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This Week in Massachusetts – July 12

Posted on July 12, 2022

Lawmakers Promise Tax Relief; Package Mirrors Much of what Baker Pitched in January.

Boston Globe – With just three weeks left in their legislative session, top Massachusetts Democrats on Monday unveiled a multibillion-dollar economic development package that pledges more than $1 billion in tax breaks and rebates, including increases to the credits that seniors, low-income workers, and parents can claim.

The sweeping bill would realize one of the largest tax relief measures in Massachusetts in a generation and offers a response to calls for Beacon Hill to ease the burden on taxpayers at a time of sharply spiking consumer prices and overflowing state coffers.

In all, the $3.8 billion package House Democrats released Monday includes $524 billion in permanent tax breaks, as well as $510 million in one-time rebates that would be distributed to potentially millions of taxpayers by October.

Many of the proposed tax breaks hew closely to a plan Governor Charlie Baker released months ago, and leaders in the House and Senate say they have agreed to the “framework” of the tax changes, helping ease it pass before the formal legislative session ends on July 31.

The House bill would also spend more than $2.5 billion from a state budget surplus — which is expected to range in the billions — and the state’s remaining share of federal stimulus money, including doling out hundreds of millions of dollars for hospitals, infrastructure projects, and the state’s unemployment trust fund.

Legislators Announce $250 and $500 One-Time Payments for Some Massachusetts Residents=

WGBH – Legislative leaders announced Thursday that lower- and middle-income Massachusetts residents will receive tax rebates aimed at defraying the increased cost of living.

“Whether it is the rising price of gas, groceries or summer clothes for kids, the Massachusetts Legislature has heard loud and clear that increased costs due to inflation have cut into family budgets,” House Speaker Ron Mariano, Senate President Karen Spilka, House Ways & Means chair Aaron Michlewitz and Senate Ways & Means chair Michael Rodrigues said in an emailed statement.

According to the statement, individuals who reported between $38,000 and $100,000 of annual income in 2021 will receive a one-time payment of $250 through the newly created Taxpayer Energy and Economic Relief Fund, while joint filers who earned up to $150,000 will receive $500. The statement also said payments will be issued prior to Sept. 30.

Mariano and Spilka have previously said that reducing the state’s gas tax — an idea pushed by the Legislature’s small contingent of Republican lawmakers — is the wrong way to provide financial relief to residents, because there’s no guarantee savings would be passed down to consumers.

Thursday’s statement reiterated that belief, asserting that a gas-tax cut would benefit “large oil companies that continue to profit off economic uncertainty and international conflict.”

The statement also said the Legislature will “continue to work on potential changes to the tax code with the goal of providing additional relief,” a strong indication that additional tax reductions will be a focus as the lawmakers approach the July 31 close of their current session.

Last week, the Legislature advanced a series of structural changes championed by Governor Charlie Baker, but balked at Baker’s proposed reduction in the short-term capital gains tax.

The statement did not specify how many Massachusetts residents will be eligible for the one-time payments. Rodrigues told State House News Service that the total cost of the one-time relief payments would amount to “about $500 million” and would come from the state’s budget surplus.

Investments in Tech Startups Plunge

Boston Globe – The numbers are stark. Investments in US tech startups plunged 23 percent over the past three months, to $62.3 billion, the steepest fall since 2019, according to figures released Thursday by PitchBook, which tracks young companies.

Even worse, in the first six months of the year, startup sales and initial public offerings — the primary ways these companies return cash to investors — plummeted 88 percent, to $49 billion, from a year ago.

The declines are a rarity in the startup ecosystem, which enjoyed more than a decade of outsize growth fueled by a booming economy, low-interest rates, and people using more and more technology, from smartphones to apps to artificial intelligence. That surge produced now-household names such as Airbnb and Instacart. Over the past decade, quarterly funding to high-growth startups fell just seven times.

But as rising interest rates, inflation, and uncertainty stemming from the war in Ukraine have cast a pall over the global economy this year, young tech companies have gotten hit. And that foreshadows a difficult period for the tech industry, which relies on startups in Silicon Valley and beyond to provide the next big innovation and growth engine.

Employers Deserve a Break on Cost of Waiving Unemployment Overpayments

Boston Globe – Remember the fiasco when the state paid $4.3 billion on more than a half-million jobless claims and then told recipients they might have to pay the money back?

Governor Charlie Baker initially tried to downplay the financial hardship caused by the repayment demands, which were largely triggered by problems verifying the legitimacy and accuracy of federal pandemic unemployment filings.

But the state eventually did the right thing, announcing in April a three-pronged plan to resolve most of the outstanding overpayments — those that weren’t the fault of recipients — through full or partial waivers made under expanded eligibility criteria.

Problem solved. Or so it seemed.

Now, a July 18 deadline looms for making permanent the emergency rules the Department of Unemployment Assistance used to begin granting waivers. But approval of the permanent regulations by a little-known panel called the DUA Advisory Council has been held up amid a tussle over how to recoup the forfeited funds, raising the possibility that the waiver program could stall.

Price of Stamps Rises in Response to Inflation

Boston Herald – As with everything, the price of stamps has fallen victim to inflation and went up Sunday.

“The proposed prices, approved by the Governors of the U.S. Postal Service, would raise First-Class Mail prices approximately 6.5%,” the U.S. Postal Service warned in June.

They were quick to point out it could be worse, since everything else seems to cost even more.

“(This) is lower than the Bureau Labor Statistics annual inflation rate of 7.9% as of the end of February. The price changes reflect a judicious implementation of the Postal Service’s pricing authority,” they wrote.

In the Berkshires, a Bold Experiment with Local Currency Goes Digital

WBUR – At The Magic Fluke in Sheffield, rows of wooden string instruments line the wall: ukuleles, violins, and a triangular instrument called the fluke.

“The look is different, the sound is a little different,” said Dale Webb, who designed the fluke. “It’s got a richer, fuller sound.”

Dale and Phyllis Webb co-own this shop, where a basic instrument runs about $250. Since most customers don’t carry that much cash, most opt to use their credit cards. That comes with a fee for the business.

“If somebody spends money at our store mostly with credit cards, I’m paying anywhere from 2.7% to 3%,” Phyllis said.

A sign hanging by the instruments inside the shop reminds customers there is another way to pay: a local currency called BerkShares. It can help business owners like the Webbs avoid the fees that accompany credit card transactions.

“Those dollars through Visa, MasterCard, Discover, do nothing for our community,” Phyllis said. “They just whisk away into the atmosphere to some other place that couldn’t care less about the Berkshires.”

Budget Uncertainty Puts Jobs in the Balance

State House News – The new fiscal year is 10 days old, and Massachusetts is still without an annual state budget as lawmakers continue to negotiate a final spending bill.

While government is operating on an interim budget with enough money to cover operations through July, providers of services to victims of violent crimes are feeling the squeeze of another late budget from Beacon Hill.

The Massachusetts Office for Victims Assistance, which administers grants to programs using federal dollars from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), says grant funding to 124 victims’ assistance programs has been cut by an average of 22 percent, with some programs seeing a reduction of up to 46 percent in their funding.

MOVA Executive Director Liam Lowney told MASSterList that the uncertainty has prompted many providers to stop filling vacant positions, while others are tapping their unrestricted funds generated through fundraisers and other non-federal VOCA sources to keep people on payroll. As many as 220 jobs hang in the balance.

“Everybody’s trying to hold out for the state budget,” Lowney said.

VOCA funding to all states has been in decline for years, but under a law signed by President Joe Biden last summer the fund is expected to be replenished by fiscal year 2026. To bridge that gap, Gov. Charlie Baker requested $60 million from the Legislature to support victims’ assistance programs over the next three years. The House included $20 million for one-year in its fiscal 2023 budget proposal, while the Senate did not include any bridge funding for MOCA.

As programs wait for the final outcome of budget negotiations, Lowney said spending on non-personal costs has slowed or stopped, eliminating financial support for many victims who received help paying for things like T passes, rent or utilities.

“This could not be a worse time for funding reductions,” according to Lowney, who said MOCA served over 100,000 crime victims in fiscal year 2021 as the agency saw the biggest surge in demand during the pandemic in its history.

Lowney also said that while MOCA will be “grateful” if the Legislature comes through with $20 million this year, a failure to fully fund the three-year bridge would force his agency to make decisions about which programs it can afford to fund moving forward when it goes through a new round of grant applications this fall and makes awards in the spring.

“My concern is that folks will think we solved the problem and we will not have solved the problem and the reduction will be worse next year and the year after. We really need the $60 million over three years and the flexibility to budget for those years,” he said.

Health Care

Abortion after Roe: Democratic Massachusetts AG candidates Outline Strategies to Protect Reproductive Health Care

MassLive – Just as Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey became known for relentlessly taking on former President Donald Trump on the national stage, her successor in the wide open race could similarly set the tone for reproductive health care protections across the United States, especially as the commonwealth becomes a critical safe haven for abortion services.

And with Massachusetts voters still largely undecided about their top choice to replace Healey — the only major Democratic candidate for governor — the three Democratic attorney general hopefuls should seize this moment of national turmoil to carve out points of differentiation and legal ingenuity as steadfast abortion rights protectors, said Erin O’Brien, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

“What the Supreme Court did with Roe has just opened the floodgates for the AG position and others to have influence in national policy via the states,” O’Brien said. “Maura Healey softened the ground for an activist AG nationally and any one of these three individuals need to show this … How are you going to fight to expand the right to abortion nationally?”

In separate interviews with MassLive, all candidates — Quentin PalfreyShannon Liss-Riordan and Andrea Campbell — pledged to crack down on crisis pregnancy centers and formulate paths to renewed abortion access for people living in states where certain reproductive care services are now outlawed.

Biden Mulls Health Emergency for Abortion Access

AP – President Joe Biden said Sunday he is considering declaring a public health emergency to free up federal resources to promote abortion access even though the White House has said it doesn’t seem like “a great option.”

He also offered a message to people enraged by the Supreme Court’s ruling last month that ended a constitutional right to abortion and who have been demonstrating across the country: “Keep protesting. Keep making your point. It’s critically important.”

The president, in remarks to reporters during a stop on a bike ride near his family’s Delaware beach house, said he lacks the power to force the dozen-plus states with strict restrictions or outright bans on abortion to allow the procedure.

“I don’t have the authority to say that we’re going to reinstate Roe v. Wade as the law of the land,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court’s decision from 1973 that had established a national right to abortion. Biden said Congress would have to codify that right and for that to have a better chance in the future, voters would have to elect more lawmakers who support abortion access.

Biden said his administration is trying to do a “lot of things to accommodate the rights of women” after the ruling, including considering declaring a public health emergency to free up federal resources. Such a move has been pushed by advocates, but White House officials have questioned both its legality and effectiveness, and noted it would almost certainly face legal challenges.

Senate Plans Reproductive Rights Bill Debate On Wednesday

State House News – The Senate is set to consider reproductive rights legislation on Wednesday after following the House in taking up the measure as a standalone bill on Monday.

It was a split from the Senate’s initial approach – launched before the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v Wade – of including abortion access measures in the fiscal 2023 state budget, which is still stuck in private talks 11 days into the new fiscal year.

Senators have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to file amendments to the new Senate version (S 2996) of the bill, which did not emerge from a particular committee but was filed individually by Sen. Cindy Friedman, who co-chairs Health Care Financing and is the vice chair of Senate Ways and Means.

The House on June 29 passed its version (H 4954) which deals with abortion access, patient supports, and protections for providers and patients in the Bay State.

Sustainability, Climate and Energy

Europe Labels Nuclear and Natural Gas as Sustainable Investments.

Boston Globe – The European Union said on Wednesday that it would label some nuclear power and natural gas plants, under certain conditions, as “transitional” green investments in order to drastically cut the continent’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The landmark legislation is “a signpost for private investment” and an “important step in the transition to a climate-neutral economy,” said Mairead McGuinness, the bloc’s commissioner for financial services. “As governments and public authorities, we cannot do this alone; we need the private sector to play its full part.”

The move, which can be blocked if enough member states or lawmakers in the European Parliament oppose it, is expected to steer private and public investments into new nuclear plants and gas-fired power stations.

Proponents say nuclear power and natural gas must be supported as “bridges” until renewable technologies — like solar, wind or eventually hydrogen — can generate enough power to replace fossil fuels.

But critics, including many members of Parliament, say that it promotes energy sources that are harmful for the environment, and that the new rules smack of greenwashing.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, which published the measure Wednesday, said the classification was critical to meeting the legally binding target to become climate neutral by 2050. Addressing the criticism, Ms. McGuinness told reporters on Wednesday: “Today’s act might be imperfect, but it is a real solution.”

The plan caps months of fierce political debate. The aim of the so-called taxonomy regulation has been to create “a gold standard” to guide private and public investors, but it became a proxy battle for the future of Europe’s energy mix.

The bloc has been struggling in recent months with skyrocketing gas and electricity prices, but under E.U. law, national governments are tasked with regulating energy, and their policies vary immensely. The legislation published on Wednesday is an attempt to find a compromise between several countries: those that back the use of nuclear power, led by France; gas-dependent Eastern European nations; and countries, including Germany and Luxembourg, that oppose the proliferation of nuclear power stations.

Under the plan, nuclear and natural gas plants are labeled “transitional” green energy sources if they meet certain conditions. National governments would need to guarantee safe disposal of radioactive waste, and nuclear plants must undergo regular safety updates, with newly built plants labeled sustainable only until 2045. For natural gas plants, only those that replace coal facilities and meet specific emissions criteria would be classified as sustainable investments.

A draft of the plan, published by the commission on Dec. 31, provoked a broad wave of criticism from some member nations, experts and lawmakers, who said the consultation period was too brief and denounced the timing of the release during a holiday period. Compounding the confusion surrounding the new rules, the commission did not publish the final legislative act until one hour into a news conference on the topic.

The Platform on Sustainable Finance, a group of green finance experts that has been advising the commission, objected to the plan.

“The taxonomy was supposed create a steady flow of green investments,” said Henry Eviston from the World Wide Fund for Nature, which was part of the advisory group. “Instead, we are going to get a tsunami of greenwashing. It penalizes clean technologies. It will stifle innovation and direct billions of euros to investments in ‘business as usual.’”

And some investors and financial institutions may steer clear of the classifications. The head of the European Investment Bank, Werner Hoyer, said last week that the complexity of rules would make the investors “drowsy.”

The Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, an association of Europe’s asset managers and investors including BlackRock and Goldman Sachs, said in an open letter that including natural gas undermined “the E.U.’s ambitions to set the international benchmark for credible, science-based standards for classifying sustainable economic activities.”

The regulation is not expected to be blocked by a sufficient number of national governments — under the bloc’s rules, at least 15 of the 27 member states, representing at least 65 percent of the E.U. population, would be necessary to stop it. But Austria and Luxembourg threatened legal action if nuclear power was labeled green. Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands urged the commission this week not to include any “fossil gas-based activities” as sustainable.

The plan is also set to face resistance in the European Parliament, although it remains unclear whether a majority of the body’s lawmakers would vote to block it.

Paul Tang, a center-left member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands, said the plan “diverts resources towards energy sources that are not sustainable.”

But Pascal Canfin, a French member of the European Parliament from the centrist Renew political group, the party of President Emmanuel Macron, called the proposal “a good compromise.”

“What we are after is relocation of market capital and public money to what can be useful in the green transition,” he said, “as long as you have the transparency requirement, and as long it is in the transition category.”

Massachusetts Doesn’t have a State Climatologist. Here’s Why That Matters

Boston Globe – It’s not often that Massachusetts ranks behind Texas when it comes to climate, but on this matter it does: Massachusetts is one of the few states in the country that lacks a state climatologist.

State climatologists, usually climate scientists with a public-facing role, have taken on more expansive purviews amid intensifying concern about the climate crisis, leading education efforts and supplying data and analysis to an array of state and local entities. Though Massachusetts is still a leader among states when it comes to taking action to mitigate climate change, some experts worry the government’s unwillingness to fill the climatologist spot, which has gone vacant since its creation was proposed in 2014, is a missed opportunity.

“It’s an embarrassment,” said Matthew Barlow, a climate science professor at University of Massachusetts Lowell. “Hundreds of billions of dollars and people’s livelihoods are at risk. It’s a glaring omission to not have this basic position.”

There are already many climate jobs in Massachusetts government, including positions focused on climate adaptation, carbon sequestration, climate leadership, and more. But experts say a state climatologist would still have a distinct function, serving as a single point of contact for government, business, media, and the public, and facilitating the collection and communication of climate data.

Kerry Sees Peril and Opportunity as Fuel Prices Bog Down Green-Energy Push

Boston Globe – A sweeping climate bill that collapsed in the Senate. An invasion that sent energy prices even higher, sparking calls for even more drilling. And, just weeks ago, a Supreme Court ruling curbing the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate pollution.

It has been a punishing six months for the effort to decarbonize the economy and stave off the most disastrous effects of climate change. And John Kerry, President Biden’s top climate-focused diplomat, expressed concern in an interview with The Boston Globe that time is running out.

“I have absolutely zero doubt whatsoever that we are going to get to a zero-carbon, low-carbon economy. … My question is, are we going to get there fast enough to avoid the worst consequences of the crisis? And that I’m not convinced of right now,” Kerry said. “This can work if we make the right decisions, if we move fast enough. But if we don’t, it’s clear what’s coming at us.”

Moving fast was exactly the goal when Biden tapped the former secretary of state to a new Cabinet-level climate envoy role in 2020, hoping to turbocharge efforts to restore US leadership on combating climate change. Biden immediately reentered the US into the Paris Climate Agreement that former president Donald Trump had withdrawn the country from, and Kerry tapped into his well-honed diplomacy skills to secure commitments from countries and corporations alike to cut fossil fuel emissions at a major UN climate summit in Glasgow.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Mental Health, Wealth Gap Top Issues Impacting Black Men at Community Listening Session

WGBH – A few dozen people gathered in a conference room of the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building in Roxbury on Wednesday for a historic meeting as the city’s Black Men and Boys Commission held its first public listening session, and first formal public appearance, in the organization’s history.

Wednesday marked the first time the panel opened itself to the public since its 21 members were appointed by Mayor Michelle Wu in May.

Unlike other government meetings, where officials tend to do a lot of the talking, Wednesday’s meeting was centered around listening to what people had to say. Besides a few comments to keep the discussion on track, the members of the committee stayed mostly quiet as they heard from residents.

“We structured this for the community to have the first voice, the most important voice,” Commission chair Tito Jackson said. “And in the beginning, there was some uncomfortability with that. But when it comes down to it, we realize the 21 individuals… we realize that we’re nothing without our community.”

At $1.8 million, the Office of Black Male Advancement has one of the largest new line items within the city’s operating budget.

With that money came expectations from community members who were looking for positive change. Among the many issues brought up, including a need to offer programs and initiatives to prevent violence, preparation for climate change, education and housing, was a consistent theme of the need to support measures to improve mental health and wellness.

“The basis of much of that was hit on when people spoke about the economic wealth gap and the real need for people to be elevated, not only with jobs but through entrepreneurship,” Jackson said. “And when we look at the massive city budget, the manner in which those contracts are partitioned and whether or not people of color, and in particular Black men, have an opportunity to be at the table for those contracts. Which then means they’re going to hire folks from these communities, right?”

Warren Wants to Expand Youth Voting, but Her Bill would Require States to have Pre-Registration for Those 16, 17 Years Old

Boston Herald – U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is pitching a bill that would allow young people in every state to pre-register to vote when they’re 16 years old, along with requiring colleges and universities to have on-campus polling places.

Warren on Monday, along with Georgia U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, are introducing the “Youth Voting Rights Act,” which would expand youth access to voting.

The legislation would require states to establish pre-registration voting processes for 16- and 17- year-olds, and let states expand their pre-registration processes to youth younger than 16.

The bill would also mandate that colleges and universities have on-campus polling places and order that states accept student IDs to meet voter-identification requirements in federal elections.

Other provisions of the bill include:

Expanding voter registration services at public colleges and universities.

Extending the Voting Rights Act’s protections against durational residency requirements and absentee voting limitations to all federal elections and codifying the right to vote from a college domicile.

Creating a grant program for states to encourage youth involvement in elections, including through pre-registration, updated civics curricula, and a paid fellowship for young persons to work with state and local officials to support youth civic and political engagement.

Requiring the federal government to study voter registration, absentee voting, and provisional voting trends by age and race to inform efforts to improve youth involvement in elections.


How Have Massachusetts School Districts Spent Their $2.5 billion in Federal COVID Funds? Mostly, They Still Haven’t

Boston Globe – Rich or poor, there has long been at least one constant among school districts in Massachusetts: They all say they need more money to fulfill their education needs.

But despite an influx of more than $2.5 billion in coronavirus aid funds over the past two-plus years, most of the bigger school districts in the state have been slow to put that money to work. The reasons range from drawn-out community engagement processes to the same economic forces that have bedeviled private businesses during the pandemic, including labor shortages and supply chain problems.

Among the 78 Massachusetts districts and independent charter schools that have received more than $5 million, the Atlantis Charter School in Fall River stands alone as the one to have spent more than 90 percent. Only five others have spent even half.

The money comes from three tranches included in the March 2020 CARES Act, a supplemental relief bill in December 2020, and the March 2021 American Rescue Plan Act. The third and largest segment must be spent by September 2024 — although the federal government may grant extensions for projects that are contracted by the deadline.

Senate Passes Bill to Embark on Major Early Ed Changes

State House News – Senators voted unanimously Thursday on a sweeping reform bill aimed at aiding child care and early education providers, fortifying the pipeline of workers entering that field, and helping more families access a costly service vital to their economic success.

After a string of speeches laser-focused on the importance of connecting more Bay Staters with quality, affordable care, the Senate approved a bill (S 2973) seeking a years-long expansion of subsidies for early education, pay and benefits for workers in the field, and permanent grants for child care providers.

“Very few bills we debate have the potential for impacts as great as this bill,” said Education Committee Co-chair Sen. Jason Lewis.

The legislation senators sent over to the House would over several years more than double the income eligibility to receive some degree of aid to pay for early education and child care, a step Lewis said would make services more affordable for hundreds of thousands of families.

Under current law, only households who earn 50 percent or less of the state median income — equivalent to about $65,626 annually for a household of four — qualify for subsidies. The bill would eventually raise that threshold to 125 percent of the state median income, a level representing about $164,005 annually for a household of four.

Top Senate Democrats portrayed the bill as an early education-focused counterpart to the Student Opportunity Act, a 2019 law that laid out a seven-year plan to overhaul K-12 public school funding with $1.5 billion in additional support.

Unlike that bill, though, the exact price tag and timeframe on the early education and care bill remain unclear. When they rolled out the bill last week, Senate leaders pointed to a special commission report estimating it would cost “upwards of $1.5 billion annually over time” to implement its recommended changes.

Taxation and Budget

Budget Surplus Could Reach $3.6 Billion

Commonwealth Magazine – After dire warnings early in the pandemic, COVID-19 has proven to be an economic boon to Massachusetts, primarily because of federal largesse. Congress’ COVID recovery packages have funneled billions of dollars into the state, through government aid and aid to individuals and businesses, which translates into higher tax revenue.

On Wednesday, the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation provided the latest stunning figures. The organization estimates that for the fiscal 2022 year, which ended June 30, Massachusetts will have a budget surplus of nearly $3.6 billion.

The initial fiscal 2022 budget was around $34.5 billion, and collections have come in nearly $6 billion above that, according to MTF. Some of that extra money was eaten up by additional spending and required deposits into the rainy day fund, the MBTA, and the School Building Authority, leaving an estimated $3.6 billion available.

That is a huge figure, even in comparison to the prior fiscal year, where there was a $1.5 billion surplus.

The reason this is important is as lawmakers finish up the two-year legislative session this month, they will have to make some major spending decisions. If lawmakers do nothing, the entire surplus will be deposited in the rainy day fund. But with that fund already at a record high, more likely they will look to spend a large chunk of the money.

Weed, Betting, Abortion, Mental Health in Legislative Agenda

Boston Herald – It will be a busy week at the State House as Monday marked the first of 15 remaining business days until the end of the legislative session, with lawmakers still waiting to pass this year’s budget and decide the fate of billions in surplus revenue.

“We’re certainly waiting on the final numbers from June, but I wouldn’t say that is what’s the definitive answer on us finishing up the FY23 budget,” House Ways and Means Chair Rep. Aaron Michlewitz said last week. “We’re certainly knowing we’re going to be in some type of increasing-revenue standpoint, but we just don’t know yet exactly what that number is.”

The fiscal 2023 budget, a week overdue, will cost about $50 billion under either chamber’s plan, though neither body was previously prescient enough to account for what may be $3 billion in excess revenues, a task that now falls almost entirely to the joint conference committee finalizing the spending plan.

About $500 million of that was earmarked for spending Thursday, when the leaders of the Legislature and both Ways and Means Committees announced they would seek to send $250 rebate checks to individuals and $500 to couples within certain income limits and in lieu of a suspension of the state’s gas tax.

“These rebates represent the Legislature’s commitment to delivering immediate financial relief directly to residents of the Commonwealth, rather than to large oil companies that continue to profit off economic uncertainty and international conflict,” the lawmakers said Thursday.

Part of the rest of that excess money may be destined toward some of Gov. Charlie Baker’s January proposal to cut taxes in the state by about $700 million annually.

Baker’s plan to cut taxes for renters, seniors and low income families and to change the estate and capital gains taxes was dead in the water until April’s tax revenue came in $3 billion over the last year and a full $2 billion more than expected.

Republican Lawmakers Lead Renewed Push to Suspend Gas Tax

Boston Globe – Republican state lawmakers, joined by a handful of Democrats, are renewing their push for a temporary suspension of the gas tax, citing “record-breaking” prices that spiked to more than $5 a gallon this week.

Twenty-nine reps and senators — 25 Republicans and four Democrats — signed onto a letter sent this week to Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano, begging legislative leadership to take immediate measures to provide some relief at the pump.

The letter calls for the inclusion of a gas tax suspension in an anticipated tax-cutting bill, with a push for a gas tax holiday to be considered as well, according to a statement released by members of the Senate Republican Caucus.

“Today, we face a crisis that we have yet to mitigate — rising gas prices,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “Despite efforts to thwart the effects of outrageous prices at the pump, we have failed to act.”

The lawmakers cited action taken from bordering states Connecticut and New York, which have opted to suspend their own gas tax through the end of the year, saying that the “impact is felt by those driving across state lines to purchase gas and the Massachusetts gas stations trying to keep business local.”

“State revenues are wildly exceeding what we need to operate, and the resources are present to support tax relief for those who work every day to pay the bills of the state government,” Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said in a statement. “Gas prices impact those families with the lowest incomes the most, but they are a burden for us all.”

The effort marks the latest Republican-led attempt to temporarily suspend the 24-cent gas tax. A vote to do so failed in the Senate in March, by a 29-11 vote. Another push by the three Senate Republicans to include the suspension in the state budget failed in May, by a 30-10 vote. This time, seven Democrats voted in favor, one fewer than in March.

Mariano told the Herald he continues to oppose a gas tax suspension, saying that there is no evidence to support that it would put more money in the pockets of those paying at the pump. Rather, he said, a suspension would likely give oil companies an opportunity to pocket the difference between what the gas tax and price at the pump is.

He said the result of Connecticut’s vote to suspend the gas tax has proved consumer savings to be a “myth” as their average gas prices are only “seven cents” lower than Massachusetts.

“I’m not going to cut the gas tax so that more money goes to big oil companies,” said Mariano. “That’s not going to help you at the pump. There’s no guarantee that any tax cut on gas is reflected in a downward price at the pump.”

AAA Northeast said Monday gas prices are up eight cents this week, and now average $5.04 a gallon. Prices as of June 13 were 57 cents higher than a month ago and $2.10 higher than the same date last year, when the average price was $2.94.

Prices in Massachusetts this week are slightly higher than bordering states Connecticut and Rhode Island, which averaged $4.98 and $5.02 per gallon, respectively, as of Monday, according to AAA.