A new rendering of the First Light Casino which the Mashpee Wampanoag hope to build in Taunton was released yesterday. It shows a sparkling curved hotel tower. The new renderings come the week the state gambling commission is expected to discuss a schedule for accepting and reviewing bids from commercial casino companies in Southeastern Massachusetts, a move the tribe has bitterly opposed. The commission is scheduled to discuss the application process on Thursday.
Developers hoping to build an $800 million resort casino in Springfield asked city officials Tuesday to schedule a July 16 referendum. According to MGM Resorts, a host community agreement with the company was has been ratified by the Springfield City Council after being finalized with Mayor Domenic Sarno. MGM is competing for the single casino license allotted for western Massachusetts. MGM says competitors like Mohegan Sun in Palmer and Hard Rock in West Springfield have not announced host agreements with city officials.
A legislative committee on Tuesday endorsed a bond bill authorizing $1.4 billion in spending on housing over five years. The bill approved by the Joint Committee on Housing is based on capital financing bills filed by Gov. Deval Patrick (H 3333) and committee chairmen Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Rep. Kevin Honan. The legislation targets $500 million for public housing modernization, creates a capital financing fund for early education facilities, extends for two additional years a low-income housing tax credit at $20 million, and includes $80 million in grants or loans for supportive housing for the homeless, domestic violence victims, seniors, veterans and individuals in substance abuse recovery. The bill also includes $50 million to help blind and severely disabled homeowners make home modifications and avoid placement in nursing homes or other institutions.
Aiming to curb con artists who foist over-priced, poor-quality driveway jobs on senior citizens, Rep. Stephen Kulik is seeking to regulate pavers the way other home improvement contractors are regulated. The Worthington Democrat, who spoke in favor of the bill (H 238) at the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure on Tuesday, said the wife of a retired police chief brought the issue to his attention after falling victim to a scam, and he has since learned that it is widespread. Scammers will show up at an elderly person’s home with some paving materials, claiming that they just came from a big job and have some asphalt left over, Kulik said. He said they will offer a supposed “good deal” as long as cash is paid, though the price is actually expensive, and then the workers will either do a slipshod job or simply leave after they have been paid. Asked why paving work lends itself to scams, Kulik said, “I think because it’s one that you can sort of do a quick little job and disappear quickly,” distinguishing it from more extensive work required to repair a roof, for instance. The legislation would require paving contractors to register with the state the way carpenters and roofers must. Kulik also told the committee that the legitimate paving contractors in his area are in favor of the regulation because it would “put these fly-by-night folks out of business” and the legitimate pavers “have a reputation to protect.” Other lawmakers on the committee said they had seen similar scams. “It’s a story that I’ve heard,” said Senate Chairman Thomas Kennedy (D-Brockton). “It happens all over the place,” said Rep. Steven Howitt (R-Seekonk).
Buyer’s remorse can be expensive, even when the consumer is able to return the item, as the sales tax paid can be lost. “In terms of huge purchases like an auto, that’s a considerable amount of money,” said Rep. Elizabeth Poirier (R-North Attleborough) at a Tuesday hearing of the Joint Committee on Revenue. She said “there should be a reasonable way” for shoppers to receive a reimbursement of their sales tax when they return an item. Poirier’s bill (H 2710) would entitle consumers to a return of the sales tax between 30 and 90 days after a purchase, or 90 days and one year for motor vehicle sales.
Sales tax exemptions for the airplane industry would be grounded under legislation filed by Rep. Cory Atkins (D-Concord). “To take a whole industry and exempt a sales tax is preposterous,” said Atkins, who said she had not seen any “numbers” that indicate there would be any job loss by subjecting airplanes to the state’s sales tax. The bill (H 2490) before the Joint Committee on Revenue drew remonstrations from the airplane industry. “Expense is the principal motive for business and owners alike,” said Westport resident and pilot Sean Collins, of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. He said application of the sales tax would “drive aircraft to other states.” Dean Saucier, of the National Business Aviation Association, said carbon emissions “would double” as airplanes housed out-of-state flew into Massachusetts to pick up passengers. “Aviation is very, very mobile,” Saucier said.
Teachers who educate young children could receive some financial benefit to help cushion what lawmakers said is an average income of $26,000, under a proposal heard by the Committee on Revenue Tuesday. “We can put a little bit of money back in teachers’ pockets,” said Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge). She said the 30 percent year-to-year turnover among those employed in early education is “directly” attributable to the modest wages. A bill (S 1324/ H 2568) filed in both branches by Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) and Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Dorchester) would create an early educator earned income tax credit. “You know the importance of early education,” said Forry, who said that early education helps prepare children for school and allows parents to work while their children are being taught and looked after. “I continue to be proud, providing the foundation of learning for our youngest citizens,” said Pamela Pierce, an early educator who said $26,000 sounds like a lot compared to what she sees and said colleagues with the same level of education as her who teach first grade make three times as much as her. The Head Start teacher said, “The only part that I am not satisfied for is my wages. Of that, I am not proud.” She said it has been more than five years since Head Start has had a wage increase, and her low wages have created financial problems, leading to utility shutoffs and putting vacations out of reach.
Lawmakers are once again considering a sales tax holiday, this time a restaurant-specific tax holiday that would last five days. Reps. Keiko Orrall (R-Lakeville) and Claire Cronin (D-Easton) said it was a good time to pass the bill (H 2688). Orrall recommended changing the dates in the legislation, a stretch of days in March 2013, to Aug. 11 through 15 of this year. House Chairman of the Joint Committee on Revenue Jay Kaufman said the Legislature has some “pretty serious tests” for tax breaks. “We have some metrics against which we will measure those impacts,” Kaufman said. Year after year, the Legislature has passed a weekend-long sales tax holiday that excludes very large purchases.
Discussion of a proposed permanent sales tax holiday (H 2548) prodded at the question of whether zeroing out the 6.25 percent sales tax for two days increases retail sales or simply concentrates sales around the sales tax holiday. “If your refrigerator dies, you’re going to buy a new refrigerator anyway,” Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Revenue Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport) said at a Tuesday hearing. “Or you can go up to New Hampshire and buy it, and a lot of people do,” said Retailers Association of Massachusetts President Jon Hurst. “Yeah, but a lot of people don’t,” said Rodrigues, who represents an area far south of tax-free New Hampshire. The legislation would require the commissioner of revenue to designate a two-day weekend in August as a sales tax holiday – excluding purchases of a single item costing more than $2,500, utilities, meals, boats or motor vehicles. Though he testified in favor of the permanent sales tax holiday, Hurst acknowledged that there are some benefits to taking the legislation up every year, as the Legislature has since 2004. “We have no problem with it being passed each year,” Hurst said. He said bringing the bill up anew each year serves to “keep the questions open in the minds of the consumer,” thereby avoiding the risk that consumers will postpone purchases until the holiday. “It creates a shopping momentum, almost like you see in December,” said Hurst.
Americans are driving fewer total miles today than they were eight years ago, according to a report released Tuesday that proclaims the end of a six-decade “driving boom” in the United States. The MassPIRG Education Fund report links the relative demise of driving to rising gas prices and aging Baby Boomers who helped fill the roads during their working years and are being supplanted by a new generation of Millennials - those born between 1983 and 2000 - who are less dependent on driving and drive less than their predecessors. The report, assembled with the help of the Frontier Group, concludes that U.S. transportation policy “remains stuck in the past” and continues to assume steady increases in driving, with forecasts “used to justify spending vast sums on new and expanded highways, even as existing roads and bridges are neglected.” Noting Americans took nearly 10 percent more trips on public transportation in 2011, compared to 2005, the report calls for the nation to adjust its transportation policies to reflect a “more efficient, flexible and nimble system.” The report concludes in its executive summary: “Millennials are more likely to want to live in urban and walkable neighborhoods and are more open to non-driving forms of transportation than older Americans. They are also the first generation to fully embrace mobile Internet-connected technologies, which are rapidly spawning new transportation options and shifting the way young Americans relate to one another, creating new avenues for living connected, vibrant lives that are less reliant on driving."