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In latest push for lawmakers to pass tax relief, Baker focuses on state’s seniors

Governor Charlie Baker listened as AARP Massachusetts state director Mike Festa spoke at a news conference on tax relief Monday.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker on Monday again pressed lawmakers to pass some form of tax relief before they leave for their election year break at the beginning of August.

At a news conference, he pointed to Massachusetts’ 65-plus community to drive home a message he’s been emphasizing since January — that with state coffers overflowing and inflation squeezing every resident, government must offer financial help. But before he could make his pitch in person to the top two lawmakers, Senate President Karen E. Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano cancelled a planned meeting. Legislators were “busy with active discussions about pending legislative items,” Mariano’s spokeswoman said.

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At the public event, Baker’s push focused on the state’s seniors, who the governor said are a vulnerable population that could benefit greatly from his $700 million tax plan.

”This is a population that, in many ways, deserves to be heard,” he said. “The older adults here in Massachusetts are on fixed incomes and do make up a vast majority of the people we are trying to help with these proposals. I really hope they do not get lost in the conversation at the end of the session.”

“We know the Legislature is interested in [tax relief],” he added, emphasizing conversations he’s had “on and off the record” with leaders in both chambers. “We urge them to make sure that this issue doesn’t get lost between now and the end of the session.”

Part of his proposal would double the maximum credit low-income seniors can claim to offset property taxes, double a pair of refundable tax credits people can claim for dependents or child care, increase the rental deduction cap from $3,000 to $5,000, increase the thresholds for “no tax status,” eliminating the income tax for more than 234,000 low-income filers, and double the estate tax threshold from $1 million to $2 million.

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Baker said Monday he hopes to make clear to legislators, who are set to finish formal sessions by July 31, that “there is a clock that’s ticking.”

Flanked by AARP Massachusetts state director Mike Festa, interim executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Councils on Aging Betsy Connell, Age-Friendly Institute president Tim Driver, and secretary of administration and finance Michael J. Heffernan, Baker argued the state can afford to make such changes, especially during a time where revenues are coming in well above expectations, and inflation is rising nationwide at its fastest pace in nearly four decades.

“We know today that six out of 10 seniors are economically insecure,” Festa told reporters Monday. “The real impact on seniors, frankly, is there is a lot of suffering in silence, there is a lot of desperation economically . . . if you can’t [pass tax relief] now, when do we do such things?”

Baker first announced the proposals during his last State of the Commonwealth address at the beginning of the year, using the televised speech to implore the Democratic-dominated Legislature to buy into changes he said are about making the state’s tax code fairer and enhancing its competitive position.

He filed the legislation in January, and, as inflation has gotten worse, he’s continuously emphasized it’s a top priority in his last budget cycle in office.

Despite the canceled Baker meeting Monday, Spilka, Mariano, and House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz were seen going into Spilka’s office Monday afternoon.

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Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.


Samantha J. Gross can be reached at samantha.gross@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross.