Keep a close eye on your pay stub in 2020 — and on the road, for that matter.
The dawn of a new decade promises a stream of changes for Massachusetts taxpayers, many of whom will pay less in taxes and make more in wages come January. There will be new driving laws and new restrictions on what cigarettes people can buy. New parents will also get some help for covering rising college costs.
Some changes, for individuals, may be small — probably about $20 a week. Others may be really small. Think an extra $12 for the entire year. Still, that’s money that could go toward paying off that $500 fine for driving while talking on your phone. (Again.)
So buckle up: 2020 is here.
A pay bump here, a pay bump there
An estimated 420,600 workers receive a pay hike starting Wednesday, when the state’s minimum wage rose to $12.75 an hour, from $12. It marks the second in a series of increases that will push the state’s wage floor to $15 per hour by 2023.
At that level, it would be the highest state minimum in the country. California’s hits $13 in 2020. All employers in New York City, meanwhile, have to pay at least $15.
The change is one of the most far-reaching in a 2018 Massachusetts law known informally as the grand bargain, which will roll out changes for workers and businesses over several years.
For employees, the minimum wage increase equates to an estimated $410 million in additional wages in 2020, according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. To the National Federation of Independent Business, it’s another “financial pinch” for small businesses.
But it’s not the only change. Tipped employees will see an increase for the second straight year, this time to $4.95 per hour from $4.35. That minimum wage hits $6.75 within three years, but for now, it could mean roughly $21 more each week for a tipped employee who works 35 hours.
And that’s not the only good news for workers: 20 years after voters approved it at the ballot, the state’s income tax rate drops to 5 percent. Given that it’s falling from 5.05 percent, the impact will be small for most of us.
A pay cut
For those who work on Sundays, however, premium pay will continue to drop.
What once was mandatory time-and-a-half pay on Sundays will slide again, this time to “one and 3/10” of regular pay on Wednesday, en route to disappearing in 2023.
These changes, too, were included in the grand bargain Governor Charlie Baker signed 18 months ago.
The other major part of the law, mandating paid family and medical leave, has technically already begun, with a payroll tax used to fund the program having gone into effect in October.
The leave itself — including up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child — won’t be available until 2021.
Look ma, no hands!
It took years for state lawmakers to embrace, agree on, and pass a law banning the use of hand-held phones while driving. It will be a few more weeks until drivers actually feel it, though.
The law came with a 90-day implementation window when Baker signed it on Nov. 25, meaning it takes effect Feb. 23. Motorists are allowed a warning on their first offense until March 31, thanks to another grace period written into the legislation.
After that, the fines are steep: $100 for a first offense, $250 for the second, and $500 for a third or subsequent one. Texting while driving, of course, remains illegal.
Banned in Boston
A year after the legal age to buy tobacco rose from 18 to 21, smokers face a whole new range of rules under a law restricting the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products that Baker signed in November.
But while the ban on flavored vapes was immediate, the sale of menthol cigarettes was allowed to bleed into 2020 — at least until June 1, when those types of cigarettes, too, will be prohibited.
Massachusetts was the first state in the country to adopt such a ban.
Baby, you are so money
Announced more than a year ago, a statewide program designed to help families save for college debts has launched, promising that every Massachusetts baby born or adopted after Jan. 1 is eligible for $50 from the state.
Families have to open so-called 529 accounts, which provide tax advantages for future education costs, and the program will deposit the first $50.
Private donations, rather than taxpayer money, will fund the program, Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg has said. Her office estimates a $350,000 cost this year.
So far, Bob Hildreth has donated $300,000 through his Hildreth Stewart Charitable Foundation, officials said.
The first step for parents or legal guardians: Check a box on the birth certificate application that allows the Treasury to send them information on setting up an account.
Lawmakers passed — and Baker vetoed — language that would have pushed a new program’s start date to April. So for now, automatic voter registration went into effect Wednesday, registering eligible residents when they get a driver’s license or health insurance through the state.
The date was key, Baker and Secretary of State William F. Galvin argued, given the approaching March 3 presidential primary in Massachusetts. Galvin’s office said Friday that it has been working for months with the Registry of Motor Vehicles and state health agencies to ensure the necessary “database upgrades” were in place before January.
People interacting with the Registry or MassHealth will have to opt out if they don’t want to join the voter rolls.