Months after the Legislature closed the books on its formal session without sending a permanent tax relief plan to Governor Charlie Baker, legislative leaders Monday declined to provide a substantive update on a long-heralded plan to give back $1 billion in the form of one-time rebates and enduring tax relief.
The tax relief plan, which was built into a $4 billion economic development bill, passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but was never realized after lawmakers failed to come to an agreement by the end of their formal session in July.
Pressed by reporters on Monday, the chambers’ top officials did not provide a timeline for passing permanent tax relief nor did they identify any holdups in their process.
“The House and Senate are actively . . . working through the details,” said Senate president Karen E. Spilka. “It’s all very complicated.”
Further complicating things, the Legislature has only informal sessions scheduled from now until early January, meaning just one vote of dissent on legislation can kill a bill.
House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano said that waiting until next year to pass a bill is “always an option,” though he left open the possibility of passing something before the end of the calendar year.
“We’re going to push forward and see where we end up,” he said.
Spilka, Mariano, and Baker, who proposed his own tax relief plan in January, spoke to the media after a leadership meeting, their first in exactly three months.
Baker, a second-term Republican who is not seeking re-election, said the reason they called the meeting was that chamber leaders said they were going to “start engaging in some of the end-of-the-year activity.”
Over the summer lawmakers negotiated a sweeping package that included sending millions of taxpayers one-time $250 rebates in addition to permanent changes to the tax code, among them: increasing a tax deduction for renters, hiking the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, and expanding state child and dependent tax credits.
The House and Senate had also passed changes, albeit different ones, to Massachusetts’ estate tax and its $1 million threshold, the lowest in the country.
When asked if there was a path for some of the relief from their original legislation, Spilka pivoted away from the Legislature’s bill, saying “there will be tax relief.” She pointed to the state’s record-setting revenues triggering a nearly 40-year-old, voter-passed tax cap law that requires an estimated $3 billion be given back to taxpayers in the form of refund checks.
But those checks, which Baker said will start going out next month, are a one-time occurrence.
When it became known the law would be triggered, Senate and House leadership disagreed on how to move forward. At the time, Spilka believed there was enough money to both honor the 1986 law and pass at least part of a tax relief package, but said her chamber couldn’t strike a deal with the House.
The Ashland Democrat said Monday there are some other active tax relief proposals that her chamber would like to see taken up, but that they are still “up for discussion.”
Mariano, who had floated the possibility of undoing, changing, or suspending the 1986 law, said he now “feels supportive of what was written in the law.”
A group of progressive Democrats unveiled legislation last week to limit what taxpayers could receive under the state tax refunds that are slated to start going out next month, arguing that the disparity between what the state’s top earners and some of its poorest could receive is “unconscionable.”
But Mariano sounded cool about pursuing what he called a “significant change,” particularly late in the legislative session with a faction of lame-duck lawmakers still in the chambers.
“I think that that creates a bit of a problem,” the Quincy Democrat said, adding that if the Legislature were to make any changes to the 1986 law, the Legislature’s next session would be the “logical place to do it.”