February 7, 2023
Ask the Hotline | Navigating Small-Claims Court
Question We are considering taking legal action against a former employee for theft of company property. When I…Read More
Posted on June 28, 2022
Boston Globe – President Biden and Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell insist the country can avoid a recession, but don’t try telling that to small business owners already facing sliding sales amid soaring inflation. For many of them, the hard times are already here.
Jorge Aurichi, who owns Level Five Painting in Newton, sensed the economy shifting in March when gas prices surged after Russia invaded Ukraine. Even though spring and summer are prime seasons for painting, Aurichi noticed a 20 percent drop in calls from prospective clients compared with last spring.
He expected his business to grow in 2022, but now he forecasts flat revenue for the year, even as costs for labor, paint, and gas soar. One example: A gallon of oil-based primer that two months ago cost $24 is now $33. That’s on top of a nearly 25 percent increase in the price of gas for his fleet of trucks and vans since last year.
Similarly, Leodalys Montero, who owns D’laly’s Beauty Salon in Dorchester and Roxbury, says her business is slowing, with revenue off by 30 percent in May alone. Fewer customers are coming in to get their hair done as they struggle to keep up with the higher costs of groceries and gas. Worried about a downturn, Montero sold her Jamaica Plain shop in May and is paying herself less.
Boston Globe – Crowded terminals. Canceled flights. Angry passengers.
Delays and frustration could well be the norm at Logan Airport this summer, experts say, as airlines grapple with worker shortages amid a resurgence in travel demand.
Today, “any little problem cascades through the [airline] industry,” said Daniel Findley, an associate director at the Institute for Transportation Research and Education, a research center based at North Carolina State University. “Then all of the issues build up and the system slows down — or shuts down completely.”
Last week from Thursday to Sunday, more than 200 flights out of Boston were canceled, about one-10th of the airport’s scheduled flights, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware and the Massachusetts Port Authority. Nearly all carriers were affected: JetBlue Airways, the biggest of the bunch at Logan, delayed half of its flights nationwide. For Southwest, American, and Delta, it was roughly one-third.
It was no anomaly. Logan has seen bouts of delays and cancellations several times this spring, most notably on Memorial Day weekend when over 1,400 flights were nixed nationwide.
Boston Globe – As a coastal city, Boston is pretty well attuned to the threat of rising seas. Just a few years ago, the city got an unwelcome preview of what’s to come when back-to-back storms washed out the city’s waterfront parks, inundated the MBTA’s Aquarium station, and forced firefighters to patrol downtown streets by boat.
But the climate threat in these parts isn’t just about more frequent flooding. It’s also about extreme heat. And that could pose an even greater threat.
Heat already kills more people in the United States than flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, or cold. And the latest projections for the region are worrisome. A recent study led by University of Massachusetts Boston researchers found that even if the world does an especially good job of curbing carbon emissions, we can expect that, by the end of the century, the area will have about 20 days per year with temperatures above 90 degrees, up from about eight to 10 days now.
The impact would be significant. Soaring temperatures would be a boon to pests, pathogens, and invasive species — and a blow to the region’s cranberry and maple syrup industries. In Boston, one study found, the heat-induced mortality rate is expected to triple over the next three decades.
Boston Globe – Front-running gubernatorial candidate Maura Healey, leaning into voter concern about inflation and the economy, on Thursday unveiled a $400 million plan to expand state tax credits for children and other dependents, which she said would put more money into the pockets of families.
“This is going to give real money back to families around Massachusetts and families who are struggling,” the attorney general and South End Democrat told the Globe in an interview. “Prices have continued to increase, whether its gas, groceries, household goods. People are really struggling right now with rising costs. It’s all the more important to understand that I’m committed to addressing that.”
Tax credits lower how much certain residents have to pay in personal income taxes. Under her proposal, Massachusetts families could see annual relief of $600 per child or dependent with disabilities, with no limits to how many children or dependents they can claim.
Her plan would combine two existing tax credits into one and more than double the award.
It would also be indexed to inflation and be written directly into the tax code, so it would accurately reflect the economy and automatically benefit the recipients, instead of being funded by the legislature on a yearly basis like other tax relief programs.
Experts Expect Subvariants to Cause ‘Substantial’ Summer Cases of COVID-19
Boston Globe – Until last week, Dr. Ali Mokdad expected the United States to have “a very good summer” in terms of COVID-19. Projections by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, where he works, forecasted falling cases, hospitalizations, and deaths through at least September.
Then, circumstances changed: Researchers discovered that BA.4 and BA.5 — subvariants of Omicron spreading in the United States — are “immune escapes,” adept at avoiding the antibodies the body produces after vaccination or infection to neutralize the virus.
“That has changed our view for what will happen this summer,” Mokdad said. Though he still expects cases to decrease, the decline will be slower and smaller than projected.
Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said he anticipates the subvariants will spawn a summer of “substantial infections,” but low rates of hospitalization and death.
As of the week ending June 18, BA.4 and BA.5 accounted for about 35 percent of cases in the United States, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — figures that experts say should rise in the weeks to come.
“I expect that BA.5 will likely become the dominant virus in the United States this summer,” Barouch said.
Legislation Aims to Improve Diversity among Massachusetts Educators
Boston Globe – There are far too few educators of color in Massachusetts schools, a persistent disparity lawmakers are seeking to address.
Legislation is being pushed this session aimed at increasing diversity and retention among teachers throughout the state.
The Educator Diversity Act would establish alternative certifications for aspiring teachers, an educator data dashboard, and require districts to appoint officers or teams to set plans and “ensure compliance with all provisions.” Additionally, the bill would create an educator diversity grant fund.
“This is an issue that I would say has been around for a very long time. For years I have been aware of the districts talking about the need to have a more diversified educator workforce,” said state Representative Alice Peisch, education committee cochair and cosponsor of the bill. The proposal has received little to no pushback, she said. Her colleagues recognize the “time has come to do something at the state level and not just leave it to the districts.”
“When I was on the school committee back in the 1990s, we talked about the importance of this,” said Peisch, who served on the Wellesley School Committee. “But the needle does not seem to be moving very much.”
Commonwealth Magazine – Governor Charlie Baker on Friday signed an executive order protecting Massachusetts abortion providers from prosecution by other states that have made providing an abortion a criminal act.
The order prohibits executive agencies from assisting another state’s investigation into anyone receiving or providing an abortion. It also bars abortion providers from losing their license or being disciplined based on an out-of-state charge. And it bars the state from cooperating with extradition requests from states pursuing criminal charges against people involved with providing reproductive health services that are legal in Massachusetts.
“I am deeply disappointed in today’s decision by the Supreme Court, which will have major consequences for women across the country who live in states with limited access to reproductive health care services,” Baker said in signing the order.
Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democratic candidate for governor, said Massachusetts will welcome patients from other states seeking an abortion here.
“We knew this was coming, but that doesn’t make it any less painful, less enraging, or less terrifying for the tens of millions of people who stand to lose access to basic, life-saving care. Today, for the first time ever, the Court has taken away a constitutional right – a right that has been recognized for nearly half a century.
“But in Massachusetts and other states where abortion will remain legal and accessible, we’ll do everything we can to ensure patients from across the country can receive needed care and to support and protect our providers who are offering that care. The majority of Americans want to keep abortion safe and legal, and I’m calling on Congress to do just that by codifying Roe.”
Abortion in Massachusetts remains legal, despite the court’s Friday decision. But the Massachusetts congresswoman and other members of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation are pledging to continue the fight for reproductive health protections.
And it’s not just the state’s Democratic leaders moving to action. On Friday, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed an executive order to “further preserve” abortion rights in Massachusetts and protect providers in the state.
In a statement, Pressley called the court’s decision “a devastating confirmation of what Black and brown reproductive justice organizers have been sounding the alarms about for years.”
“This Court will stop at nothing to strip away our reproductive freedom and our fundamental human right to bodily autonomy,” Pressley said. “By obliterating the right to abortion across the nation, this extreme decision will push legal abortion care out of reach for our most vulnerable and exacerbate multiple public health crises, like the Black maternal mortality crisis.
Boston Globe – The levels of coronavirus detected in Eastern Massachusetts waste water fluctuated up and down in the week ending Tuesday, rather than making a much hoped-for race to the bottom, according to data from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.
Officials say waste water virus data can be an important early warning signal, detecting COVID-19 infections before people get tested, and the tests are officially reported. As more people are using rapid at-home tests, whose results are usually not reported to state public health officials, waste water testing has become a key indicator of the virus’s prevalence.
Other pandemic metrics, including cases and hospitalizations, have been on the decline.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Medium (Opinion) – Abortion access is fundamental to a just society where everyone has what they need to be healthy, where everybody is cherished, where everyone’s happiness matters.
The constitutional, legal right to abortion has never equated to access, especially for Black and brown people, people with low-incomes, and people in rural areas.
“The post-Roe reality that folks are afraid of is currently the lived reality of many people here in the South,” shared Oriaku Nijoku, cofounder and executive director of Access Reproductive Care-Southeast, a reproductive-justice-structured abortion fund based in Atlanta.
That’s why some advocates have shifted more focus to reproductive justice and are calling on policymakers to reimagine abortion access, rather than “reinstate the doomed precedent” should Roe v. Wade be overturned by the Supreme Court.
“When we only think about having the right to something, but not having access, then do we really have that right?,” asks Monica Simpson, executive director of the Sister Song. “And so we must think beyond Roe, about how we want to create the reproductive justice necessary for folks to be able to live their lives — most who are already living in a post-Roe world.”
Boston Globe – Four days after the MBTA reduced service on the Blue, Orange, and Red lines to comply with a federal safety directive, the agency’s general manager said that the T has embarked on a “hiring blitz” to address the dispatcher shortages that forced the service cuts.
General Manager Steve Poftak described the agency’s plan to add more dispatchers during a meeting of the T’s Board of Directors, which gathered Thursday for the first time since the Federal Transit Administration unveiled its demands for safety improvements last week.
“We need to correct this as quickly as possible,” said state Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler, who serves on the board.
The FTA, which is conducting a safety audit of the MBTA, found staffing shortages meant that some dispatchers worked 20-hour shifts without adequate time off before they went back on the clock in the control center for the Blue, Red, and Orange lines. The agency is requiring the T to submit detailed staffing schedules for six weeks and turn in a plan next month for resolving worker shortages.
The T began enacting its plans on Monday, when it scaled back service on the three lines by putting its Saturday schedule into effect on weekdays. The reduced service will keep subway dispatchers from working too many hours at a time, Poftak said.
But passengers and transit advocates have panned the service cuts, and their criticism dominated voicemail messages played during the meeting’s public comment period.
Board members didn’t address the criticism. Poftak said the MBTA is addressing the safety problems identified by the FTA, which completed its onsite inspection Friday. The agency plans to release its findings in August. If the MBTA fails to complete the actions required by the FTA, it could lose 25 percent of its federal funding.
Taxation and Budget
State House News – The Supreme Judicial Court rejected the latest legal challenge to the blockbuster ballot question asking voters if they support a new surtax on household income above $1 million, ruling Wednesday that the summary Attorney General Maura Healey has prepared for the ballot is fair and suitable to be presented to voters.
The high court’s ruling clears the way for a summary and statements of what a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ vote would do that were prepared by Healey, a surtax supporter who expects to be on the ballot herself as a candidate for governor, to be printed alongside the question when it is put before voters this November. The surtax is estimated to bring in $1.3 billion a year and the text of the amendment calls for the revenue to go towards transportation and education.
Opponents of the surtax proposal argued that the summary and ‘yes’ and ‘no’ vote statements that Healey prepared for Secretary of State William Galvin to include in a voter information booklet and on the November ballot itself were unfair and misleading largely because they do not explicitly state that the Legislature retains the ultimate decision-making power over state spending and theoretically could use money the surtax brings in to supplant existing state funding for transportation and education.
Writing for the court, Justice David Lowy stated simply, “We disagree.”
Healey’s summary reads: “This proposed constitutional amendment would establish an additional 4% state income tax on that portion of annual taxable income in excess of $1 million. This income level would be adjusted annually, by the same method used for federal income-tax brackets, to reflect increases in the cost of living. Revenues from this tax would be used, subject to appropriation by the state Legislature, for public education, public colleges and universities; and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, and public transportation. The proposed amendment would apply to tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2023.”
“But I always remind myself on this that the last time that a barrel of oil cost what it costs right now, that gasoline itself was about a $1.50 cheaper at the pump, so a big part of this is about concentration in the oil industry and price gouging.”
Warren argued that the best way to deal with the high gas prices is to look at “the longer arc of what drives prices” and respond to those individual issues — like price gouging or worker shortages — directly.
“We’ve got a lot of tools at our disposal. Those are the tools we need to be using,” Warren added.
When Berman pressed the Massachusetts senator on whether she would support a gas tax holiday, Warren said that’s “not the approach [she] would use.”
“I would use a more systemic approach,” Warren added.
The senator’s comments come after Biden called on Congress Wednesday to suspend federal and state taxes on gasoline. The federal gasoline tax is 18 cents per gallon, while state gas taxes average about 26 cents per gallon, according to the American Petroleum Institute.
CBS News – Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said the state has “more than enough funding” at its disposal to suspend the gas tax, pass his proposed tax relief plan and still invest in the state.
Does state treasurer Deb Goldberg agree with the governor’s assessment?
“(Baker) is absolutely right. I don’t think people realize just how much money we have in the bank,” Goldberg said
The Democrat said the state has greater than anticipated revenue coming out of the COVID pandemic, a feat she called “pretty incredible.”
Goldberg said the state has about $16 billion in the bank, and added she believes now is the time to provide tax relief against inflation and rising gas prices.
“I would say we are in very good shape,” Goldberg said. “I do believe strongly that we need to find relief for people who are really suffering from inflation and the cost of gas.”