The Senate cleared legislation to raise gas, tobacco and business taxes in Massachusetts by $500 million and eventually dedicating up to $800 million a year in new revenues for transportation during the rare Saturday session.
Senate President Therese Murray presided over the session as the Senate roared through more than 100 amendments to the legislation before approving it with all but two Democratic votes. Governor Deval Patrick, who chastised the House for a similar tax bill that he vowed to veto, had more congratulatory words for the Senate. The push to pass the bill underscored the pressure that the Senate and House Speaker are under since the House has already proposed budget spending revenues from the still unapproved tax hikes and the Senate plans to do the same in May. Differences in the House and Senate tax bill remain to be ironed out by the branches. After Patrick threatened to veto the original bill offered by DeLeo and Murray, saying it didn’t provide enough new revenues to meet transportation system needs, the Senate pulled money from other areas of state government into the bill to bolster planned new revenues closer to the $1 billion sought by the Governor.
On the tax front, the House and Senate bills raise new revenue from a $1 per pack increase in the cigarette tax and increases on cigar and smokeless tobacco products, new sales taxes on computer design services and software modifications, the removal of a tax exemption for utilities, and a three-cent increase in the gas tax, which would also be indexed to inflation under the legislation (S 1766). Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Senator Stephen Brewer (D-Barre) said the bill also makes $160 million in new tax revenues available to spend in the fiscal 2014 budget he plans to roll out next month.
Among amendments adopted by the Senate were proposals to enable transportation agencies to collect more property taxes from private parties using public land, to require better reporting by the MBTA on its capital projects, and requiring the MBTA to gather information from 23 companies that opted against bidding on the commuter rail operations contract after submitting statements of interest.
The six senators who said they would not support a final bill with less revenue were Sonja Chang-Diaz (D-Boston), Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville), Katherine Clark (D-Melrose), Ken Donnelly (D-Arlington), Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford) and Dan Wolf (D-Barnstable).