Boston Globe. April 19, 2022.

Editorial: Another tax day, and high time for a tax break

The Massachusetts House budget leaves taxpayers waiting for relief.

Tuesday is the moment of truth for Massachusetts tax procrastinators — you know who you are.

But the filing deadline for income taxes is also a moment to remind Massachusetts House lawmakers and House Speaker Ronald Mariano that taxpayers are people too, and that their needs ought not go to the bottom of budgeteers’ list of priorities.

Yes, by and large the House Ways and Means Committee produced a competent, even innovative budget, which is scheduled to come up for debate next week. But in its $49.6 billion budget plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1, the committee neglected to return to taxpayers some $700 million in carefully targeted tax cuts proposed earlier this year by Governor Charlie Baker. Instead, lawmakers opted to find more ways to spend that money.

Since state tax revenues continue to exceed expectations — thus far by at least $1.5 billion, increasing about 15% over the previous fiscal year — there is no reason to abandon the prospect of tax cuts, many of them targeted toward those who continue to struggle with the rising costs of rent, food, and child care, along with incomes that haven’t kept pace.

“As inflation continues to rip around here, not doing something for renters, not doing something for low-income folks, not doing something for seniors, not doing something for a lot of the people — the child-care piece, in particular, the dependent-care piece — we should do these,” Baker told reporters at the State House recently. “I mean, this is exactly when you should do it.”

Baker’s tax proposals aren’t dead. In fact, they are still up for consideration by the House Revenue Committee. But the House Ways and Means Committee’s decision to decouple them from the budget process does put them at a certain political disadvantage.

Sure, the House budget, which would increase spending by nearly $1.4 billion more than that proposed by the governor, makes significant increases in education at all levels, from early education right through higher ed (although apparently not enough to stave off a tuition hike at the University of Massachusetts). And it picks up funding for universal school meals that during the pandemic had been covered by federal funds. The price tag for that is $110 million.

The House budget also funds innovative efforts in the criminal justice system, including $20 million to cover the cost of inmate phone calls and $2.5 million for a pilot program in correctional facilities to treat severe mental illness. And it keeps Baker’s proposal to waive probation and parole fees.

“There are many things that we can spend our money on, and we chose to do that because I think these programs in the early-childhood and day-care support systems are the underpinning of our middle- and lower-class workforce,” Mariano said on the day the House budget was released.

“Strengthening these underpinnings is the most important thing we can do right now,” he added.

Some working parents and seniors might beg to differ.

Baker proposed to double the allowable tax credits for dependent children and child care, a move that would put $167 million back in the pockets of 700,000 families. Increasing the cap on rent deductions from $3,000 to $5,000 would mean $77 million in tax breaks for working families, and raising the income level at which people are required to file an income tax return would give 234,000 low-income taxpayers a break, according to the Baker administration, at a cost to the Treasury of $41 million.

Sure, the House budget, which would increase spending by nearly $1.4 billion more than that proposed by the governor, makes significant increases in education at all levels, from early education right through higher ed (although apparently not enough to stave off a tuition hike at the University of Massachusetts). And it picks up funding for universal school meals that during the pandemic had been covered by federal funds. The price tag for that is $110 million.

The House budget also funds innovative efforts in the criminal justice system, including $20 million to cover the cost of inmate phone calls and $2.5 million for a pilot program in correctional facilities to treat severe mental illness. And it keeps Baker’s proposal to waive probation and parole fees.

“There are many things that we can spend our money on, and we chose to do that because I think these programs in the early-childhood and day-care support systems are the underpinning of our middle- and lower-class workforce,” Mariano said on the day the House budget was released.

“Strengthening these underpinnings is the most important thing we can do right now,” he added.

Some working parents and seniors might beg to differ.

Baker proposed to double the allowable tax credits for dependent children and child care, a move that would put $167 million back in the pockets of 700,000 families. Increasing the cap on rent deductions from $3,000 to $5,000 would mean $77 million in tax breaks for working families, and raising the income level at which people are required to file an income tax return would give 234,000 low-income taxpayers a break, according to the Baker administration, at a cost to the Treasury of $41 million.


Boston Herald. April 19, 2022.

Editorial: Farmers to reap pain if Millionaires Tax passes

The lawmakers behind the proposed “Millionaires Tax” in Massachusetts see the move as a way to pump cash into the state’s coffers.

They missed the part in which cash drains from small companies reliant on larger businesses bearing the burden of the tax hike.

Companies large and small often have a symbiotic relationship, and a blow to the big players can have devastating effects on smaller entities.

Case in point: Bay State farmers.

A group of local farmers joined a virtual press conference with the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance Wednesday to call out the 4% surtax as one more financial burden in an industry facing many.

Paul Craney, spokesperson for MassFiscal, noted that most family farmers in the state don’t clear $1 million, which would trigger the surtax, but if they sell part of their property to reinvest in their farms, or large businesses leave Massachusetts, the pain would be significant.

Recall dairy company Horizon Organic, which pulled out of the Northeast last year, cutting ties with nearly 100 dairy farmers in the region. Almost overnight, their market was gone.

That should have been a wakeup call that smaller businesses are often dependent on larger ones to succeed, but Beacon Hill hit the snooze button.

Now the state’s facing a 4% surtax added to the 5% flat state individual income tax rate and a top federal individual income tax rate of 37%. If the amendment is adopted this November, the combined federal-state marginal tax rate on ordinary income for high-income earners in Massachusetts will be 46% in 2023 (lower rates will apply to dividends and capital gains), as The Hill reported.

And when the going gets tight, those being squeezed will head for the exits.

Leo Cakounes, who runs Harwich’s Cape Farm Supply and Cranberry Co., said Wednesday that he previously did business with a company in Carver that purchased his crops and packaged them as sweetened dried cranberries, but that company has since been sold to a Canadian firm.

Cakounes and the groups against the surtax said they believe it will spur more businesses to leave Massachusetts.

“I can’t stress enough how people have to look out of the box when you’re looking at proposals such as this,” Cakounes said during the virtual press conference. “It’s not just those millionaires that are making x amount of dollars a year. It has a trickle-down effect when large companies and large businesses no longer want to do business in this state. It’s going to affect me, who quite honestly has never seen a million dollars of income in family farm products in my 20 years in the cranberry business.”

Proponents of the surtax couch it in hurray-for-the-little-guy terms, calling it the Fair Share Amendment. This fits with the view of big corporations and high earners as cartoon villains, rubbing their hands in gleeful greed.

But they are links in the economic chain, one that keeps family farms working for another generation, and lets other small business owners sell their firms and retire.

There’s nothing “fair” about ignoring the collateral damage inflicted on hard-working people.

No matter what you call it, the Millionaires Tax is a bad idea.


Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus. April 19, 2022.

Editorial: Sad shift

A recent commentary by Jamelle Bouie in The New York Times began circulating around school districts around Vermont recently after parents and individuals have become even more riled about schools teaching what they see as “revisionist history.”

In some communities on Town Meeting Day, blocs of candidates running on a more conservative platform sought to be elected in order to counter what they see as a left-wing push to indoctrinate kids in schools.

What we have seen in the days since the March election has been a concerted push by school board members wanting boards (and parents) to have a greater say over what’s being discussed and taught in schools. They face pushback from those who want to make changes to curriculum and classroom discussions aimed at correcting historic untruths and getting children thinking about context.

Social media has been full of debates (and a lot of trolling from both sides), with each platform accusing the other of eroding school systems and compromising the education of Vermont children.

It has been — to understate — quite an ugly display by the grown-ups.

Bouie does not mince words in his commentary: “There is a dangerous censoriousness pulsing through American society. In small towns and big cities alike, would-be commissars are fighting, in the name of a distinct minority of Americans, to stifle open discussion and impose their views on the community at large. Dissenters, when they speak out, are hounded, ostracized and sometimes even forced from their jobs.”

“Defenders of this push for censorship say they are simply working to protect the nation’s children from prejudice, psychological distress and inappropriate material,” Bouie writes, pointing to a Moms for Liberty push to “give parents and state regulators broad authority to ban books or teachings that cause ‘discomfort’ in students, and would put lessons on the ‘Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the world wars, and the civil rights movement’ under careful review. Bouie points to another law being considered in states would permit parents to sue school districts that “encourage classroom discussions” on “sexual orientation or gender identity” in “primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” Critics say this language is so broad as to effectively outlaw any discussion of LGBTQ+ people in elementary school classrooms, or at the very least, strongly discourage teachers from raising those issues, regardless of context, Bouie writes.

Recently, the Indiana House of Representatives approved a bill that would limit what teachers can say regarding race, history and politics in the state’s classrooms. Under the law, schools could be held liable for mentioning any one of several “divisive concepts,” including the idea that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish responsibility, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or political affiliation.”

The bill would allow parents to allege a violation, file a complaint, sue and even collect damages (up to $1,000), Bouie writes.

Then there is the truly Big Brotherish piece of this discussion — again, one that has come up on social media with regard to Vermont school districts: surveillance.

Bouie writes, “The most disturbing efforts to monitor schools and teachers for wrong-think involve actual surveillance. Bills introduced in Iowa and Mississippi would install classroom cameras that would stream lessons over the internet for anyone to observe. …Teachers and other staff members who obstructed cameras or failed to keep them in working order would face fines of up to 5% of their weekly pay for each infraction.”

These “educational gag orders” are the wrong direction for our communities. Opponents of these bills say that the laws don’t encourage openness or promote respect in the classroom as much as they suppress speech, intimidate teachers and open the door to harassment or worse. Educators deserve respect — not insults brought against their professionalism and dignity.

Free speech is the tenet of our democracy.

“Conservative censors and their allies see, in the present moment, an opportunity to reshape society to their liking and squelch the views of those who disagree. It is up to those of us who believe in the First Amendment and free speech to take a stand for American liberty, while we still can,” Bouie writes.

It seems we live in very dangerous times.


Hearst Connecticut Media. April 22, 2022.

Editorial: CT lawmakers help give us back some privacy

Once upon a time, you could simply not answer the door when an unwanted solicitor came knocking.

Then that phone rang relentlessly until “Do Not Call” legislation was adopted.

It’s no longer a solution to let the bell keep buzzing. The people who used to be on the other side of the door or phone call are already in the house. They are also following you everywhere else.

Our digital footprints follow us as closely as shadows. Pause to shop for sneakers and they will track you to sell similar ones. Binge watch a favorite show and similar programming will try to lure you.

They’ve been following us for a long time. So long that Connecticut lawmakers have taken five years to craft a remedy to let consumers see what personal data is tracked. They might have acted even sooner, but it was reasonable to assume this would be addressed by Congress.

A federal approach could more efficiently address delicate matters of commerce that crosses state borders. This isn’t quite the same as grappling over whether to toll trucks.

So Connecticut is following roads taken by California, Virginia and Colorado, and learning some best practices.

This isn’t easy work, given regulatory laws. Remarkably, Connecticut’s state senators voted 35-0 to forward the bill to colleagues in the House of Representatives. If signed by Gov. Ned Lamont, it would make personal data visible to consumers, who would finally have the power to edit or delete it. And minors under age 16 would have to opt in for data to be collected.

For the first time, Big Brother wouldn’t be watching us through a one-way mirror.

Lawmakers praised Sen. James Maroney, D-Milford, for relentlessly pursuing this legislation.

“The genie is out of the bottle. It would be nearly impossible to put it back in,” said Maroney, who is co-chair of the General Law Committee. “What we’re doing today is simply saying that Connecticut residents have the right to know what data is being collected about them, how it is being used, and to ask companies… not to sell their data.”

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, called it a “crisis of privacy in our country.”

“Crisis” makes it sound temporary. This problem will surely persist.

But Connecticut can learn a lot from this as it moves forward. Maroney proved Connecticut is capable of working outside state lines, as he consulted peers in other states on best practices.

Lawmakers need to continue being watchdogs on digital consumer protection issues, particularly as it relates to shielding children. This doesn’t let Congress off the hook either. This is the work that should have been done inside the Beltway, and our Congressional delegation would be wise to press forward.

The internet is fast. These next steps to corral it will be slow. If the legislation is passed, carriers will have until Jan. 1, 2025 to create privacy controls.

In the meantime, consumers should try to follow best practices as well, like resisting mixing business with pleasure on work devices. It’s reassuring to know who is on the other side of the door, but it also helps to keep some doors locked.


Rutland Herald. April 16, 2022.

Editorial: Keep them going

We are grateful Congressman Peter Welch and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders are solidly behind the Protecting Community Television Act.

In December, lawmakers in the U.S House and U.S. Senate introduced the legislation to ensure that community television operations continue to receive the resources they need to educate and inform viewers in the cities and towns where they operate.

There are more than 15 co-sponsors in the Senate; and more than 30 in the House. Endorsers of the legislation include National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, and the Alliance for Community Media.

The act is critical in preserving this valuable resource.

The Vermont Access Network (VAN) is a nonprofit membership organization established to promote an interest in the 24 Public, Educational and Government Access Television Centers around the state. Together it and advocates for the Vermont centers operate more than 80 local cable channels. Combined, the Vermont stations produce tens of thousands of hours of locally generated content each year.

According to a news release from Sen. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts and one of the lead sponsors of the act, local governments are permitted to require, as part of cable franchise agreements, that cable companies meet demonstrated community needs by providing in-kind contributions that benefit schools, public safety buildings, and public, educational, and government (PEG) channels.

It protects the rights of a local community to charge cable companies a 5% franchise fee. Contrary to industry practices that date to the 1980s, the FCC’s actions could result in reducing cable operators’ monetary compensation to towns and municipalities that wish to communicate with residents through community television.

In August 2019, the Federal Communications Commission voted to permit cable companies to assign a value to these contributions and then subtract that amount from the franchise fees the cable operator pays the local community. As a result, local governments have to decide between supporting PEG stations in cable franchise agreements and supporting other important services for critical community institutions like schools and libraries.

The Protecting Community Television Act clarifies that the franchise fees that cable companies provide local governments only include monetary assessments, not in-kind contributions. It creates the mechanism for ongoing support despite fewer cable television subscribers.

“Throughout the ongoing pandemic, viewers… have relied on community media to stay safe, healthy and informed,” Markey said. “I’m proud to re-introduce the Protecting Community Television Act because, in this era of increased media consolidation and globalization, it is critical that we preserve the PEG operations that lift up local voices and air the programming that is most relevant to the lives of our family members and neighbors.”

“In a time when local news and information sources for Americans are dwindling, it’s important that Congress ensure that community television channels are protected and not diminished,” said Mike Wassenaar, president and CEO of the Alliance for Community Media. Nationwide, there are 1,700 local organizations that operate PEG access channels in all 50 states, Wassenaar said.

Here in Vermont, we rely on these stations. Before the pandemic, viewers were tuning into local PEG stations to check in on local events or municipal and school board meetings. The media constantly uses PEG stations as a reference to meetings that journalists might have missed. Not all Vermont towns are served by a local PEG station.

During the pandemic, more individuals started tuning into community broadcasts and the “new normal” has very much become a hybrid of in-person meetings with an online, live-streamed component provided by the PEG stations. Meetings are then rebroadcast, or can be downloaded for viewing later.

Locally, it meant Town Meeting Day in Vermont could happen with ease; and it has provided Vermonters access to meetings at the State House.

Communities across the nation depend on community media to stay connected. It provides a level of engagement (and accountability) that seems imperative now.

We praise Congress for taking the steps to potentially nullify the FCC’s misguided ruling.

As Markey’s release noted, “The Protecting Community Television Act goes a long way to correcting what we feel are unfair policies and ensures that access to local media and government transparency exist well into the future.”

The Associated Press

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