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EDITORIAL

Reading the tax-relief tea leaves

Senate president makes a promise, but taxpayers have heard it all before.

Karen Spilka speaks during the Framingham Dems BBQ in Framingham in 2022.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe

Massachusetts taxpayers were promised tax relief last year. More than a year has come and gone since then. The Corner Office has changed hands. A new governor has made a new and even bolder promise of relief.

And the waiting continues.

“I promise you, you won’t need to wait too long,” Senate President Karen Spilka told the Globe Editorial Board Tuesday, speaking about the still a-work-in-progress tax package that will have to wait until after next week’s Senate budget debate.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee — to its credit — did manage to at least tuck away some $575 million in its $55.8 billion budget to cover the first-year costs of providing some form of tax relief in the fiscal year that begins July 1. But what and how and to whom, well, that’s the big unknown.

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And while Spilka and other legislative leaders muse about keeping Massachusetts “competitive,” they do so in the wake of yet another study showing an increase in out-migration that puts Massachusetts fourth in the nation among states losing population to low-tax hot spots like Florida and New Hampshire.

This is not a partisan issue. Cuts may have been first proposed by then-governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, but his Democratic successor, Maura Healey, re-upped Baker’s plan — and then some.

“We’re talking about a tax relief package that is absolutely essential to lowering the cost of living, making life more affordable for people in Massachusetts, and also making Massachusetts more competitive so that we’re able to keep our residents here,” Healey said earlier this month about the package she proposed in February, a version of which was adopted by the House last month.

Slumping April revenue figures gave skeptics a reason to urge not just caution but the kind of endless delay that is endemic on Beacon Hill — the kind of glacial politics that killed Baker’s $700 million tax cut proposal last year.

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Healey’s proposal, with some tweaks by the House, is a bit bigger than Baker’s — about $859 million. But that also makes it a bigger target.

“I can assure you,” Spilka said of the forthcoming Senate package, “it will be permanent and progressive, but I think it needs to be smart as well.”

The governor has insisted the April revenue numbers shouldn’t be a deterrent to tax relief.

“We put together our budget and our tax relief package — we did so knowing that there was likely to be some drop in revenue,” Healey told reporters. “We’ve seen a drop. And you know, I just want folks to know we’ve accounted for that. And it remains the case that our tax relief package that we propose we stand by; we think it’s really important.”

Spilka agreed, “We knew it [a revenue slump] was going to happen. . . But I still believe our economy is strong.”

And so the rest is reading the Spilka tea leaves, which include a clear inclination toward increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit, which she called “the best way to get money to lower-income families.” While the item wasn’t in Healey’s proposal, it is in the House tax relief bill, pegged at some $91 million a year. Also apparently on her wish list are rental assistance, real estate tax breaks for low-income seniors, and a mystery yet-to-be-unveiled proposal that might be aimed at “creating more housing production.”

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She did at least allude to the state’s “outlier” status on its lowest-in-the nation threshold estate tax without making a specific commitment on that or a reduction in the short-term capital gains tax.

Reforming the estate tax remains a key element in truly making the state competitive and just maybe slowing that out-migration.

What is certain — well, as certain as death and taxes — is the slow-rolling of anything resembling tax relief. Another certainty? The Senate will follow its own path — and that will set up the inevitable closed-door negotiations with the House — with its equally inevitable gamesmanship.

Yes, taxpayers can expect yet another summer rerun as they wait for relief. That relief is, as Healey put it, “absolutely essential.” Lawmakers need to keep their eyes on that prize. Residents are leaving. The economic forecast is cloudy. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to live through another summer of dawdling in the Legislature.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.