September 26, 2023
This Week in Massachusetts – September 26
Editor’s note – This is the final edition of This Week in Massachusetts. Stay tuned as AIM introduces…Read More
Posted on November 15, 2022
What to Expect When You’re Expecting Maura Healey
WGBH – The 2022 Massachusetts governor’s race didn’t offer much in terms of campaign drama, but it did boast a strange, maybe even unprecedented dynamic. From the outset, Democrat Maura Healey cast herself as the natural successor to Charlie Baker, the outgoing Republican incumbent — a move that let her capitalize on Baker’s durably high approval ratings while also turning her opponent, Republican Geoff Diehl, into an awkward wingman in what was supposed to be a two-person race.
That strategy paid off, as Healey cruised to a commanding victory. Now, though, it raises a question: after campaigning as Baker’s spiritual heir, will Healey really emulate his fiscally conservative, socially liberal, and determinedly bipartisan approach to governance? Or will she chart her own course instead?
It’ll be months, if not years, before we know the answer. Still, as Healey begins her two-month tenure as governor-elect, one thing is already clear: she’s convinced a wide range of people with very different political priorities there’s a good to great chance she’ll be an ally once inaugurated — in itself, a Baker-esque feat.
Consider the relatively upbeat expectations of Jim Stergios, the executive director of the center-right Pioneer Institute, which was largely aligned with Baker on policy matters during his two terms. Stergios isn’t pollyannish about the upcoming Healey era: he thinks she’ll be pulled left by what he calls a “hyperprogressive” Legislature and cites her support of Ballot Question 1 — which will create a new surtax on the portion of incomes over $1 million — as an example of where that pull might lead.
Yet Stergios is guardedly optimistic that Healey will transcend it. Among other things, he notes that Healey’s invocations of Baker have been a campaign constant; that she’s frequently voiced support for tax cuts; and Healey’s financial inner circle worked to boost Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, a Democrat who’s highly regarded by the business community, in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. Driscoll won that contest and is now Healey’s running mate.
This Diverse Class of State Executives Were the Stars of the Midterms
Politico – The first woman and first openly gay person elected governor. The first Black woman elected attorney general. The first all-female governor and lieutenant governor team.
And those are just the firsts for Massachusetts.
Glass ceilings shattered across the country this week as voters from New England to the South propelled women and people of color to prominent positions in state government for the first time.
Women were elected governor of Massachusetts, New York and Arkansas for the first time, with a record 11 total women set to be sworn in as their state’s top executive next year. Massachusetts and Arkansas will be the first states in the nation to have women serving as both governor and lieutenant governor come January. Maryland elected its first Black governor — just the third elected in the nation’s history. And results are still rolling in.
“The more people we have from different backgrounds in high-profile leadership roles, the more diversity of ideas and experience we’ll see at the table,” Amanda Hunter, executive director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which studies women in politics, said in an interview. “And having these qualified people be the strongest candidates for the job in their state in and of itself breaks down long-held stereotypes.”
Biogen Announces New CEO
Boston Business Journal – Biogen Inc. has announced a new CEO, six months after Michel Vounatsos said he would be stepping down.
Christopher Viehbacher, a longtime executive at GSK plc (NYSE: GSK) and former CEO of Sanofi ADR (Nasdaq: SNY), will take the corner office at the Cambridge biotech (Nasdaq: BIIB). He started on Nov. 14.
“It is both an honor and an exciting opportunity to join the Biogen team. I greatly admire Biogen for its determination and resilience in pioneering important new medicines to address some of the most difficult and challenging conditions in healthcare,” Viehbacher said in a statement. “I am inspired by Biogen’s mission and untapped potential and look forward to working with the dedicated Biogen team to build an even stronger company for the benefit of patients, stakeholders and investors.”
Viehbacher is also the co-founder of Gurnet Point Capital, a Cambridge-based health care investment firm involved with companies including Radius Health (Nasdaq: RDUS), which it took private earlier this year, and cancer detection firm Naveris.
Rent Out Your Driveway? Parking App Spacer Adds New Wrinkle to Gig Economy
Boston Globe – Side hustles and gig work aren’t new concepts. But everything is pricey these days, and a little extra income can go a long way.
Enter Spacer, an app that strives to be the “Airbnb of monthly parking” by connecting commuters in need of an empty space with locals who have an unused parking spot or driveway.
It works like this: Someone with an empty driveway can download Spacer, input some personal information and details about the spot, and list it on the app or website for renters to reserve in month-long periods. Renters can then snag the parking spot for their personal use, in similar fashion to Airbnb and other rental apps.
Spacer Technologies was founded in Australia in 2015, before expanding to North America and acquiring Where I Park Inc. earlier this year. With more commuters returning to the office, parking has become a more pressing need — and Spacer has been a beneficiary, with Boston receiving more booking requests in October than any other city on the app.
One factor spurring the increase in Boston users might be oncoming winter weather, according to Spacer. With snow causing headaches for drivers with outdoor parking, some users may be thinking ahead, with booking requests for covered spots in the Boston area up 77 percent since July.
Spacer said it has about 300,000 users globally, and hundreds of rentable spots in and around Boston. It makes money by taking 25 percent of transactions; the remaining 75 percent goes to the users who rent out their spaces.
State Awards Grant to Methuen Coworking Space for Entrepreneurs
WHAV – A collaborative workspace in Methuen is getting a nearly $27,000 boost from the state to encourage entrepreneurial efforts.
Jacqueline Business Services of Methuen was formally awarded $26,807 from the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. The company will add two bathrooms to meet building codes in the coworking section of its building, allowing the entire building to be used as a collaborative workspace. The company was one of 39 organizations in 23 communities sharing $1.2 million in grants.
“Communities across Massachusetts are realizing the power of collaborative workspaces and their ability to energize local economies,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement. “We are thrilled to award nearly $1.2 million to support collaborative workspaces of all types that will empower innovators across various sectors to build relationships, access equipment and grow their businesses.”
Undersecretary of Community Development Ashley Stolba, Assistant Secretary for Communities and Programs Juan Vega and MassDevelopment Vice President of Community Investment Shyla Matthews were joined by state and local officials in Holyoke last Wednesday to celebrate the Collaborative Workspace Program awards.
Baker Aide Urges Avangrid to Stay the Course
Governor Charlie Bakers’ top energy aide urged the offshore wind developer Avangrid to abandon efforts to reopen its electricity contract with the state and abide by the existing terms.
Avangrid has asked the Department of Public Utilities for a one-month delay in approving the contract, saying the time is needed to work out new terms because the 1,200-megawatt Commonwealth Wind project is not viable without an adjustment in the electricity price.
The company, which has said its project has been rocked by inflation, interest rate hikes, and supply chain difficulties, is expected to file a brief on the issue with the DPU.
Bethany Card, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, released a letter she sent to Avangrid Sunday night urging the company to give up its efforts to renegotiate the contract and focus on taking advantage of federal and state programs to reduce the cost of the project.
“While the current macroeconomic conditions are challenging and many in the industry face inflationary pressures, action at the federal and state level have been made to directly address these effects,” Card wrote.
“For example, the Federal Inflation Reduction Act expanded tax credits for offshore wind developers and the guidance for these key provisions are in development at the Department of Treasury. We are committed to working with you and other offshore wind developers to take advantage of all the federal incentives available to facilitate the growth of offshore wind.”
Tech Giants are Laying off Workers. Here’s What that Means for Boston
Eagle Tribune – The Massachusetts technology sector has benefited over the past decade from the expanding operations of West Coast giants such as Google, Meta, and Amazon, which created thousands of local jobs.
Now, that trend is reversing. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, on Wednesday announced the largest layoff in the company’s 18-year history, cutting more than 11,000 people, or 13 percent of its workforce. Google is also in cost-cutting mode, trimming projects, limiting travel, and slowing hiring, chief executive Sundar Pichai has said. And last week, Amazon said it would “pause” hiring for its corporate workforce until next year.
The economic pressure on the West Coast tech giants, which all have substantial operations in Massachusetts that they were planning to expand before the slowdown hit, could lead to more local job losses.
“It’s the first time in over a decade that these Big Tech firms are losing momentum,” said Mohamad Ali, chief executive of IDG, a leading tech industry research firm based in Needham. “This is a macroeconomic issue and Boston is seeing the effects.”
Amazon opened one of two gleaming new offices in the Seaport in June, with plans to house 4,500 employees there, and runs its global robotics division from North Reading and Westborough. Google said in May that it could more than double its workforce of 2,100-plus in Kendall Square as part of an office expansion. And last December, Meta announced plans to triple its office space in Cambridge, where it employs 500 people.
Solving Climate Crisis Demands Strong Actions Now
Recorder (Opinion) – We know to stop climate change we must achieve net zero emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxides and other climate-warming, carbon-based pollutants. This will require replacing fossil fuel sources of energy with renewable sources and lowering our energy consumption.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the first comprehensive legislation to solve the climate change crisis ever passed by Congress, makes a major shift to spend our tax dollars on renewable energy. Creating programs and allocating money to implement climate crisis solutions will jump-start change in the U.S. from an economy dependent on polluting fossil fuels to an economy powered by clean, renewable energy.
The Inflation Reduction Act uses tax credits, rebates, and investments in new and existing renewable energy technologies to drive the cost of renewable energy below that of carbon-based energy. The tax credits promote advanced manufacturing of solar, wind, battery, electric vehicle, and electric building heating/cooling products made in the United States.
The new law also encourages investment in new clean electricity production and advanced manufacturing in communities that are economically dependent on fossil fuel energy. Rebates are available for low-income households to convert to energy efficient, electric powered homes. Grants will train employees for renewable energy jobs and loans will provide lower financing of renewable energy projects.
The IRA derives funding from a 15% minimum tax on corporations that make more than $1 billion dollars a year and stronger enforcement of tax payments. That money will make energy cheaper and cleaner for all Americans, create jobs in renewable energy industries, and make cleaner renewable energy options the smart financial decision for businesses and consumers.
Holyoke Gas & Electric Customers Can Expect Rate Increases
The Republican — Holyoke Gas and Electric customers can expect higher energy bills in the coming months. In an update to the City Council, the utility cited increased global demand for natural gas and shortages in domestic supply.
Additionally, supply chain disruptions and “volatile economic trends” are causing the jumps in natural gas and electricity rates. “Due to these factors, HG&E customers will see increases in both natural gas and electricity prices for the coming winter,” stated James Lavelle, HG&E’s general manager.
City Councilor Kevin Jourdain requested HG&E provide a detailed outlook for 2022/2023, which he described as good news/bad news future.
“As we approach the winter months, Holyoke Gas & Electric wants to make the community aware of regional concerns regarding energy costs as well as potential impacts to service reliability,” Lavelle stated, who reminded customers of available assistance.
Lavelle projects a 32% increase over last winter for residential natural gas consumers, about an $80 monthly increase. In addition, he expects a 10% rise for residential electricity customers over the previous winter based on an average monthly usage of 500 kilowatts.
“While HG&E will continue to have some of the lowest rates in the region, inflation and the rising cost of everyday expenses are having a significant impact on our customers, and we are here to help,” Lavelle wrote.
He called on customers to “take advantage” of HG&E’s novel energy efficiency and conservation programs, including fuel assistance, discounts, payment plans, and rebates. Customers will receive information in their November statements on available programs.
“From a reliability standpoint, HG&E is well prepared for the upcoming winter heating season and has secured the necessary energy supplies while continuously working to mitigate potential impacts on customers,” Lavelle added.
The municipal utility uses what’s known as an “energy procurement hedging strategy” for electricity and natural gas, a way to minimize risks. HG&E boasts a “diverse energy portfolio,” including hydro, solar, and battery storage and long and short-term energy contracts.
“As it relates to natural gas supply, HG&E is fortunate to have a portfolio made up of both firm pipeline capacity from the Tennessee Gas Pipeline and liquefied natural gas, which is stored at HG&E’s West Holyoke LNG Facility,” Lavelle noted.
Lavelle cautioned that interruptions to fuel deliveries (gas or electricity) already purchased pose the most significant risk to customers this winter. Issues with the regional electric grid and pipeline constraints are two major factors.
“But actions are being taken at several levels to mitigate this risk. A significant global increase in demand for natural gas, coupled with constrained supplies, has been widely reported,” Lavelle stated.
According to Lavelle, natural gas fuels 60% of homes in New England and generates 50% of the electricity used in the region. In addition, ISO New England issued a “Problem Statement and Call to Action.” Without an adequate regional gas supply, home heating and electricity demand may be affected.
ISO New England has petitioned the Biden administration “to take specific actions to alleviate current LNG supply constraints,” Lavelle stated. He added that ISO New England coordinates mitigation plans with HG&E and other utility companies.
“HG&E has taken all necessary steps to maintain winter reliability in a variety of potential scenarios,” Lavelle wrote. “HG&E is proud to offer customers highly reliable service and has received national recognition for these efforts.”
In an email, Jourdain said he called for the energy update on behalf of Holyoke families worried about prices and energy availability.
“The good news is availability should not be an issue, but the bad news is prices are going up considerably,” Jourdain said. “I have asked HG&E to do whatever they can to help our residents deal with these price hikes by offering payment plans, financial assistance, and other supports.”
The councilor continued, “HG&E made clear they stand ready to help and encourage residents to reach out. I appreciate their quick response and transparency with what will be happening here in Holyoke and the region this winter.”
Electric Vehicles Require Lots of Scarce Parts. Is the Supply Chain Up to It?
Wall Street Journal – The car industry is staging a revolution—a transition from the gasoline and diesel engines that have powered vehicles for over 130 years to a battery-propelled future.
But a key part of the reinvention remains unfinished and filled with risk: the supply chains for the parts needed to assemble fully electric vehicles.
The guts of EVs—high-capacity batteries, electric motors and the sophisticated electronics that mesh them together—are nothing like the engine blocks, transmissions and drive shafts that move internal-combustion cars and trucks.
On the upside, EVs require vastly fewer parts: An electric-car motor typically has only about 20 moving parts, compared with 200 or more in an internal combustion engine, according to Assembly magazine.
Yet the industry is young, and finding reliable sources for EV parts is daunting. Vehicle makers are deciding which parts to make on their own, sometimes through joint ventures, and which to source from their traditional component makers—which themselves are undergoing radical restructurings to support the new electric world.
“You can’t take anything that you learned through [internal-combustion engines] and apply it to the EV supply chain,” says Arun Kumar, a managing director at consulting firm AlixPartners.
Some pinch points: The batteries and most of the EV motors rely on unusual metals that can be costly and hard to obtain. The vehicles’ electronics require new chips from a semiconductor industry still working through pandemic-era backlogs. Even the long aluminum trays that hold batteries beneath the floors of electric vehicles could end up scarce, Mr. Singh says.
The good news: The cost of the lithium-ion batteries used in most EVs has fallen by more than half over the past five years. That lets EV makers pack in more batteries to allow a vehicle to go farther on a charge, as well as introduce lower-priced models.
But demand is surging, and battery makers face a number of hurdles. For one, the complexity and global logistics of the battery-making process—from procuring raw materials, to refining them, to making the battery cells, to assembling battery packs—could lead to bottlenecks.
“There are supply chains within supply chains,” says Edgar Faler, a senior industry analyst at the Center for Automotive Research. “There are a lot of things that have to go right.”
One of the biggest potential problems is finding sufficient and affordable supplies of key raw materials, including lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt. Much of the mining and processing of these metals is based in just a few countries. Two-thirds of cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where some workers face dangerous conditions that have prompted protests from human-rights groups. Australia mines about half the lithium, while nickel is centered in Indonesia.
The refining of these materials for use in batteries is even more concentrated: China processes some 70% of the world’s lithium and cobalt, and 99% of the manganese, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. China also dominates the market for the parts that go into batteries, such as cathodes and anodes, as well as the production of batteries themselves.
“The issue is going to be around supply-chain risk,” says AlixPartners’ Mr. Kumar. “Countries like China could decide they don’t want to offer the latest and greatest highly purified nickel. That could put the U.S. industry at a disadvantage.”
Battery makers, in fact, have been using more nickel, which can boost a battery’s energy density, as they seek to expand the driving range of EVs. Some analysts project that the high-grade nickel that batteries require could be in short supply as EV sales rise.
Already, prices for nickel and several other battery ingredients have been soaring. Battery-grade cobalt was up 53% from Jan. 1, 2020, through October 2022, nickel sulfate rose 56%, and lithium carbonate soared 979%, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. The consulting firm says these increases mean battery prices could rise this year for the first time since at least the early 2000s.
Meanwhile, a few car makers are already predicting battery shortages. “Put very simply, all the world’s [battery] cell production combined represents well under 10% of what we will need in 10 years,” RJ Scaringe, chief executive of EV startup Rivian Automotive Inc., said in April. He added that “90% to 95% of the battery supply chain does not exist.”
Others don’t believe there will be a battery shortage anytime soon. The expansion of EV manufacturing “will start to put some strains on the [battery supply] system,” says Ram Chandrasekaran, principal analyst of transport and mobility at energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. But “we don’t forecast a deficit in battery packs for the next 10 years.”
Mr. Chandrasekaran also says the recently passed federal Inflation Reduction Act, which provides tax credits for producers of battery packs whose rechargeable cells are sourced domestically, “will go a long way in stabilizing the United States battery supply over the next five to 10 years.”
More car makers plan to build new U.S. battery plants, many of them in joint ventures with Asian battery makers. Among them, Tesla Inc. is working with Panasonic Holdings Corp., General Motors Co. and Honda Motor Co. have separately joined with LG Energy Solution Ltd., Ford Motor Co. is working with SK Innovation, and Stellantis NV has joined with Samsung SDI Co.
But these new factories can have hiccups. GM last month dialed back its EV sales target, citing startup issues with a new battery plant in Ohio. GM had expected to sell 400,000 EVs from early 2022 through the end of next year but pushed out the time frame until mid-2024.
Car makers also are signing long-term supply contracts for access to battery raw materials. Moreover, the recycling of batteries from EVs as they are scrapped at the end of their life will provide another source of the minerals. AlixPartners’ Mr. Kumar says 20% to 40% of EV raw-material demand could be met through recycling by 2030.
Meanwhile, some EV makers, including Tesla and those in China, are using a different battery chemistry, lithium iron phosphate, for certain vehicles. These batteries don’t require nickel or cobalt and so are less costly than lithium-ion ones, though they can’t store as much power, says Mr. Kumar.
The majority of motors used in today’s EVs rely on permanent magnets, which produce a constant magnetic field that helps spin a motor’s rotor and, in turn, power the wheels.
But these magnets require costly rare-earth metals such as neodymium and dysprosium. As with battery ingredients, the dominant supplier is China, and producing the metals can cause pollution, which could raise issues for investors who shun companies linked to environmental damage.
EV makers have a recourse: alternating-current induction motors, which have no permanent magnets. Instead, they use coils of copper wire to create a magnetic field that drives the motor.
AC induction motors—invented in the 19th century and widely used in household appliances and industrial applications—are less expensive but also less efficient. That can reduce a vehicle’s driving range unless battery storage is boosted.
Yet as battery capacity grows and many experts expect the cost of batteries to resume their decline, the industry will move away from motors that require rare-earth metals, Mr. Kumar predicts. Tesla has long used AC induction motors in some models and other car makers are now considering them.
On top of this, analysts expect more vehicle makers to outsource some of their motor needs—which could expand industrywide capacity by increasing the number of sites making motors—rather than making them in-house, as most currently do. Overall, analysts don’t see the motor supply posing as big a hurdle as batteries.
EVs are like rolling computers. Consulting firm P3 Group says they require more than twice as many semiconductor chips as internal-combustion vehicles—some 1,300 versus 600.
Chips control everything from how EVs take electricity from their batteries to how that juice is applied to the motors to how the batteries are recharged. They convert the batteries’ direct-current output to AC, which most motors need. And as with most vehicles, chips manage braking, climate control and safety features like air bags.
All that demands a robust supply chain, something made glaringly clear the past few years as car makers had to limit output due to a chip shortage.
Analysts don’t foresee the EV industry facing chip shortfalls in the future. Mr. Kumar, for one, is optimistic that plans by several chip makers to build more U.S. plants, spurred in part by the $280 billion federal Chips and Science Act passed this year, will help boost supply to meet the EV ramp-up.
One wild card, he says, is how much vehicle makers continue to rely on Taiwan, the world’s dominant semiconductor maker. Taiwan “has its own geopolitical issues,” Mr. Kumar says, referring to its fraught relationship with China, which claims the island nation as its own.
Ballot Question 2 on Dental Insurance Passed Overwhelmingly. Now What?
Boston Business Journal – The dentist-backed ballot Question 2 passed Tuesday with an overwhelming majority, making Massachusetts the first state with mandated fixed loss ratio for dental insurance.
The loss ratio requires that 83 cents of every dollar paid to insurance companies goes toward the cost of dental care, leaving 17 cents for administrative costs.
Details around how the state’s dental insurers will adjust their business practices to meet the mandate are still up in the air — and likely will be until next year at the earliest.
Question 2 will also create more transparency about where dental insurance money is going. Carriers who offer dental benefits will have to submit information about their current and expected medical-loss ratio and administrative expenses, as well as an annual comprehensive financial statement. Currently, there is limited information about where money was going.
The ratio was the more contentious aspect of the ballot question, while there was greater consensus across the industry about the need for more transparency and data.
An independent study conducted by the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University suggested that greater transparency will enable “better regulation and more deliberate policy adjustments moving forward.”
It will be largely up to dental insurers to decide how they will meet that 83% ratio.
In the lead up to the vote, insurers claimed that passing Question 2 would force them to raise premiums. However, after the results came in, the dental insurance-backed anti-question 2 committee said they would work to find a way to meet the requirement without raising premiums.
Pfizer Dominates the COVID Drug Market. This Watertown Biotech Wants to Change That.
Boston Globe – A Watertown biotech company has taken a small step forward in its ambitions to give Pfizer’s COVID pill Paxlovid some competition. Enanta Pharmaceuticals told the Globe it has begun an intermediate stage clinical trial of its experimental COVID therapy this week.
Enanta hopes its once-daily pill will be safer to prescribe, easier to take, and potentially more effective than Paxlovid, which is set to earn the pharma giant $22 billion this year. Enanta’s trial is beginning as the third year of the pandemic comes to a close, but president and chief executive Jay Luly says he isn’t worried about being late to the game.
”COVID is not going away,” he said. “We wanted to design something that was better, because we knew we weren’t going to be first.”
Enanta is among a shrinking group of companies still testing experimental COVID pills. The Japanese drugmaker Shionogi and the California firm Pardes Biosciences are testing COVID pills in advanced and intermediate stage trials, respectively. Those could also be direct competitors to Paxlovid. And Boston-based Atea Pharmaceuticals is in the advanced stages of testing a COVID antiviral that could broaden options for doctors and patients.
”We need alternatives to Paxlovid,” said Dr. Melanie Thompson, an HIV physician and clinical researcher at a private practice in Atlanta. “I think these drugs that are in development now will find a market, because we continue to have deaths from COVID and some people still won’t get vaccinated.”
Program Launched in Springfield to Provide Mental-Health Services to Latino Businesses
WWLP – Gándara Center is partnering with Latino Economic Development Corporation to offer small business owners mental-health services.
The program “Built Together” was announced Wednesday to provide bilingual and culturally competent mental health services to help Latino business owners and their families. Services are offered at the Gándara Center in two locations, 2155 Main Street and 85 St. George Road in Springfield. For more information call 1-877-733-4187.
“Our hope is that by offering these services we will help those dealing with urgent mental health concerns before they become a crisis situation,” said Lois Nesci, Chief Executive Officer of Gándara.
“I hear from business owners when times are tough or even very successful, the weight on their shoulders working 70 hours a week can be difficult for them and their family. Having a place to call and get extra support is crucial to the success of their business,” stated Andrew Melendez from Latino EDC.
A 2020 report showed that Latinx individuals often have a difficult time securing funding from a bank for their businesses, leading to owners working overtime without the capital to hire staff and that can lead to burnout over time.
“During this climate, pre-pandemic, post-pandemic… we have a lot of struggling families. Including families that are struggling that are business owners,” said Springfield Representative Carlos Gonzalez.
It’s estimated that services from the Gándara Center reach more than 15,000 children and families each year.
Roughly $1 Billion in Tax Refunds Sent to Massachusetts Residents So Far
MassLive – More than 900,000 Massachusetts residents have received tax refunds so far under Chapter 62F, the tax-cap law that’s requiring state government to return nearly $3 billion in excess revenues back to taxpayers.
That equates to nearly $1 billion distributed to eligible Bay Staters as of Tuesday, a state official told MassLive Thursday evening.
The Baker administration began doling out checks at the start of November, with the distribution process expected to span through mid-December. It’s a randomized rollout, meaning officials are not sending refunds to the lowest earners first, alphabetically, or in any other predictable order.
Refunds, which are being sent as paper checks in the mail and via direct deposits, equal about 14% of an individual’s 2021 personal income tax liability. No action is needed from eligible Bay Staters — namely, those who filed their tax returns by mid-October or who will do so by mid-September — to receive the refunds, according to updated eligibility parameters.
About 200,000 refunds were distributed via direct deposit so far, with another 700,000 refunds issued as checks in the mail, the state official told MassLive.
The Department of Revenue previously said it intended to send out about 500,000 Chapter 62F refunds in the first week, followed by about 1 million in subsequent weeks “until all currently eligible refunds have been distributed.” But officials warned delays in the U.S. Postal Service might slow down the process.
Passage of Question 1 Amends the State’s Flat Tax Rate
Boston Globe – In the closest-fought major race in Massachusetts, voters Tuesday ended nearly eight years of debate about taxes on high earners, narrowly approving the “millionaires tax” in a nail-biter that wasn’t resolved until Wednesday afternoon.
The “yes” side ended up winning with 52 percent of the vote, a margin of about 90,000 ballots with 93 percent counted.
Question 1 will amend the Massachusetts constitution by adding 4 percentage points to the state’s 5-percent income tax, for annual earnings over $1 million, to bring more funds to the budget for transportation and education. The union-backed Raise Up Massachusetts coalition, which pursued the measure for the better part of a decade, has said the increase could generate as much as $2 billion annually, while other estimates indicate a lower haul, with one official state projection estimating possibly $1.2 billion.
The tax increase would affect about 20,000 or so taxpayers each year.
Fair Share for Massachusetts campaign manager Jeron Mariani called the approval a “once-in-a-generation opportunity that was years in the making.” And the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the primary financial backer of the Question 1 campaign, issued a statement calling it “an important step forward to creating tax fairness.”
Even in Progressive Massachusetts, It Was a Toss-Up on Whether to Tax the Rich
Boston Globe – After a years-long bitter fight over the economic future of Massachusetts, both sides of the income tax ballot question finally agreed on one thing: This contest would be too close to call on Election Night.
Turns out both sides got it right: The Associated Press didn’t call the race until early Wednesday afternoon. The narrow result reflects how the Massachusetts electorate remains deeply divided on whether to raise taxes on the wealthy – or perhaps anyone. Five other attempts to change the state constitution to allow for a graduated income tax failed spectacularly.
And who can forget, Massachusetts is the place that once famously started a revolution rather than pay more in taxes.
Polls, as recently as three weeks ago, had indicated that this time might be different. Question 1 proposes an additional four percentage-point tax on annual incomes over $1 million, with the proceeds to fund education and transportation. It was expected to win with modest support tallying in the mid to high 50 percent range. The result was much closer, with the Yes side winning with 52 percent of the vote.
In other words, even in our progressive state, it’s basically a toss up on whether to tax the rich.
That’s no surprise to Jen Benson, president of the Alliance for Business Leadership, the only business group to support Question 1. Previously, Benson served as a state representative and was among those lawmakers who voted to put the measure on the ballot. She said this one confounded voters.
Massachusetts Borrowers React to Court Ruling Blocking Student Debt-Relief Program
WBUR – Student loan borrowers in Massachusetts say they’re disappointed but not surprised that the Biden administration’s student debt relief program was blocked by a federal judge in Texas late Thursday.
In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Mark T. Pittman, a Trump appointee, called the program a “complete usurpation” of congressional authority by the office of the president.
The decision comes several weeks after a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the program in a separate legal challenge by six states. As the result of these rulings, the Biden administration has temporarily stopped accepting applications, according to an update posted to the U.S. Department of Education website on Friday.
For many borrowers who had either already applied for student debt relief or were planning to apply after graduation, this most recent court decision almost felt expected. The Texas case was brought by Job Creators Network Foundation on behalf of student loan borrowers who do not qualify for relief.
“There was so much pressure from people who don’t believe in student debt forgiveness,” said Tim Scalona, a second-year student at Suffolk University Law School.
Inside the Push to Bring Computer Science to Every Massachusetts Public School
Boston Business Journal – Among the big-ticket items in the Legislature’s recently passed economic development bill is an amendment to ensure computer science programming is offered in all Massachusetts public schools by 2025.
The amendment, which passed last week and was signed by Gov. Charlie Baker, will create a $2.5 million fund to support the recruitment, certification and training of computer science educators in public schools across the state. The Executive Office of Education will also be required to publish a strategy for bringing this curriculum to all schools by 2025 and for increasing the gender, racial and socioeconomic diversity of students in CS courses.
Gov.-Elect Healey Commits to Hiring Diverse Team
Boston Herald – Governor-elect Maura Healey credited the outgoing administration for laying the groundwork for a “seamless transition” that will allow her to quickly begin building her team, an effort that she said will be headed by the incoming lieutenant governor.
“They’ve already put the transition effort in place and are incredibly collaborative,” Healey told reporters after attending what she called an “incredibly productive” closed-door meeting with Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito at the State House Wednesday.
Healey named her running mate, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, as transition chair, saying that the position will be focused on hiring members of their incoming administration.
No details were shared on how many hires will be made, or if anyone would be retained from Baker’s team, with Healey only saying that they were looking to “assemble the best possible team to meet the challenges we face.”
A website that’s been launched for the effort, healeydriscolltransition.com, indicates that transition committees will be formed, but no information beyond that is available, with the site telling users to check back soon for updates.
“There’s going to be a portal where you can submit your resume, your name for consideration for positions as we move forward,” Driscoll said.
Massachusetts Voters Keep Law Allowing Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants
Massachusetts is home to more than 200,000 immigrants without legal status, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The new law will extend driving privileges to an estimated 45,000-85,000 people over the next three years, according to MassBudget.
Legislators enacted the law in June, overriding Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto.
Opponents of the law, backed by MassGOP President Jim Lyons, launched a repeal effort and garnered enough signatures to put the new law to a vote.