bill (H 4361) would tax only the amount above $2 million.

Last month, after his own address to the Greater Boston Chamber, House Speaker Ron Mariano said the idea of changing the threshold at which the estate tax kicks in “was something that jumped out at us right away.”

Spilka on Tuesday tied the estate-tax issue to rising home prices and property values in Massachusetts.

 

 

June 14, 2022

EXTERNAL: State House News: Sales Tax Holiday Weekend Set For Aug. 13-14

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 13, 2022…..The Legislature on Monday set the dates of this year’s sales tax holiday weekend, settling on Aug. 13 and 14, when Massachusetts shoppers will get a break from state sales tax on most retail items less than $2,500.

The annual sales-tax-free weekend was made permanent by a 2018 law, which calls on the Legislature to set the dates by June 15 each year, otherwise the Department of Revenue gets to pick.

As part of the “grand bargain” law, retailers in 2018 dropped their push for a ballot question lowering the 6.25 percent sales tax to 5 percent. That law also raised the minimum wage will rise from $11 to $15 an hour over a five-year period, phased out time-and-a-half pay for workers on Sundays and holidays over that same period, and solidified the launch of a paid family and medical leave program overseen by the state government and backed by a payroll tax.

Economic Development Committee co-chairs Sen. Eric Lesser and Rep. Jerry Parisella sponsored the date-setting measures in their respective branches Monday.

EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe:  Pfizer COVID-19 appears effective for kids under 5

Federal health officials said Sunday that kid-sized doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines appear to be safe and effective for kids under 5, a key step toward a long-awaited decision to begin vaccinating the youngest American children.

The Food and Drug Administration posted its analysis of the Pfizer shot ahead of a Wednesday meeting where outside experts will vote on whether the shots are ready for the nation’s 18 million babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Kids under 5 are the only group not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in the U.S.

Late last week the FDA posted a similar analysis of Moderna’s shots for children under 6.

If regulators clear the shots by one or both companies, vaccinations could begin as soon as next week with the drugmakers ready to rapidly ship doses ordered by the government. Parents have been pressing federal officials for months for the opportunity to protect their smallest children as more adults shed masks and abandon other public health precautions.

While only about 3% of U.S. COVID cases are in the age group 6 months to 4 years, hospitalization and death rates in that group are higher than those for older children, according to the FDA’s analysis — one reason experts have said protecting this group is important.

EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe:  What is Evusheld? People in Massachusetts can get at-home injection to help prevent COVID

An injection that helps prevent COVID in people whose bodies have trouble making antibodies is now being given to Bay Staters in the convenience of their homes.

Treatments like Evusheld, which helps prevent COVID for those who are immunocompromised, can be administered at home in Massachusetts, according to the state Department of Public Health.

Evusheld is a combination monoclonal antibody injection therapy that provides added protection against COVID prior to virus exposure for individuals who have moderate- to severe-immune compromise.

CDR Health, the state vendor that provides in-home COVID vaccinations, has expanded its services to include this therapy, DPH said.

“Evusheld is used before someone gets COVID-19 and is a preventive treatment,” DPH’s website reads. “Evusheld consists of 2 injections that are delivered at the same visit. Evusheld is not for the treatment of COVID-19 symptoms. It is not given to someone after they have been exposed to COVID-19.”

People might be able to get Evusheld if they have a weakened immune system due to a medical condition or because they’re taking medications that affect their immune system.

Evusheld is not a substitute for vaccination. People should wait at least two weeks between getting vaccinated for COVID and receiving Evusheld.

EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe:  Employers piece together a hodgepodge of COVID-19 safety policies to stay open and healthy

One company devised color-coded bracelets so employees could signal their comfort level with being around unmasked colleagues. Others have upgraded ventilation systems. Some employers continue to test workers for COVID-19. Vaccination requirements, meanwhile, vary widely.

Amid the ever-changing COVID landscape, businesses have adopted a panoply of approaches to help keep workers healthy and the doors open.

“It’s become this big ball, hodgepodge of protocols and policies across the United States,” said Yvette Lee, an adviser at the Society for Human Resource Management, a trade association.

“Employers are trying to navigate this as best they can because they obviously want employees to feel comfortable coming into the office,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Labor have issued general guidance for employers. They include regular testing, masking, and physical distancing for workers who are not fully vaccinated, and a recommendation that everyone, vaccinated or not, wear masks in public indoor settings in regions where transmission is still high.

EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe:  White House outlines the beginning of a vaccination campaign for the youngest children

The White House on Thursday outlined the early stages of its plan for making coronavirus vaccines available this month to roughly 18 million children younger than 5, should the doses be cleared by federal regulators for the last group of Americans yet to be eligible.

The Biden administration has made 10 million doses available to states and health providers, with roughly 85 percent of children in the age group living within 5 miles of possible vaccination sites, according to a White House fact sheet.

Half of the 10 million doses were made available for order last week, the other half this week, with equal numbers of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the two that federal regulators are reviewing and could authorize as soon as next week.

“Let’s actually take a moment to understand what a historic moment this is,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, President Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator. “It would mean that for the first time, essentially every American from our oldest to our youngest would be eligible for the protection that vaccines provide.”

EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe:  Millions of COVID-19 shots ordered for youngest, officials say

Millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses have been ordered for small children in anticipation of possible federal authorization next week, White House officials say.

The government allowed pharmacies and states to start placing orders last week, with 5 million doses initially available — half of them shots made by Pfizer and the other half the vaccine produced by Moderna, senior administration officials said.

As of this week, about 1.45 million of the 2.5 million available doses of Pfizer have been ordered, and about 850,000 of available Moderna shots have been ordered, officials said. More orders are expected in the coming days.

Young children are the last group of Americans who have not been recommended to get COVID-19 vaccinations. Up to about 20 million U.S. children under 5 would become eligible for vaccination if the government authorizes one or both shots.

It’s not clear how popular the shots will be. A recent survey suggests only 1 in 5 parents of young children would get their kids vaccinated right away.

EXTERNAL: State House News: Alcohol License Question Survives high Court Challenge

An initiative petition seeking to change state liquor-licensing laws remains alive after the Supreme Judicial Court on Monday ruled that Attorney General Maura Healey correctly certified it to appear before voters on November’s ballot.

The high court rejected a challenge to Healey’s certification, which argued the question did not meet the Constitutional requirement that initiative petitions contain only matters that are related or mutually dependent.

In a decision penned by Justice Dalila Argaez Wendlandt, the court found that the question “presents an integrated scheme whose various provisions serve the common purpose of loosening some of the current restrictions on the number and allocation of licenses for the retail sale of beer and wine for off-premises consumption, while taking steps to mitigate the potential negative effects of this expansion.”

Backed by the Massachusetts Package Stores Association, the proposal would gradually double the number of allowable licenses any one retailer can hold to 18 by 2031, but also reduce the cap on licenses specifically for the sale of all alcoholic beverages — beer, wine and liquor — from nine to seven. The total cap of 18 would cover both licenses for all alcoholic beverages and those for just beer and wine sales.

The proposal would also change the way fines for liquor-sale violations are calculated and put new rules in place prohibiting self-checkout of alcoholic beverages and allowing retailers to accept out-of-state IDs.

The package stores group has pitched its proposal as a compromise essential to preserving a share of the alcohol retail market in Massachusetts for small, independently-owned businesses as large out-of-state corporations muscle into the space. Opponents, including groups representing supermarkets and convenience stores, have knocked it as an attempt to stifle competition from retailers that sell a broader array of products.

Plaintiffs in the case Colpack v. Attorney general had argued that the proposal does not meet the relatedness requirement and would “require the electorate to cast a single vote on five competing and disparate subjects raising significant and distinct policy questions about the number of off-premises licenses a retailer may own (and where), about what regulatory burdens should be imposed on different types of retail channels (and license tiers), and about what practices should be allowed to provide greater choice and convenience for consumers.”

Wendlandt wrote that there “is no bright-line rule” to follow in deciding if the components of an initiative petition are related or dependent.

“We also have determined that initiative petitions containing multiple provisions involving a variety of different regulatory issues nonetheless may meet the related subjects requirement…, so long as the provisions are part of an ‘integrated scheme’ of regulation,” Wendlandt wrote.

EXTERNAL: Agency Checklist: Remote Work Influencing Downtowns, Housing Sector

Many employees have returned to the in-person daily grind more than two years after the pandemic reshaped public life, but economic impacts will be “pretty significant” if even a fraction of the workforce continues to embrace hybrid or remote models, Gov. Charlie Baker said on Thursday.

Linking an evolution in work patterns to the future of downtown spaces and to the “existential threat” posed by a broken housing market, Baker, during remarks to business leaders, made his latest pitch for passage of a series of spending packages he said would help Massachusetts navigate a changing employment landscape.

Baker opened his remarks at a New England Council event with optimism, saying the state has done a good job “bouncing back” from the worst stretches of unemployment during the public health crisis.

But soaring inflation and “churn” in the labor market will continue to pose challenges for employers as well as policymakers, Baker said. He pointed in particular to working from home, arguing that even a small subset of employees opting against commutes would represent a critical mass.

“They don’t have to be half of what everybody does,” Baker said. “They don’t even have to be a third, but if it’s 25 percent of what everybody does, the consequences of that are pretty significant in a lot of ways.”

Employees who have access to remote options may see significant upsides in that model, such as more flexibility for family care or reduced travel expenses.

EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: US inflation hit 8.6 percent over the past year, highest rate in 4 decades

Inflation hit a fresh 40-year high in May in a broad advance, raising prospects that Federal Reserve will keep hiking interest rates aggressively for longer.

The consumer price index increased 8.6% from a year earlier, Labor Department data showed Friday. The widely followed inflation gauge rose 1% from a month earlier, topping all estimates. Shelter, food and gas were the largest contributors.

The so-called core CPI, which strips out the more volatile food and energy components, rose 0.6% from the prior month and 6% from a year ago, also above forecasts.

The figures reinforce that inflation is still heated by many measures, and that the Fed — which has committed to half-point hikes at each of its next two meetings, starting next week — will have to maintain that aggressive stance through its September gathering. Record gasoline prices and geopolitical factors threaten to keep inflation high in the coming months, suggesting the Fed will have to pump the brakes on the economy for longer.

EXTERNAL: WBUR  We asked 8 child care workers about their joys and frustrations. Here’s what they said

Staffing shortages and high turnover have been challenges in early education and child care for years. But the pandemic has taken those issues from bad to worse.

The child care workforce in Massachusetts is about 12% smaller today than it was before the start of the pandemic, according to a recent analysis from the University of California, Berkeley.

Fewer workers mean providers can’t care for as many kids. According to a Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care report released in May, the state is operating at about 92% of its pre-pandemic capacity — with around 640 fewer licensed providers available.

WBUR checked in with eight current and former child care workers about the joys and challenges of working in this industry, and why some are leaving the profession.

EXTERNAL: The Boston Herald:  Boston Chamber head says a lack of confidence in the T is major challenge for businesses

As workers continue to return to the office, chamber boss James Rooney worries a lack of confidence in the public transportation system could hurt a rebound.

“When you look at the dynamics right now, as business is navigating this return to the workplace moment, one of the No. 1 employee concerns is the commute,” Rooney told the Herald. “It’s not safety of the workplace. It’s not being around other people.

“What employees are saying is they don’t have confidence in the T and many of them are driving and the data supports that,” the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce president and CEO added.

Rooney said traffic is back to pre-pandemic levels and downtown parking garages are full. Employees are telling their employers that they don’t want to take the MBTA, he said.

“We need to understand, for the dynamics and the vibrancy of the downtown district, it’s all about people,” he said. “It’s all about people wanting to come down to the downtown district and the T plays a key role in that.”

Rooney said the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce decided to weigh in on the matter, first by using his own Twitter account on Wednesday, to reflect what’s on the minds of its members.

Today, a well-functioning transportation system is top of mind as they try to figure out how to navigate the hybrid work environment, he said.

He said the purpose of using social media this week was to keep the safety issues at the MBTA in the public consciousness. He said the chamber wants to ensure the T is at the top of the agenda for the next governor.

Rooney said the chamber also wants to shift the dialogue from effort to results. He said that while he is not criticizing the amount of money that has been invested into the T or the effort of its general manager, “at the same time, we can’t confuse effort with results.”

HEALTHCARE

EXTERNAL: Commonwealth Magazine: Speaker Mariano says health care regulation needs updates

Wants to expand Health Policy Commission powers, revamp board

IT”S BEEN A DECADE since the Legislature revamped the way the state regulates health care, passing legislation establishing the Health Policy Commission and instituting a cost control benchmark.

House Speaker Ron Mariano, one of the architects of the 2012 law, said on The Codcast that much has changed over the last 10 years and the law needs some updating.

“In the 10 years, we’re looking at a vastly different landscape with different cost factors, different drivers that we didn’t anticipate in 2012,” Mariano told hosts Paul Hattis of the Lown Institute and John McDonough of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health said.

The Health Policy Commission, for example, was given authority to review hospital mergers and acquisitions, but it had no direct oversight of Mass General Brigham’s recent proposal to expand by adding three ambulatory care centers in Westborough, Westwood, and Woburn.

The review of that expansion fell to the Department of Public Health through its determination of need process, which relies heavily on an analysis of the expansion’s impact by a firm hired by the applicant.

The Department of Public Health ultimately blocked Mass General Brigham’s ambulatory care expansions, but Mariano says that was a combination of luck and public outcry. In the future, Mariano said, the Health Policy Commission should have the authority to review any expansion that could affect the industry’s cost structure.

“We can’t rely on the result of an analysis hired by the proponent of the project,” he said.

Mariano said the Health Policy Commission’s cost benchmark worked well initially, but lawmakers failed to anticipate several new developments, including the rise of very expensive medications and the advent of pharmacy benefit managers.

“All of these things came into the marketplace after we had been up and running for years and we never ever changed the law to account for that,” he said.

“At the end of 10 years, it is probably time to reassess what we’re asking the HPC to do and how we’re asking them to do it,” Mariano said. “And I do think it is time to maybe take a look at the commission also.”

Echoing comments made by his former legislative colleague Steve Walsh, who is now the president and CEO of the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, Mariano said it may be time for the commission’s board to change — from a group of volunteers to full-time paid directors.

“They may not have the time necessary that we need to commit to resolve some of the issues we’re going to be faced with,” Mariano said. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. It may be time to step in and reassess.”

Mariano also said:

  • The House is working on a behavioral health bill with a focus on 5- to 18-year-olds who were essentially removed from school and forced into isolation by COVID. He said the House bill will complement the bill already passed by the Senate in addressing the lack of behavioral health beds.
  • He didn’t seem to think much of Gov. Charlie Baker’s bid to shift health care spending toward primary and behavioral health care, primarily because the legislation has no answer for institutions that fail to do that.

EXTERNAL: State House News Service: House Mental Health Debate | “One Big Package” | Dentists For Ballot Q

  • House Ready To Wade Back Into Mental Health Debate
  • Awaiting Roe Ruling, Mariano Eyes “One Big Package”
  • Dentists’ Group Declares Support For Ballot Question

House Ready To Wade Back Into Mental Health Debate
House lawmakers plan to take up a mental health bill on Thursday, Speaker Ronald Mariano said Monday in an announcement signaling a brighter likelihood that the branches in the coming weeks will together tackle a pressing topic. “I think it’s going to be released Wednesday, and you’ll have all the details,” Mariano said after meeting privately with Senate President Karen Spilka, Gov. Charlie Baker and other top Beacon Hill officials. In March, Mariano had said the House planned to pursue a bill that would “complement and combine with” the mental health legislation the Senate unanimously passed in November. He used that same language on Monday, though did not offer up specifics of what policies the House is looking to tackle. “I said from the very beginning that it was meant to complement the Senate’s plan,” the Quincy Democrat said. “And I think you’re going to see the focus on a little bit of a different area than what the Senate went into, but we aim to be creating a complete mental health program for our citizens in the Commonwealth. That’s the goal.” The Senate bill (S 2584) mandates insurance coverage for an annual mental health exam, similar to an annual physical, would eliminate insurers’ prior authorization for patients who need acute mental health treatment, and set a rate floor to reimburse mental health clinicians at the same level as primary care providers for evaluation and management services. It also includes policies aimed at ending a longstanding problem: long stays in emergency rooms for patients waiting for a psychiatric bed. The bill Mariano teased could surface in Wednesday’s informal House session before the House fully delves into it on Thursday. House Democrats also plan to meet in a private caucus on Wednesday afternoon, where they’ll likely discuss the bill. – Katie Lannan/SHNS

Awaiting Roe Ruling, Mariano Eyes “One Big Package”
It’s been more than a month since the publication of a leaked, draft U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would strike down Roe v. Wade, and while the Senate has acted in response, House Speaker Ronald Mariano indicated Monday he would prefer to wait until a final decision to chart a state legislative response aimed at protecting abortion access. “Right now, there’s a lot of people running around trying to prevent a lot of things from happening, and I would rather, if we’re going to attack a problem, see what the court is going to decide and where the limits are and then make decisions based around that with one big package that addresses a lot of the issues,” Mariano said. The nation’s highest court still has not issued an opinion reversing the 1973 case that legalized abortion nationally, but reproductive rights advocates across the country and many Democrats in Massachusetts responded to the draft ruling by sounding the alarm and calling for action. The Senate in May stitched language into their fiscal 2023 state budget bill that would protect reproductive and gender-affirming health care providers in Massachusetts from legal action originating in other states, where lawmakers have approved restrictions and in some cases “bounty” provisions aimed at stretching across state lines. That measure will not reach Republican Gov. Charlie Baker unless the House agrees to include it in the final budget bill, and the speaker’s comments on Monday about “one big package” raise questions about whether lawmakers plan to tackle the topic through the budget, in standalone legislation, or as part of some other bill. Mariano did not explicitly say Monday if he supports or opposes the Senate’s proposal, though his interest in an omnibus approach could put him at odds with his colleagues across the hall. “The Senate talked about some issues in their budget and I understand that,” Mariano said. “This problem could be fairly broad-based and need an awful lot of work, so instead of doing it piecemeal and patchwork, it’d be much easier to go in once you see (what the court does).” Lawmaker are set to wrap up formal business for the two-year session on July 31, and the exact timing of a final court ruling is not known. Asked if it was possible to craft and complete abortion legislation in July alone, Mariano replied, “Probably. A lot of it could be done. We have bills on a lot of different things still left in studies that we can pull out.” – Chris Lisinski/SHNS

Dentists’ Group Declares Support For Ballot Question
The Massachusetts Dental Society stepped into the ballot question arena on Monday, endorsing a proposal to apply a spending limit on dental insurance companies that could go before voters in November. Requiring carriers of dental insurance to spend at least 83 percent of their dollars on dental expenses rather than administrative expenses would “make dental providers more transparent and accountable to the patients they serve,” the society said in an announcement of its position on the initiative petition. “As an advocate for both regular and affordable dental care for all Massachusetts residents, the MDS endorses the Massachusetts Medical Loss Ratios for Dental Insurance Plans Initiative and encourages Massachusetts residents to pass it in November,” said MDS President Dr. Meredith Bailey. “Patient dollars should be required to be spent in support of their oral health, and patients deserve visibility into how much of their dental insurance premiums are paying for care as opposed to administrative costs.” If the question’s sponsors clear the final signature-gathering hurdle and win a majority of votes in November, dental insurance carriers would newly face medical loss ratios like those in place under state and federal law for medical insurance plans. Carriers would also need to refund excess premiums to members and comply with new data reporting requirements. MDS, which represents more than 5,000 Bay State dentists, said both its statewide group and the broader American Dental Association would support the ballot question campaign. Orthodontist Mouhab Rizkallah chairs the ballot question committee and so far has fully funded the campaign using $501,000 of his own money, according to state campaign finance records. Jason Aluia of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans in March told lawmakers his group, which represents more than a dozen health plans, opposes the question and warned it would lead to “increased premiums for consumers and increased costs for businesses offering dental coverage to employees receiving those benefits.” In February, opponents of the ballot question filed paperwork with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, but so far the committee has not reported any fundraising or spending. – Chris Lisinski/SHNS

SUSTAINABILITY, CLIMATE & ENERGY

EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe: Blue is the new green: How business can protect the ocean

Our lives, and global commerce, are inextricably linked to the ocean that surrounds us. More than one-third of the earth’s population — nearly 2.4 billion people — live within 60 miles of an oceanic coast. Hundreds of millions of jobs are supported by maritime economic activity, and waterways carry some 90 percent of international trade. According to the World Economic Forum, the gross marine product of the ocean is $2.5 trillion per year, making it the world’s eighth-largest economy.

The ocean not only sustains our livelihoods, it also sustains life. It helps to slow climate change by absorbing 30 percent of carbon dioxide emissions and 90 percent of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases, both crucial as our planet gets increasingly hotter.

The well-being of our planet and of our economy is predicated on the health of the ocean. Companies must protect it from overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change. In recent years, organizations including the World Bank, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United Nations, and the US Economic Development Administration have explored the development of sustainable business opportunities that support the “blue economy” in such industries as shipping, fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, and energy production. Crucially, these initiatives focus on the renewable use of ocean resources and preserving the health of marine and coastal ecosystems.

EXTERNAL: Some European Factories, Long Dependent on Cheap Russian Energy, Are Shutting Down

Industrial energy costs are soaring in the wake of Russia’s war on Ukraine, hobbling European manufacturers’ ability to compete globally

Wall Street Journal By Matthew Dalton

June 13, 2022 5:35 am ET

PARIS—For decades, European industry relied on Russia to supply low-cost oil and natural gas that kept the continent’s factories humming.

Now Europe’s industrial energy costs are soaring in the wake of Russia’s war on Ukraine, hobbling manufacturers’ ability to compete in the global marketplace. Factories are scrambling to find alternatives to Russian energy under threat that Moscow could abruptly turn off the gas spigot, bringing production to a halt.

Europe’s producers of chemicals, fertilizer, steel and other energy-intensive goods have come under pressure over the last eight months as tensions with Russia climbed ahead of the February invasion. Some producers are shutting down in the face of competition from factories in the U.S., the Middle East and other regions where energy costs are much lower than in Europe. Natural-gas prices are now nearly three times higher in Europe than in the U.S.

“Overall, the big concern for Europe is increasing imports and falling exports,” said Marco Mensink, director general of Cefic, Europe’s chemical-industry trade group.

The conflict with Russia has Europe preparing to ration gas if Russian President Vladimir Putin shuts off supplies to the entire region. Russian state-owned natural-gas company Gazprom PJSC has already cut off Bulgaria, Finland and Poland after the countries refused to accede to a Kremlin decree demanding payment for gas in rubles.

As of last year, Russia supplied about 40% of the European Union’s natural gas.

Europe’s high energy costs are forecast to drag on the region’s industrial production and overall economic growth this year. Economists at the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, expect the German economy to shrink in the second quarter under pressure from high energy prices. Germany, the region’s largest economy, is also the biggest buyer of Russian natural gas. Europe’s consumers are unlikely to pick up the slack, as high energy costs are filtering through into prices across the economy, sapping their purchasing power.

The phaseout of Russian supplies risks putting European industry at a long-term competitive disadvantage unless manufacturers can deploy technologies that will sharply reduce their fossil-fuel consumption. But many of these technologies, such as using wind and solar energy to power chemical factory furnaces or hydrogen to make steel, are years from becoming commercially viable and will require massive investments, executives say.

Manufacturers depend on natural gas both as a source of energy and a raw material in production. In Europe, natural gas usually sets the price of electricity, hitting factories with a double-whammy if gas prices increase. Ammonia is the most sensitive product, accounting for around 70% of the gas Europe uses as a raw material. Most of that ammonia is used to make fertilizer.

Whether companies can adapt to Europe’s surging energy prices depends on whether they can draw from production sites across the globe. OCI NV, a fertilizer producer based in Amsterdam, has lowered ammonia production at its factory in the Netherlands and is instead importing the chemical from its plants in Texas, Egypt and Algeria, said Chief Executive Ahmed El-Hoshy. The company is still completing the final steps of fertilizer production in the Netherlands.

Moves by energy-hungry industries to throttle production have relieved short-term pressure on Europe’s natural-gas supplies, freeing up more gas for Europe to generate electricity and heat homes through the next winter, when officials expect gas supplies will be tight.

OCI usually only imports significant quantities of ammonia to Europe in winter when gas prices are highest.

“Now every month is a winter month,” Mr. El-Hoshy said.

Other fertilizer manufacturers have decided to shut down factories that can’t import ammonia from overseas. CF Industries Holdings Inc., the U.K.’s largest fertilizer producer, said last week that it would permanently shut a plant that hadn’t been producing ammonia since last year.

“As a high-cost producer in an intensely competitive global industry, we see considerable challenges to long-term sustainability from our current operational approach,” said Brett Nightingale, managing director of the company’s British subsidiary.

As Europe races to wean itself off Russian energy, American natural-gas producers are struggling to meet the demand and prices are rising. Factors including extreme weather and equipment needs have created a bottleneck amid the war in Ukraine. Illustration: Laura Kammermann and Sharon Shi

European steelmakers have been curtailing production since October to save money on gas and electricity. In March, soaring electricity prices in Spain led steelmakers there to lower output or shut down completely.

“This is absolutely crazy,” said Miguel Ferrandis Torres, chief financial officer of Madrid-based Acerinox SA, which shut one of its production lines for three days in March.

Industries have been lobbying European authorities and governments to assure they will keep getting gas from somewhere if Russia stops shipping the fuel.

“With Mr. Putin, nobody knows what is going to happen,” said Jacob Hansen, director general of Fertilizers Europe, the industry’s main lobby group. “We cannot produce any fertilizer without gas. We have to insist that we come right at the top.”

If Russia halts the gas flow to Germany, the country would give priority to private households as well as critical services such as hospitals, police stations and military barracks, but large industrial players could face rationing and disruptions, putting thousands of jobs at risk.

The decision of who gets gas in Europe’s largest economy would fall to the Bonn-based Federal Network Agency, the country’s energy regulator.

The agency, which has established a war room equipped with a diesel stockpile, showers, camp beds and food supplies, where a 65-strong crisis team is expected to work around the clock in such an emergency, would decide based on gas-usage data it is currently collecting from companies.

“We’ll take a look at how specific companies can deal with it, which companies can live with gas interruptions and reductions, and which companies definitely cannot,” said Klaus Müller, the president of the agency.

Mr. Müller and his team will also look at factors such as geographical distribution of the industrial players and how to transport the gas to them. “We try to anticipate all of these factors, but that’s not a good situation to be facing,” Mr. Müller said.

Europe’s chemical makers rely on natural gas to operate crackers, the large furnaces that separate oil and natural gas into constituent chemicals under immense heat and pressure. Cefic’s Mr. Mensink said the industry is researching ways to power the process with electricity but said the technology wouldn’t be ready for commercial use before 2030.

Factories want to replace gas-powered electricity with electricity from renewables, but the supply of wind and solar power isn’t enough to meet demand, Mr. Mensink said.

“We are trying to get as much as we can for our production, but the reality is that Europe will have to invest and build much more,” he said.

European steelmakers are pledging to overhaul their factories to run on hydrogen rather than natural gas as raw material.

“Gas supplies other than from Russia will remain crucial as long as no hydrogen infrastructure at affordable costs is available,” said Axel Eggert, director general of European steel lobby group Eurofer.

EXTERNAL: Liquefied Natural Gas Prices Will Steam Up Again

LNG prices have mostly trended lower since hitting $40 per MMBtu this spring. But neither warmer weather nor lower gas bills are likely to last.

Demand for liquefied natural gas is rebounding in Asia, which was outbid for the fuel by European buyers earlier this year.

Wall Street Journal By Megha Mandavia

Updated June 13, 2022 10:03 am ET

An uneasy truce between Europe and Russia over the supply of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, has cooled the market. But it would be unwise to treat modestly lower prices as anything other than a temporary respite. LNG exporters like Cheniere and Tellurian will continue to benefit, while industrial and residential customers shouldn’t expect much relief.

An explosion at one of the largest U.S. LNG export terminals last week sent European gas prices soaring again—demonstrating the fragility of the market and the extent to which it remains exposed to any supply hiccup. Europe’s gas supplies have been under threat since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. While there still appears to be no immediate prospect of a complete halt to Russian supply, overall Russian flows to the region have fallen. In total, eight Gazprom contracts in seven European Union countries have been terminated, according to data from IHS Markit. Those terminations have vaporized 70 million cubic meters per day of gas supply.

Moreover with Shanghai groping toward reopening and Asian countries stocking up for the winter, Asia is seeing a rebound in demand. That is especially true since rising oil prices and cheaper LNG have made the supercooled fuel more attractive again. On a dollar per British thermal unit basis, Asian LNG prices and Brent oil have reconverged in recent months. Many Asia-bound LNG cargoes were rerouted to Europe earlier this year when the EU was willing to pay a premium. But the spread between European and Asian prices in June has narrowed to about $1 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) from $5 in May, according to data provided by Wood Mackenzie. Benchmark futures in Amsterdam have fallen to an average of about $24.59 per MMBtu in June from $40.78 per MMBtu in March.

Apart from a slightly more sanguine view on geopolitical risks compared with the start of the war, softer prices in Europe are probably also a result of warmer weather amid ample supply, some demand destruction among industrial gas users and an expected increase in coal burn. Europe is on course to fill north of 85% of its gas storage before winter sets in, according to Wood Mackenzie. Last year, only around 75% of storage was full in the lead up to winter, according to data from Gas Infrastructure Europe.

It is also important to note that while Russia is unlikely to completely cut off supplies to Europe and lose millions of dollars in revenue, the risk hasn’t disappeared. According to Massimo Di Odoardo, vice president for gas and LNG research at Wood Mackenzie, the apparent calm in the market is extremely fragile: Any news that might suggest an upside in prices will get amplified in the coming months.

Europe has successfully stocked up. But Asia is waiting in the wings, to say nothing of rising oil prices and the unpredictable Russian President Vladimir Putin. Energy consumers should enjoy this respite while it lasts.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

EXTERNAL: Mass Live:  Driver’s licenses for immigrants without legal status in Massachusetts becomes law; Beacon Hill overrides Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto

Immigrants in Massachusetts without legal status here will soon have the opportunity to seek driver’s licenses, following the Legislature’s successful override of Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent veto on a bill that proponents say is crucial for bolstering equity and respect among marginalized communities throughout the commonwealth.

The Massachusetts Senate voted 32-8 in favor of overriding Baker’s veto of the Work and Family Mobility Act on Thursday. Five Democrats joined the three Senate Republicans who voted no.

That followed a 119-36 override vote Wednesday in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, with eight Democrats joining all 28 Republicans in voting no.

The bill takes effect in July 2023.

Activists and Democratic lawmakers for years have jockeyed for expanded immigrants’ rights tied to driver’s licenses. Under the new law, they say, immigrants will no longer need to drive in fear without a license — or struggle to complete day-to-day tasks, such as driving their children to school or a doctor’s appointment.

“I can’t wait to see the impact this bill will have with such a worthy group of individuals,” state Sen. Adam Gomez, a Springfield Democrat, said on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon. No longer will undocumented immigrants need to fear interactions with law enforcement, Gomez said, if they are pulled over or are entangled in a minor fender bender.

HR& Employment Law

EXTERNAL: The Lowell Sun:  Baker talks impacts of long-term hybrid work model

Many employees have returned to an in-person daily grind more than two years after the pandemic reshaped public life, but even if a fraction of the workforce continues to embrace hybrid or remote models, the economic impacts will be “pretty significant,” Gov. Charlie Baker told business leaders Thursday.

In remarks delivered at a New England Council breakfast, Baker said Massachusetts has fared better than other states in “bouncing back” from the toughest stretches of joblessness and financial strain inflicted by COVID-19.

Employers are still grappling with “churn” in the labor market, Baker said, fueled in part by the appeal of working from home a couple of days per week or all the time.

“They don’t have to be half of what everybody does,” Baker said. “They don’t even have to be a third, but if it’s 25% of what everybody does, the consequences of that are pretty significant in a lot of ways.”

Baker used his remarks to the business group to highlight many of his legislative proposals that remain bottled up in committees, including a pair of bond bills to fund infrastructure improvements and economic development, a tax relief package, a push to make it easier to detain some criminal defendants deemed a risk to the community, and health care funding reforms.

Taxation & Budget

EXTERNAL: Mass Live:  Legislators have obligation to finish budget on time (Editorial)

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has many nationally known traditions: the Red Sox, baked beans and so on. It’s time to remove the annual habit of late budgets from that list.

Only 10 states have full-time legislatures, and among them, only three have smaller populations than Massachusetts. The excuse of the COVID-19 pandemic is past.

The Massachusetts Legislature is also tipped in one party’s favor. Of 160 House members, 129 are Democrats, and only three of 40 senators are Republicans.

That is not necessarily healthy for bipartisanship, but suggests a clearer path to consensus.

Yet Massachusetts has been late on its July 1 fiscal year deadline for seven years in a row, worst in America. And it’s not a pandemic issue, which can justify why the fiscal 2021 budget wasn’t signed until December of 2020.

In 2018, only the Bay State reached the deadline without a budget, which was signed July 26. State government doesn’t stop without a budget on July 1, and some leaders have questioned the importance of the deadline.

Better to get it right, they say, than to get it by a calendar date. That’s hogwash. Tell that to the Internal Revenue Service, or for that matter, the state Department of Revenue, after April 15.

EXTERNAL: Axios: Gov. Baker begins final push for compromise on legislative priorities

In his last legislative push as governor, Charlie Baker wants to find middle ground with Democrats on clean energy, mental health care and tax cuts, he tells Axios Boston in an interview.

Why it matters: Before he leaves office Jan. 5, Baker’s final opportunity to get laws passed by the Democrat-controlled legislature ends July 31. Lawmakers like to go down to the wire, so the next few weeks will determine whether lawmakers recess for the year with a compromise on the governor’s top priorities.

Between the lines: Throughout Baker’s eight years in office, the House and Senate have ended their sessions well after the deadline they’d need to override any of his vetoes, meaning the Republican governor, not the Democratic supermajority, has the final say over changes to the law.

Yes, but: Democrats have shown little-to-no desire to pass one of Baker’s top priorities: an expansion of “dangerousness” hearings for people charged with crimes that leave defendants behind bars before trial for domestic abuse or other violent criminal charges.

What he’s saying: “We’re letting a lot of women and a lot of kids down in a way we shouldn’t if we continue to perpetuate the status quo here,” Baker says.

On tax breaks, Baker says he’s pushing for two themes he thinks lawmakers may deliver on: Helping the poorest residents in tough times and making Massachusetts more competitive.

EXTERNAL: Boston Herald: Permanent mail-in voting moves forward, busy weeks ahead for lawmakers
Action in the House could come this week after the Senate on Thursday approved an election reform bill that would make permanent mail-in voting and early voting provisions, both of which proved popular during the pandemic.

Both legislative chambers are at work to wrap up business before the end of their two-year session.

The voting bill, officially called a “Bill fostering voter opportunities, trust, equity and security,” cleared the state Senate by a vote of 37-3, with all of the upper chamber’s Republicans voting in opposition, after reporting out of joint legislative conference on Wednesday.

This bill was reported out of a conference committee without a third pandemic-era provision, same-day registration. That provision has been heralded as helpful to marginalized communities, though opponents express concern over potential fraud.

 

June 07, 2022

EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe:  First COVID-19 shots for kids under 5 possible by June 21, White House says

The Biden administration said Thursday that children under 5 may be able to get their first COVID-19 vaccination doses as soon as June 21, if federal regulators authorize shots for the age group, as expected.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Ashish Jha outlined the administration’s planning for the last remaining ineligible age group to get shots. He said the Food and Drug Administration’s outside panel of advisers will meet on June 14-15 to evaluate the Pfizer and Moderna shots for younger kids. Shipments to doctors’ offices and pediatric care facilities would begin soon after FDA authorization, with the first shots possible the following week.

Jha said states can begin placing orders for pediatric vaccines on Friday, and said the administration has an initial supply of 10 million doses available. He said it may take a few days for the vaccines to arrive across the country and vaccine appointments to be widespread.

“Our expectation is that within weeks every parent who wants their child to get vaccinated will be able to get an appointment,” Jha said.

The Biden administration is pressing states to prioritize large-volume sites like children’s hospitals, and to make appointments available outside regular work hours to make it easier for parents to get their kids vaccinated.

EXTERNAL: The Boston Business Journal: 13M grant to improve internet access across Massachusetts

Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito announced Thursday $13 million in grants that will be awarded to 86 communities across the Commonwealth to improve or build municipal fiber infrastructure.

Springfield Boys and Girls Club launches initiative to bridge digital divide in families

The money will benefit more than a dozen municipalities and school districts in western Massachusetts for improving existing or creating new municipal fiber networks. The following cities and towns in western Massachusetts will receive grants:

Amherst – $295,925 – Extension of the existing municipal fiber network

Colrain – $400,000 – Creation of a redundant municipal fiber network for the towns of Colrain, Charlemont, Heath, Leyden and Rowe

Dalton – $60,844 – Creation of a new municipal fiber network

East Longmeadow – $159,000 – Expansion of the town’s existing fiber optic infrastructure

Easthampton – $250,000 – Creation of a new municipal fiber network

Egremont – $12,493 – Extension of its existing municipal fiber network

Hampden – $250,000 – Expansion of the town’s fiber infrastructure

New Salem – $12,730 – Installation of environmental and security monitoring equipment for the New Salem Municipal Light Plant’s fiber network

Northampton – $250,000 – Expansion of the city’s existing fiber infrastructure

Pittsfield – $205,089 – Expansion of the city’s existing fiber infrastructure

Washington – $244,000 – Creation of a redundant fiber network for the towns of Becket, Blandford, Otis, and Washington

“The delivery of government services, from public safety response to data security, is increasingly reliant upon strong and cohesive internet infrastructure,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “This new Community Compact Cabinet program is the latest example of our Administration’s commitment to partnering with cities and towns to better serve residents, and we are proud to support their efforts to strengthen their municipal networks.”

EXTERNAL: WGBH:  The idea of working in the office, all day, every day? No thanks, say workers

To Jonathan Pruiett, it just didn’t make sense.

A geospatial analyst who updates Google maps for a living, Pruiett had been called back to his company’s offices in Bothell, Washington, five days a week, starting June 6.

Like many on his team, Pruiett had only worked remotely, having started the job in the pandemic. He’d adapted well to it, finding efficiencies such as multitasking during virtual meetings, using the time to process data.

And yet, now he was being told to report to office. Anyone who failed to report within three days of the return date would be processed as having abandoned their job.

“Nothing will change other than having a couple snacks in our office and having an in-person meeting,” Pruiett said. “We’re kind of starting to think that this job isn’t worth it.”

More than two years into a pandemic that has no clear end, the debate over remote work has only intensified. Working from home isn’t possible in many jobs. But for those who have the option, it’s now evident that it is feasible, even beneficial.

But how beneficial is a point of contention between workers and their bosses. Some bosses are deciding too much is lost when people aren’t in the office and it’s time to come back.

Tesla boss Elon Musk is one of them. He recently emailed his employees with the subject line “Remote work is no longer acceptable.” He reasoned that Tesla creates and makes “the most exciting and meaningful products of any company on Earth. This will not happen by phoning it in.”

EXTERNAL: Axios:  America’s new labor market

More warehouse workers, fewer waiters. More health store employees, fewer in public schools: the overall job market is nearly back to full strength, but it looks strikingly different.

Why it matters: Pandemic-era disruptions have shaken up the composition of the labor force — with big implications for how industries will have to adjust to a longer-term worker shortfall.

What they’re saying: “I’m not looking for recovery to pre-pandemic levels in each industry. Some workers have left for greener pastures and that’s a good thing,” Ellen Gaske, an economist at PGIM Fixed Income, tells Axios.

“There is more opportunity for workers to return to new jobs — where the industries are growing and the outlook is potentially brighter. That churning is what offers up a possibility of stronger productivity gains and increased standard of living.”

What’s new: With May’s payroll gains, roughly 96% of jobs lost during the pandemic are back.

Stunning stat: The private sector has recovered 99% of all jobs lost, but public sector has regained just 58% — one illustration of the gaping hole that persists in certain areas of the economy.

Other industries have recovered and then some: the transportation and warehousing sector — think package couriers or truckers — has never made up a bigger share of the workforce, reflecting, for one, the historic appetite for goods.

What’s going on: A collision of forces — some structural, some cyclical and some already underway before the pandemic hit — are pushing workers away from some jobs and toward others, according to a recent report by Burning Glass Institute, a research firm. Among the changes …

The remote work allure: “The pandemic created this huge wedge. People want to move out of in-person roles — leisure and hospitality or education — and move toward the kinds of occupations and industries with more flexibility,” Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, tells Axios.

The goods spending boom:At the onset of the pandemic, stuck-at-home consumers bought more goods than services. But economists expect employment in consumer goods to cool off as spending on services continues to boomerang back.

Where the wages are: “Private sector employers have an advantage in this environment. They can adjust their compensation plan and policies very quickly,” says Pollak. The public sector has been slower to respond, one factor perhaps pushing these workers to other gigs.

The bottom line:America’s labor market recovery has been swift. The next test is which industries fully recover — and which don’t.

EXTERNAL: The Lowell Sun:  Biopharma expects to grow, but faces talent troubles

Most biopharmaceutical companies in Massachusetts expect to grow their workforces over the next year, but many have also had a hard time filling open positions, according to a new industry report.

The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council previously projected that the industry could require up to 40,000 new workers by 2024, and an analysis that BW Research Partnership conducted for MassBio calls for the field to “re-think the current workforce development pipeline,” by prioritizing regionalization and diversity.

“Given that employers project to see growth across several different entry- and non-entry-level positions over the next couple years as well as the significant hiring difficulties attributed to a small applicant pool and lack of experienced or qualified applicants, the life sciences industry will require significant workforce development support mechanisms from the state, educational institutions, and other workforce development stakeholders,” reads the report, which was released Wednesday.

The life sciences sector is a significant force in the state’s economy, with about 106,600 jobs across Massachusetts as of 2021, up by nearly 60,500 jobs since 2006. It’s also been singled out for major state investments — in 2018, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a life sciences bill that called for $473 million in capital spending over five years.

EXTERNAL: State House News: Dem Delegates Endorse Healy, Qualify Chang-Diaz for Ballot

Massachusetts Democrats on Saturday afternoon endorsed Maura Healey’s quest to move from the attorney general’s office to the governor’s suite but also put Sonia Chang-Díaz on the September primary ballot, ensuring that Healey will have some intraparty competition before she could turn her full attention to any Republican opponents.

Healey, serving her eighth year as attorney general and who has long been viewed as a gubernatorial candidate in waiting, took more than 71 percent of the votes cast by party delegates at their nominating convention at the DCU Center in Worcester. Chang-Díaz, a state senator of more than a decade, got about 29 percent of the delegate vote, almost double the 15 percent required to make it onto the Sept. 6 primary ballot.

Healey was the favorite coming into the gathering — a fact that Chang-Díaz used in her speech to highlight her independence from the political establishment — and she mostly played it safe as she addressed the receptive crowd. Though she ticked off a list of things she’d do as governor — “cutting the costs of housing, energy, and health care,” creating more housing, making East-West Rail a reality, and passing same-day voter registration — Healey did not use her remarks to dive into detail specifics.

“We are in a moment of great challenge, but also, great opportunity. We’ve seen loss, heartache, hardship, and problems made worse during this pandemic. But we’ve also seen it bring out the best in us. You see, I believe in our state and I believe in our people. I believe in our promise and our potential,” Healey said. “And I believe this is our moment — right now — to tear down the barriers that hold people back, to come together, to lift people up, and to bring opportunity to every person in every region in this state.”

After the results were announced, Healey told reporters, “I wanted to come in and do well at this convention and we did extremely well, and I’m really excited and can’t wait to move forward with this campaign.”

The field of candidates vying to be either Healey’s or Chang-Díaz’s lieutenant governor was trimmed by delegates from five to three with Sen. Adam Hinds and businessman Bret Bero falling short of the support needed to make it onto the September ballot. The LG campaigns of Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, Rep. Tami Gouveia and Sen. Eric Lesser rallied enough delegate support to stay active and Driscoll claimed the party’s endorsement.

While the party insiders at the convention and their endorsement matter (they represent just one-third of one percent of all Bay State Democrats; these are the hardcore party loyalists), there is no convention for the voters who will have the greatest say when it comes time to pick the state’s next governor in November: unenrolled voters.

As of Feb. 2021, there were 4,731,940 registered voters in Massachusetts — 31.6 percent were registered as Democrats and 9.7 percent were registered as Republicans, but 57.4 percent of Massachusetts voters were unenrolled in any party, according to the secretary of state’s office.

And “winning” the convention has never been a reliable predictor of success in the September primary or November general election. Steve Grossman took the party’s convention endorsement in 2014 but then lost the primary election to Martha Coakley, for example.

HEALTHCARE

EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe:  From gloves to dye for CT scans, supply shortages continue to stress hospitals

Jeff Silva walked into his CT scan appointment at Good Samaritan Hospital in Brockton looking for answers. A biopsy and MRI had recently diagnosed his prostate cancer, and his doctors had ordered a CT scan with contrast to check that the cancer hadn’t spread anywhere else.

Contrast dye is usually administered to patients by IV or into an artery to light up vascular structures, making it easier for clinicians to see the web of detail inside the body. He was on the exam table about to begin the scan when he asked why he hadn’t received the contrast yet. The technician told him he wouldn’t be receiving it because of a shortage; the hospital was reserving the fluid for emergencies.

“I said, ‘Really? I would think this is kind of an emergency,’” Silva said. “I have cancer and want to make sure it’s nowhere else in my body.”

Hospitals throughout the state have been running low on contrast dye because of manufacturing shutdowns in a Shanghai GE Healthcare plant. Clinicians use the dye to look inside blood vessels and arteries, making things like CT scans, traumatic injury diagnoses, and cancer care more precise. Some health systems say they’ve had to find workarounds to protect limited quantities. Others say they’ve had to ration scans to conserve supply.

EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe:  Protecting those on the front lines of reproductive health

A nation divided — this time over access to abortion — will eventually mean it’s every state for itself.

And so in Massachusetts it falls to lawmakers not just to protect the rights of its citizens to all forms of reproductive health care — something the Legislature did in 2020 — but now also to protect the rights of health care providers from the increasingly Draconian laws of other states.

provision in the Senate-passed state budget would throw a protective legal shield around all those who provide reproductive and gender-affirming health care services, including services to people coming here from out of state. As Massachusetts prepares for a possible post-Roe world in a nation where 26 states are poised to restrict access to abortion, those protections are essential for the state’s health care workers and for the patients they will be serving.

If the US Supreme Court follows the path outlined in a leaked draft opinion from Justice Samuel Alito that anticipates overturning the 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, then Massachusetts can and must remain an oasis of reproductive health sanity in a nation where that will be in increasingly short supply.

EXTERNAL: Commonwealth Magazine:  Here’s a cake recipe for the Health Policy Commission

WHEN MASS GENERAL Brigham submitted its performance improvement plan on May 16, I thought what was proposed was “wholly inadequate.”

In recent days, to follow up that comment, I tried to write a commentary explaining my position. My first draft read a bit wonkish, using references to CHIA and Total Medical Expense and Alternative Payment Mechanisms. I found myself alluding to Health Policy Commission “decision criteria” and “attribution rules” for which contracts they include when assessing unadjusted spending by a primary care physician group, etc.

I had written a lot of words to try to make this simple point: that the proposed $70 million a year revenue reduction offered by Mass General Brigham was inadequate to address the full extent of the above-benchmark spending that the hospital system causes through its high and ever-growing commercial prices.

Part of the confusion is that when the Health Policy Commission arrived at its determination that Mass General Brigham is spending at a level $50 million above the state benchmark per year, that estimate was only for a portion of the hospital system’s total commercial spending.  It isn’t that the Health Policy Commission erred—it is just that they are limited in their analysis for projecting over-the-benchmark spending.  High and growing prices and related spending for hospital services are not part of the commission’s review unless they are connected to contracts where the system’s primary care physicians are the attributed providers under rules established by CHIA, the Center for Health Information and Analysis.

EXTERNAL: Telegram:  ‘State of Emergency’: WPI dean, others join Congressman McGovern for panel on youth mental health at UMass

Doctors, students and providers sounded alarm bells about youth mental health Wednesday at a UMass Chan Medical School panel hosted by U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern.

“We’ve already been in a mental health crisis (pre-pandemic),” UMass Dr. Yael Dvir told McGovern and House colleague U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin. “Now we’re in a state of emergency.”

Dvir was among seven panelists who deal with youth mental health to share concerns and frustrations with McGovern, D-Worcester and Raskin, D-Maryland, for well over an hour at the Albert Sherman Center.

McGovern said he called the event in the hopes of getting insight on what policymakers can do to impact a problem increasingly impacting the country’s youth.

“We all struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic and we are seeing every single day what happens when a country doesn’t have mental health support systems in place, especially for young people,” he said.

Suicides and mass shootings

McGovern said about one out of 15 high school students nationwide attempt suicide each year and noted the “heartbreaking series of suicides,” at Worcester Polytechnic Institute within the past year.

SUSTAINABILITY, CLIMATE & ENERGY

EXTERNAL: White House Set to Pause New Tariffs on Solar Imports for Two Years

Decision would be victory for solar installers getting panels from Asian countries, but blow to U.S. solar panel makers

By Timothy Puko, Wall Street Journal

The White House is preparing to announce on Monday that it won’t impose any new tariffs on solar imports for two years, in a move that is aimed at getting stalled solar-power projects on track, according to people familiar with the decision.

The decision would be a win for U.S. solar developers and utilities—which are highly dependent on imported solar panels—and a loss for manufacturers trying to build up a domestic solar supply chain.

The decision would come in the wake of the Commerce Department’s decision to investigate whether Chinese solar producers are illegally circumventing solar tariffs by routing operations through four countries in Southeast Asia—Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.

If the investigation concludes that tariffs were being circumvented, it could lead to levies being imposed retroactively on imports from those countries—a scenario that created a chilling effect on new solar development, according to several companies and lawmakers.

Companies including NextEra Energy Inc. and Xcel Energy Inc. have said the solar-panel probe could significantly delay solar projects, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom told the Commerce Department it would delay numerous new solar and battery storage projects expected to come online through 2024.

By announcing the two-year pause in any new tariffs, the White House is trying to give more certainty to developers and utilities that have complained its trade policies are causing the slowdown in adding new solar capacity nationwide, according to a senior administration official.

Money is a sticking point in climate-change negotiations around the world. As economists warn that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will cost many more trillions than anticipated, WSJ looks at how the funds could be spent, and who would pay. Illustration: Preston Jessee/WSJ

At the same time, the Commerce Department investigation would continue, the official said.

The probe was launched after California-based Auxin Solar Inc., a small maker of solar panels, accused Chinese companies of circumventing tariffs by routing operations through Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia that then export materials to the U.S.

The company said that Chinese solar producers have sought to undercut U.S. manufacturers by shifting production to countries not covered by tariffs.

The International Energy Agency said last month new solar development in the U.S. is on pace to decline 6.8% this year—one of the few places in the world it is slowing down—because of uncertainty over tax and trade policy.

In addition to the two-year pause on new solar tariffs, administration officials say the White House will unveil plans to increase domestic solar manufacturing capacity to 22.5 gigawatts by 2024, or three times the manufacturing capacity when President Biden took office.

That would enable millions of homes to switch to solar energy, the officials said.

Abigail Ross Hopper, president and chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association, cheered the expected action from Mr. Biden to pause new tariffs.

These steps “protect existing solar jobs, will lead to increased employment in the solar industry and foster a robust solar manufacturing base here at home,” she said.

The levies on imported solar cells and modules apply to products made in China. Known as antidumping and countervailing duties, they were first imposed by the Obama administration in 2012.

The investigation could extend those tariffs to cells and modules completed in Cambodia, Malaysia or Vietnam, using parts and components from China. Those countries now produce roughly 80% of U.S. solar imports.

The tariff issue has split the solar industry, pitting solar installers who buy imported panels against U.S. manufacturers who want protection from what they see as cut-rate Chinese competitors.

Mr. Biden has been caught between these competing interests—on the one hand hoping to boost U.S. manufacturing and on the other hoping to accelerate the transition to clean renewable energy.

Mr. Biden must also decide what to do with the tariffs on tens of billions of dollars of Chinese imports inherited from the Trump administration amid escalating inflation and the need to confront China.

Many businesses, economists and even some in his own administration such as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, have pressed the president to eliminate some of the tariffs as a way to ease inflation pressure. Mr. Biden himself has said tackling inflation is his “top economic priority.”

But Mr. Biden also faces growing pressure to stand tough against China’s economic practices as the war in Ukraine fuels worries about authoritarian governments.

EXTERNAL: The Boston Herald:  Boston-area COVID wastewater data drops in southern region, stays up in north

The Boston-area COVID wastewater tracker is showing a regional split this week, as virus samples drop across the southern region while the sewage data stays up in the north.

The COVID wastewater seven-day average for the south-of-Boston region is now 720 copies per milliliter, compared to 1,090 copies in the north-of-Boston area.

Over the past week, the virus samples have gone down 15% in the south, while the data has climbed 22% in the northern region.

“The north of the city doesn’t have the downward trend that the south has, but there are fluctuations in the data so I would wait a week and see,” said Davidson Hamer, a Boston University School of Public Health infectious diseases specialist.

“If it continues to go up in the north, then the question is why. Could there be something different going on there? Graduation parties?” Hamer added. “If the data starts dropping, then we could start thinking about having a real Independence Day party.”

Meanwhile, the state Department of Public Health on Thursday reported 2,561 daily COVID cases, a 27% decline from 3,485 infections last Thursday.

The omicron BA.2 variant has been spreading across the region, along with the subvariant BA.2.12.1.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

EXTERNAL: Mass Live: Mass. Dems lean toward women candidates

MASSACHUSETTS DEMOCRATS, looking for a sweep of the state’s six constitutional offices, leaned heavily toward women on Saturday at the party’s state convention in Worcester.

Attorney General Maura Healey handily won the endorsement for governor over Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz of Jamaica Plain with 71 percent of the delegate vote, while Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll finished far ahead of Rep. Tami Gouveia of Acton and Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow to win the endorsement for lieutenant governor with 41 percent.

In the race for secretary of state, Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston NAACP, won the party’s endorsement over seven-term incumbent William Galvin by a margin of 62-38.

The race for attorney general was incredibly tight. Former Boston city councilor Andrea Campbell narrowly edged Quentin Palfrey, the party’s 2018 nominee for lieutenant governor, in the initial round of voting, 39.2-38.8 percent. Labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan came in third with 22 percent of the vote.

Education

EXTERNAL: Boston Globe: With BPS in crisis pressure mounts on Wu to become the ‘education mayor’

An ongoing search for a new Boston schools leader, happening on an extremely tight timeline. A battle over how School Committee members should be chosen, pitting City Hall leaders against voter preferences. A school closing after campus leaders mishandled allegations of sexual abuse, bullying, and neglect; bullets found in another; campus attacks with weapons as varied as firearms, laptops, and boiling ramen noodles.

And the ongoing effort to ward off a possible state schools takeover, made more urgent by a blistering report last month that described a system failing vulnerable students and a culture of “entrenched dysfunction.”

A perennial disappointment for parents and albatross for city leaders, Boston Public Schools is snowballing into a political emergency for Mayor Michelle Wu, presenting a pivotal moment in her young tenure. A mayor who entered office with an ambitious list of priorities will need to course correct the city’s schools, or risk being defined by their failure.

Taxation & Budget

EXTERNAL: The Boston Herald:  May tax revenues below last year, still more than expected

May tax revenues fell far short of last year’s takings but still came in millions above what was forecasted.

“Preliminary revenue collections for May 2022 totaled $2.478 billion, which is $1.524 billion or 38.1% less than actual collections in May 2021, but $138 million or 5.9% more than benchmark,” the state Department of Revenue said in a release.

The dramatic fall in revenue compared to 2021 comes as a result of last year’s pandemic-fueled income tax filing deadline extension, which made May of that year a far larger revenue month than normal.

“The decrease … is primarily due to an expected decline in income tax return payments, which is largely attributable to the extension of last year’s income tax filing and payment deadline from April 15, 2021, to May 17, 2021,” Commissioner Geoffrey Snyder said. “The decrease in income tax return payments was partially offset by increases in other major tax categories including withholding, sales and use tax, and ‘all other’ tax.”

May is generally a middling tax collections month, the department said, ranking seventh of the 12 tax months in seven of the past 10 years.

EXTERNAL: The Boston Globe:  Ryan Reynolds’ ‘Free Guy’ got $20.1m from Mass. taxpayers, part of nearly $100m of film tax subsidies in 2019, the most in a decade

After surviving repeated attempts to curb it, the state’s film tax credit program appears poised to grow bigger than ever, issuing nearly $100 million in subsidies in one year and helping strengthen the state’s foothold in the film and television industry.

Newly revised data from the state show that in 2019, the state issued $97.2 million in tax credits to 180 film and television projects, both the highest amounts recorded since the state began releasing so-called tax credit transparency reports a decade ago.

That includes giving a $20.1 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies to “Free Guy,” a 2021 Ryan Reynolds-led action comedy about a bank teller who discovers he’s actually a character in an online game. The credit, which hadn’t been previously reported by the state, was the fifth-highest amount given to any film in Massachusetts to date, according to revised data the state Department of Revenue released last week.

There are often pending film tax credit applications when the state releases its annual transparency report, meaning the totals for each year — such as those for 2019, which the state previously reported at $77 million — often change. On Thursday, the state also released data showing it issued another $47.5 million in film tax credits in 2020, though that number could also grow.

May 24, 2022

EXTERNAL: Mass Live:  Amid new surge, Gov. Charlie Baker resists mask mandate call, says COVID is ‘akin to the flu’

Gov. Charlie Baker touted Massachusetts’ high vaccination rate — including among vulnerable residents at greater risk of developing serious coronavirus-related complications — as he again resisted calls Thursday to reinstate COVID-19 safeguards to tamp down the commonwealth’s rising caseload.

More than 80% of adult residents are vaccinated against COVID, with around half of that demographic also boosted, Baker said during a press conference in Boston following a National Governors Association event focused on computer science education.

Meanwhile, the vaccination rate among seniors exceeds 95%, Baker said.

“COVID is a very transmissible virus, and each new strain appears to be as transmissible or more so than the one before,” Baker said. “But I think at this point in time, for most people — especially those who are vaccinated — their experience with COVID is something akin to the flu. And I think that’s an important piece to remember and remind people.”

Baker’s comments Thursday came two days after he abruptly canceled public events. A spokesman said the governor had tested negative for COVID but was “not feeling well.” Baker resumed in-person events Wednesday after testing negative for the virus in the morning.

EXTERNAL: Mass Live: COVID relief payments: Massachusetts will send $500 payments to 330,000 residents, essential workers next month

Some 330,000 Massachusetts residents should expect to receive $500 payments in June, the Baker administration said Thursday as it announced the second round of the COVID-19 Essential Employee Premium Pay Program.

That amounts to $165 million, funded through federal COVID relief dollars. Checks will be mailed automatically to eligible Bay Staters.

The first round of the program in March distributed $500 checks to about 480,000 people, officials said. People who received those payments are not eligible for this latest stimulus funding.

Also not eligible are those who received unemployments benefits in 2021 or a coronavirus-linked payment from the Massachusetts state government as their employer.

The Baker administration will gauge eligibility for the program’s second based on 2021 tax returns. The criteria encompasses individuals who earned at least $13,500, with their total income at or below 300% of the federal poverty level, officials said.

That equates to a maximum income threshold for a single filer of $38,640. The maximum threshold is $52,260 for a household of two, $65,880 for a household of three, $79,500 for a household of four, $93,120 for a household of five, $106,740 for a household of six, $120,360 for a household of seven and $133,980 for a household of eight.

EXTERNAL: Roll Call: Grants for restaurants, small businesses blocked in Senate

Deficit-concerned senators blocked the Senate from considering a $48 billion aid package for restaurants and other small businesses Thursday, likely dealing a fatal blow to a monthslong effort to provide a final round of relief for industries that suffered major revenue losses during the pandemic.

The Senate did not invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the small-business aid bill, in a 52-43 procedural vote that was subject to a 60-vote threshold.

All but five of the 50 Senate Republicans voted against cloture, which was more than enough to mount a successful filibuster to prevent the Senate from even considering the measure for debate.

Senate Small Business Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., worked on the small-business aid package for months. The duo drew on past bipartisan proposals in an attempt to spread benefits far and wide, offering relief to stakeholders ranging from stage, lighting and sound providers for theaters to minor league sports franchises.

“We must pass this legislation to keep these vital parts of America’s economy and America’s social and community life going,” Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said on the floor Thursday before the vote. “When minor league teams closed, entire towns have fewer options for coming together.  When theaters can’t open because businesses they rely on closed down, it disintegrates the fabric of our communities.”

EXTERNAL: Boston Globe: The Mass. job market weakened in April

The Massachusetts job market hit a speed bump in April, with the pace of hiring slowing and the labor force barely expanding as the Federal Reserve attempts to cool off the economy.

Employers added 10,500 jobs last month, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development said on Friday. That was down from an upwardly revised gain of 21,500 jobs in March, and below the average of 18,500 new jobs over the previous six months.

The state’s unemployment rate dropped 0.2 percentage point to 4.1 percent, and remained higher than the national rate of 3.6 percent in April.

The Fed is attempting to tame inflation by boosting interest rates. The higher borrowing costs are aimed at reducing the big gap between demand for goods and services and supply. That imbalance has helped push the rate of growth in consumer prices to a 40-year high.

EXTERNAL: WGBH: Omicron variant caused more deaths in Mass. in shorter period than delta did, new study finds

The omicron variant of SARS-COV-2 caused more “excess deaths” in Massachusetts in eight weeks this year than the delta variant did in 23 weeks when it was the dominant variant. Excess deaths are a measure of how many more deaths occur in a given time period than would normally be predicted for a population.

The excess deaths caused by omicron during the study period occurred despite existing evidence that those who caught that version of COVID-19 tended to have less dangerous outcomes, according to a new study published Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study found 2,294 excess deaths in Massachusetts during the omicron surge from late December 2021 to late February of this year — 16% more than the 1,975 deaths reported during the delta variant surge that lasted from June to December of last year. The study attributes the increase in excess deaths to omicron’s high contagiousness.

“The data that we published really slams home an important point for me,” said Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the lead author of the study, “which is that — even in a state that is highly vaccinated and in which there have been a lot of infections, so people have a lot of immunity — still, a variant that’s quote unquote ‘milder’ can cause this massive amount of increase in mortality.”

Faust said his team’s findings underscored the impact of the omicron variant’s contagiousness.

EXTERNAL: Boston Globe: ‘I feel like I’m failing him’: Mass. parents scramble to find formula for their infants as shortage continues

One night in February, Nick and Monée Vance received a series of terrifying texts from friends and family members.

Didn’t their daughter drink Similac Pro-Advance? Check out this article, they said, sending links to the news that the formula had been recalled.

The Vances had already spent most of their then-six-month-old daughter’s infancy scrambling to find formula amid a shortage caused by pandemic-related supply chain issues. When loved ones flooded their phones with articles announcing the infant milk recall, the young couple panicked. At first, they weren’t sure whether the liquid formula they’d already fed her was a part of the announcement. It wasn’t, but the emergency boxes of formula powder in their pantry were among those being recalled.

And then, as the Vances feared, the shuttering of an Abbott Laboratories plant in Michigan, amid an investigation of suspected foodborne illness, made formula even tougher to find. In Massachusetts, some parents are driving across state lines to find supplies. They’re scouring the Internet for support and hoping their small stash will last them through the chaos.

The Vances have driven across the Commonwealth, scoured Amazon to no avail, and relied on loved ones to help them buy formula.

HEALTHCARE

EXTERNAL: WBUR: If Pfizer’s data pans out, when will little kids get the COVID-19 vaccine?

A third pediatric dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in children 6 months to under 5 years of age prompted a strong immune response, with a safety profile that was similar to placebo, the companies said.

Pfizer’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine has an efficacy of 80.3%, according to a preliminary analysis, and meets “all immunobridging criteria required for Emergency Use Authorization,” the company said Monday. The results are based on clinical trials in which kids from six months to age 5 got three doses of the company’s vaccine.

Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, plan to submit the new data to the Food and Drug Administration this week, bringing families with young children one step closer to a long-awaited vaccine.

Also on Monday, the FDA updated the schedule for its vaccine advisory committee, saying it will meet to discuss pediatric COVID-19 vaccines on June 15.

The regimen has three doses

The size of Pfizer’s pediatric dose is one-tenth of its adult dose. The company had originally tested a two-dose regimen, but mixed results prompted Pfizer to test a three-dose regimen.

The third dose was “well tolerated among 1,678 children under 5 years of age with a safety profile similar to placebo,” Pfzier said as it announced the news.

Kids in the trial received the third shot at least two months after their second dose, the company said, adding that at the time of the vaccine trial, omicron had become the predominant COVID-19variant in the U.S.

EXTERNAL: MetroWest Daily News: ‘Giving care to caregivers’: Mass. Planned Parenthood employees look to unionize

MARLBOROUGH — Workers at Planned Parenthood clinics in Marlborough, Boston, Worcester and Springfield are looking to unionize, citing the need for better recruitment and retention in the face of ongoing challenges to reproductive rights and abortion access nationwide.

Nearly 200 Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts (PPLM) employees will vote on whether to become members of 1199SEIU, a health care union with members throughout Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida and Washington, D.C., according to the union’s website.

The organization is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, which already represents nearly 1,000 Planned Parenthood workers in New York, Maine, D.C. and Colorado, according to a 1199SEIU press release. The National Labor Relations Board will set a date for the union election.

By uniting, Planned Parenthood workers can ensure they have a voice in their workplace and that those on the frontlines play a role in making decisions to improve their jobs and the care they provide, 1199SEIU Vice President Dana Alas said in an email interview with the Daily News.

SUSTAINABILITY, CLIMATE & ENERGY

EXTERNAL: Boston Globe: Woburn startup aims to break China’s grip on rare metals

Clean energy can be a dirty business, especially when extracting the minerals that are vital to building green technologies like electric cars. But a Woburn startup called Phoenix Tailings says it has developed a pollution-free way to refine rare earth metals from mining waste.

In theory, at least, that’s a breakthrough that could turn rare earth mining into a major US industry, while loosening China’s stranglehold on the global market.

In traditional mining, “you go after maybe one or two metals within an ore source, throwing away anywhere between 60 and 90 percent of the ore,” said Anthony Balladon, Phoenix Tailings’ cofounder. “We thought this doesn’t make a huge amount of sense.”

Balladon’s 15-person company plans to extract valuable minerals from the rubble left over by most mines, known in the industry as “tailings.” The team is developing methods to capture everything from iron to aluminum to silica. But for starters, Phoenix is focused on the rare earths, exotic metals with names like neodymium and dysprosium. Tiny amounts of these metals are essential to all sorts of advanced gadgets — smartphones, headphones, power-generating windmills, and the motors of electric cars.

Rare earths are found all over the world, but in extremely low concentrations that make it very hard to refine the stuff. Existing methods use massive amounts of energy and require highly toxic chemicals such as hydrochloric acid. And according to Walter Filho of the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, producing one ton of a rare earth metal generates about 2,000 tons of waste matter.

Employment Law & Workforce Development

EXTERNAL: State House News: Jobs Up, Unemployment Rate Down in April

The unemployment rate in Massachusetts dropped slightly in April as employers added 10,500 jobs, state officials reported Friday.

The labor department announced a 4.1 percent jobless rate, down from 4.3 percent in March, with more jobs being filled in leisure and hospitality, a sector that ebbs and flows depending on seasonal tourism.

State officials reported that Massachusetts has gained back more than 611,000 jobs since the “employment trough” in April 2020, just after COVID-19 struck. From April 2021 to April 2022, Massachusetts gained 178,400 jobs, according to federal estimates.

The newly reported state unemployment rate is half a percentage point higher than the national jobless rate.

With state reserves flush with historically high levels of cash, the Baker administration and House and Senate Democrats are looking to advance numerous spending and economic development proposals, and perhaps some tax cuts, over the next 10 weeks.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

EXTERNAL: Boston Globe: As affirmative action decision looms, colleges look for alternative ways to achieve diversity

Alarmed that the US Supreme Court could strike down affirmative action next year, higher education leaders and thinkers have begun to strategize: How can they continue diversifying elite college campuses without using race as a factor in admissions?

The court is poised to hear two cases this fall about the use of race in selective college admissions, including one focused on Harvard’s admissions policy. The court’s rightward shift, and the conservative majority’s recently leaked draft opinion in an abortion case, which signaled its willingness to overturn established precedent, suggests to many observers that the end of affirmative action may be imminent.

But even as they’ve expressed concern that such a decision could reverse decades of effort to break down systemic barriers blocking marginalized groups from attending elite institutions, higher education leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to diversity.

“Regardless of the court’s decision, we will continue to advance our diversity, equity, and inclusion goals,” said Anthony Monaco, president of Tufts University who is departing next year. “Diversity is vital to creating a climate that encourages learning both in and outside of the classroom, fosters respectful conversations across differences, and provides all our students with transformational experiences.”

Taxation & Budget

EXTERNAL: State House News: Surtax Opponents Warn Against Beacon Hill Blank Check

Opponents of the proposed surtax on household income over $1 million launched their campaign Monday morning to defeat the Constitutional amendment on November’s ballot, focusing on the potential impact on small businesses and retirees as well as the possibility that the Legislature treats the estimated $1.3 billion in annual surtax revenue as a “blank check.”

The Coalition to Stop the Tax Hike Amendment, a group of small businesses, chambers of commerce, some of the state’s most influential trade organizations, retirees and concerned citizens, formally kicked off its anti-surtax efforts and said its members have “united to communicate to voters the damage this massive tax increase will have on our state’s economy.”

“Proponents of the amendment claim that it will raise taxes only on Massachusetts’ highest earners, but in practice, it will harm hardworking families across the state,” Dan Cence, a veteran lobbyist and political strategist and spokesperson for the Coalition to Stop the Tax Hike Amendment, said. “Massachusetts already has a budget surplus of billions of dollars. We must work together to strengthen our economy and ensure Massachusetts remains a place where small business owners can thrive.”

Massachusetts voters will be asked in November whether the Massachusetts Constitution should be amended to impose a new 4 percent surtax on annual household income in excess of $1 million to raise money for education and transportation. The change is proposed as a Constitutional amendment because the state Constitution currently requires that a tax on income be applied evenly to all residents.

If the surtax is approved, the first $1 million of household income would still be taxed at the current 5 percent rate and all household income above and beyond that first $1 million would be taxed at an effective rate of 9 percent. Estimates put the annual revenue that could be generated by the surtax at about $1.3 billion and supporters pitch the idea as a way to provide a sustainable revenue source for education and transportation without dipping further into the pockets of most residents.

But the Coalition to Stop the Tax Hike Amendment and other opponents have repeatedly highlighted how the so-called millionaire’s tax could affect people who might not typically be thought of as millionaires, like small business owners that file as pass-through entities for tax purposes or people who plan to sell their company to support their own retirement.

On its new website Error! Hyperlink reference not valid., the coalition links to fact sheets targeted at two particular industries — real estate and construction — with reasons those fields should oppose the surtax ballot question.

“The Tax Hike Amendment is not just a tax on people making a million dollars a year. It will also tax the nest eggs of longtime homeowners and small business owners whose retirement depends on their investments,” the coalition wrote on the fact sheets. “That is because, unlike federal taxes, this amendment would treat one-time gains from selling a home or business as regular income, pushing many retirees and small business owners into the new higher tax bracket, and nearly doubling their taxes.”

Supporters of the surtax have said that concerns about its effects on small business sales are overblown, pointing to a March analysis from the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center that said taxes would only be due on the capital gain — the increase in value over time — rather than the total price.

Rep. Jim O’Day, the House sponsor of the proposed Constitutional amendment, last June rejected opponents’ claims that the surtax would unduly harm small businesses in the Bay State by asserting that “businesses earning over a million dollars, in my estimation, are not small businesses.”

In its launch Monday, the coalition also called attention to the fact that while the amendment itself would require the surtax revenue to be spent on transportation and education, it would not necessarily lead to actual increases in spending on transportation and education because future Legislatures could stop appropriating money from other revenue sources to those areas.

“As the former head of the MBTA, I know there is zero guarantee that the money raised from this amendment will increase education and transportation spending. Due to a loophole in the amendment, ‘subject to appropriation’ means legislators can take this money and use it for their own pet projects — it means giving Beacon Hill a blank check with no accountability,” Brian Shortsleeve, a former general manager at the T who has since founded M33 Growth, said.

Lisa Alcock, a former public school teacher, echoed the same sentiment in her comments on the coalition’s website. She said the amendment is “deceptive” and that “the politicians who put this on the ballot are giving themselves a blank check to redirect existing funding for education and transportation to their own pet projects, with no accountability.”

Worcester City Councilor At-Large Khrystian King addressed that line of criticism earlier this month when the Fair Share for Massachusetts campaign officially launched its pro-surtax effort.

“We know that the devil’s in the details in how the money will be used, we acknowledge that,” he said.

A Fair Share for Massachusetts spokesman said the language of the amendment is “an ironclad dedication that the funds raised by this amendment must be spent on those two areas” and that the campaign feels confident that the Legislature — which last summer voted 159-41 to put the question to voters — intends to increase spending on transportation and education.

The Massachusetts High Technology Council, which was successful in getting the 2018 version of the surtax amendment tossed off the ballot, is leading a legal effort to influence how the surtax question could be described to voters when they get their ballot with a particular emphasis on the potential that education and transportation spending is not increased despite the surtax – decisions on spending are made by the Legislature, which experiences turnover every two years.

The Supreme Judicial Court this month heard arguments related to the complaint that the surtax summary that Attorney General Maura Healey has prepared for voters will mislead them.

The suit seeks to have the SJC order that ballot materials tell voters that “the Legislature could choose to reduce funding on education and transportation from other sources and replace it with the new surtax revenue because the proposed amendment does not require otherwise.”

The Coalition to Stop the Tax Hike Amendment is made up of: 126 Self Storage, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, AlerisLife Inc., Ballast Lane Applications LLC, Boston Sword and Tuna, Brandon Landscaping, David Kindred Homes Inc., Diversified Healthcare Trust, EFR Mechanical, IBC Corporation, Industrial Logistics Properties Trust, M33 Growth, MA High Tech Council, MA Seafood Collaborative, National Federation of Independent Businesses, Norfolk & Dedham Group, North Central MA Chamber of Commerce, Office Properties Income Trust, Optikos, Pioneer Institute, PR Restaurants, Retailers Association of Massachusetts, Service Properties Trust, Seven Hills Realty Trust, Sonesta International Hotels Corporation, Springfield Chamber of Commerce, The RMR Group, TravelCenters of America Inc., Trudeau Construction, Western MA Economic Development Council, and Westside Finishing Co.

EXTERNAL: State House News: Senate Amendments Would Add $3.5 Billion to Budget

The Massachusetts Senate on Tuesday launches debate on its $49.7 billion fiscal 2023 budget and senators are eager to make major changes to the bill authored by Senate budget chief Michael Rodrigues.

According to a Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation analysis, the 1,178 budget amendments filed this year have a total fiscal impact of $3.5 billion, with 60 percent of amendments earmarking funds for local projects and totaling $280 million. If history is a judge, the vast majority of those spending proposals will fail, as senators usually agree to tens of millions of added spending.

Senate Democrats, who hold 37 of the branch’s 40 seats, are also determined to load the spending bill (S 4) with policy proposals, which are reflected in 260 amendments. Most of those will also likely fizzle out.

Budget bills in both branches typically attract scores of amendments from lawmakers who are aware that budgets make it to the governor’s desk, unlike many of their standalone proposals that are dying while technically “under review” in various committees.

There are 261 budget amendments that propose new outside sections to the budget, MTF said. Such budget riders, which often have nothing to do with spending, have come in and out of favor over the years, depending on which Democrats are running the branches. At times, Democrats have trumpeted efforts to keep policy riders out of spending bills as a good government reform.

Thirty-eight amendments propose tax law changes, but some are duplicative, MTF said, leaving 19 separate tax changes on the table.

Budget deliberations start on Tuesday and senators usually motor through amendments to finish well before Memorial Day weekend.

Most amendments are dispensed with without public debate. Senators often withdraw proposals after learning through private talks that their ideas lack support. To speed things along, senators also adopt and reject large bundles of amendments, often by logging them electronically into “yes” and “no” groupings and voice-voting them up or down without any public explanation

EXTERNAL: Boston Herald: Senate budget debate on tap – gas, estate, capital gains tax relief offered

The state Senate on Tuesday will begin to dispense with over 1,100 amendments to their version of the state’s fiscal 2023 budget, with nearly $50 billion in appropriations already predicted and more possible.

“This budget provides so much resources to all of our different constituencies, and I look forward to the next couple weeks as we debate and pass this budget,” Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues said during the budget’s release.

Coming in at a total of $49.68 billion, the Senate’s budget plan tops Gov. Charlie Baker’s January proposal by over $1 billion and last year’s spending by $2 billion. The Senate’s budget is just slightly larger than the spending proposal the House approved in April.

“This budget makes meaningful investments in early education and child care, K-12 schools, public higher education, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, housing, and individuals and families living in deep poverty. We will only succeed as a commonwealth if we all rise together, and this budget ensures that no one gets left behind,” Senate President Karen Spilka said ahead of debate.

Not included in the budget, but expected to be debated on Tuesday, are the tax cut proposals Baker sent to the legislature along with his budget. Those cuts, which would provide tax relief to seniors, renters, low-income families, and lower the estate and capital gains tax, would cost about $700 million….

 

 

 

 

 

This Week in Massachusetts News June 22, 2022

The pandemic forced many companies into a massive, unplanned experiment in remote working. Local tech startups discovered they could hire talented coders, marketers, and salespeople from all over the country. Now, one question is whether that ability to draw talent from all over hurts or helps Boston’s startup scene.

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Legislative Committee Hearings

No hearings this week

This Week

Tuesday, April 19

Wednesday, April 20