They always get a little giddy on Beacon Hill after huffing the heady fumes of a major legislative accomplishment. And the immediate aftermath of the Legislature’s sign off on the tax cut package was no exception.
The ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Patrick O’Connor, relished the bipartisan roots of the cuts originally proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker, terming their birth after two years of labor a symbol of our “very uniquely Massachusetts” process. And you could almost hear the voice of Bette Midler in Revenue Committee Co-Chair Sen. Susan Moran’s tribute to Gov. Maura Healey’s role: “I appreciate the governor always shooting for the heights and really giving some kind of wind beneath the wings of the Legislature to really do something important.”
Yes, fly, robin, fly/Up, up to the sky! (Have the disco-era fossil in your family explain this reference to you.) It’s been a long time between major tax reform, some doubted they could get it done, give credit where it’s due, etc etc.
But even in this moment of supreme self-congratulation, there was dissent.
Cambridge Rep. Mike Connolly, arguably the Legislature’s biggest liberal, was the lone House member to vote no. “It comes down to your perspective,” he says.
For Connolly, that was sharpened by a recent evening walk in his district where he passed a guy with a backpack, not an unusual sight near Kendall Square. Retracing his route, Connolly saw the same citizen, sleeping bag removed from backpack, asleep on the sidewalk.
As Mass and Cass reminds us, while we may not be drowning in homelessness the way parts of New York, San Francisco and LA are, we do have a serious and growing problem. “When I think about the competitiveness of our local businesses and corporations, I see a housing emergency, climate change, core infrastructure issues as the greatest threat to our economy,” says Connolly. “And I worry that some of the narrative on Beacon Hill is really missing the items that are most important.”
Case in point: the bill’s bestowal of a roughly $50 tax break for renters while a comparably-priced right-to-counsel program for those facing eviction favored by Connolly goes nowhere. “If I had to choose between an extra $50 in my pocket or knowing I would be protected with a right to counsel, I know what my choice would be,” he says.
At the other end of the political spectrum, the best grade Chris Carlozzi of the National Federation of Independent Business could muster for the tax-cut bill was an incomplete. “We did not do anything drastic enough to move mountains here,” he says of the bill’s half-a-loaf estate and capital-gains tax reductions and concessions to the left on married-couple avoidance of the income surtax and graduating 62F relief. “We have to do this again almost immediately in order to stay competitive. Everybody is doing a victory dance when they should be looking to what else can they do.”
Cue the eye-rolling on Beacon Hill over such sheer ingratitude. But Carlozzi has a point when he bemoans how long it took us to move on these issues while other states were lapping us. And Connolly’s critique – that our array of costly problems is likely to demand more than currently budgeted – seems empirically true.
Maybe what’s needed is a really deep dive – perhaps spearheaded by our brainy new governor – into how we’re going to pay for our brand of compassionate progressivism if we continue losing rainmakers and taxpayers to other states. Perhaps once the spilled bubbly from the tax-cut party has been mopped up we can contemplate the story of Icarus fleeing doom with a pair of homemade wings, ignoring warnings of hubris and complacency and flying too close to the sun.
He crashed and drowned. Will we?