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State tax collections down - Patrick and Warren on the Affordable Care Act snafu

She dismissed speculation that she could be a contender for president in 2016
Two pols plug ACA as tax revenues plummet.

MID-OCTOBER TAX COLLECTIONS DOWN $14 MILLION

Decline due to an uptick in corporate and business refunds

State tax collections through the middle of October were down by $14 million compared to the same period in October 2012. The collections of $540 million compared to a full-month benchmark of $1.48 billion, an increase of $79 million or 5.6 percent.

In an Oct. 18 letter to lawmakers, Revenue Commissioner Amy Pitter said some of the decline was due to an uptick in corporate and business refunds and noted that 60 percent of October collections are expected in the second half of the month. Lawmakers and Gov. Deval Patrick this summer blew a hole in the fiscal 2014 state budget by repealing an unpopular computer services tax that had been counted on to produce $160 million. Tax collections over the first three months of fiscal 2014 are beating estimates by $199 million, although the Patrick administration this month disclosed that it’s now forecasting $150 million in lower-than-anticipated non-tax revenues for fiscal 2014. An Executive Office of Administration and Finance official on Monday did not respond to a request to specify the nature of those non-tax revenues. Democratic legislative leaders have expressed hope that over-benchmark tax revenues will be enough to plug the hole created by the repeal of the sales tax on computer and software design services, and appear to be joining Patrick in taking a wait-and-see approach to state budget fixes.

AMID ACA WOES, PATRICK TALKS UP STATE’S OUTREACH

Gov. Deval Patrick doesn’t know yet if he’ll be asked to speak at Faneuil Hall on Wednesday when President Barack Obama comes to Boston to defend his embattled health care reform law, but Patrick said this is the type of event the president needs to do more often. “Part of the reason why I think it is so popular here in the Commonwealth is that people understand it. They’ve heard a lot from me and from other people about the benefits in their own lives and their family’s lives, the economic benefits.

They’ve had some experience with it now and it’s not so scary and in fact it’s pretty darn beneficial, so I’ve been saying for a long time that the president and the rest of his team need to be out there talking about the Affordable Care Act for similar reasons,” Patrick told reporters on his way to a meeting with Senate President Therese Murray and Speaker Robert DeLeo. Though much of the focus nationwide has been on the difficulties faced by people trying to sign up for health care through the federal exchange, Massachusetts officials face a smaller, but still significant challenging of reenrolling roughly 150,000 people on subsidized Commonwealth Care plans into new ACA-compliant health plans through the state run health exchange by January 1.

“It’s been going fine. It’s not perfect. These things never are,” Patrick said, describing the state effort as “not as heavy a lift” as the one facing federal health officials. Another 45,000 people in Massachusetts are expected to become eligible for MassHealth, or Medicaid, due the expansion of the program under the ACA

WARREN: FIX “BAD ROLLOUT” BUT STAY COURSE ON OBAMACARE

As President Barack Obama prepares to visit Massachusetts this week to defend his signature health care reform law, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said the president’s administration “dropped the ball” on the rollout of the federal exchange website, but said the Affordable Care Act offers a “good product” and expressed confidence the web problems would be fixed.

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“Getting people in is crucial. I know that’s why it’s so deeply upsetting that the government just dropped the ball on getting the website launched, but the answer is double down and get it fixed,” Warren said. “Get it fixed and get people in the door.”

Warren did not directly address whether the Obama administration should delay the individual mandate to purchase health care because of the technical problems with signing up, despite some calls from Democrats, including New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, to push back the March 31 deadline for citizens to have health insurance.

The senator’s office did not respond to questions posed by the News Service after her speech about whether she would support a delay in the mandate to purchase insurance.

“Right now, the bad rollout is obviously making a huge difference. There are families who can’t get the health insurance that they want. But it looks like progress is being made. We’ll just see how long it takes,” Warren said Monday after speaking with business leaders at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce

Warren agreed with Tufts Health Plan CEO James Roosevelt who said delaying the individual mandate could shrink the pool of insurance subscribers and “undercut” the ability of the Affordable Care Act to make health care affordable. In Massachusetts, the state operates its own exchange and is not relying on the federal website.

Warren said, “We need some real accountability for what’s gone wrong, but we also need to remember it’s a good thing that’s being offered here. It’s health insurance and it’s health insurance now that’s available to everyone, no pre-existing conditions. It’s health insurance that doesn’t have caps on it so if you get really sick you’re still covered. In other words, it’s a good product, we’re just having trouble getting it rolled out and available to people.”

Obama will be at Faneuil Hall on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the Affordable Care Act, visiting the same site where former Gov. Mitt Romney signed the 2006 health care access law that became a model for Obamacare. Warren said once people are signed up for coverage under the ACA and begin to realize the benefits, Congressional lawmakers will have the ability to debate ways to improve the law, rather than just fight over repeal.

With negotiations for a budget deal set to start Wednesday in Congress, Warren used her speech on Monday to call for the doubling of scientific and biomedical research spending through the National Institutes of Health.

Warren also said Congress should remove the NIH from the “crazy” annual budgeting process that creates uncertainty in the research community and has led to a 12 percent decline in the number of research projects getting funded since 2003.

After being frustrated by the “breathless partisanship” that led to the 16-day government shutdown, Warren said she senses an opportunity to push priorities that could generate bipartisan support, including scientific research.

“I’m a little bit optimistic because I think the pressure is now on Congress, on both sides, both parties. Do something sensible. Just prove that you can get your rating out of the range of four or five. Shoot for the big 10 percent of people that think you’re doing something,” she said, drawing laughter from the audience.

Warren said investments in basic scientific research lead to new drugs and cures for diseases that reduce health care costs. If the United States doesn’t invest, she said, other countries like China will step in to fill the void. In Massachusetts $128 million in medical and scientific research funding “has simply disappeared” due to spending cuts from sequestration, she said.

“When it comes to the economy and the budget, refusing to invest in the NIH is the budgetary equivalent of cutting off your feet to save on shoes,” Warren told a packed audience at the Seaport Boston Hotel in her first Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce speech.

Addressing an issue that the chamber has made a hallmark of its Congressional agenda, Warren also said she does not support breaking apart the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill to try to pass individual measures piecemeal. She said the bill that cleared the Senate has enough support to pass in the House, and she urged supporters to exert pressure on House Republican leadership to allow a vote on the Senate immigration plan.

The annual budget for the NIH is about $31 billion, while the National Science Foundation receives $7 billion a year. Warren said the federal government can afford to double that spending by cutting back on oil and agricultural subsidies and tax breaks for the wealthy.

According to Warren, the number of research products that apply for and receive funding through the NIH has dropped from 30 percent in 2003 to 18 percent last year, and spending has failed to keep up with inflation.

“Not because our scientists have fewer extraordinary ideas, but because we refuse to water those ideas and make them grow. There are serious consequences to abdicating our commitment to the NIH. While the United States walks away from its legacy as the world’s undisputed leader in scientific innovation, other nations are willing to step up and take our place,” Warren said.

Warren said China over the next five years has pledged to spend a significantly larger proportion of its gross domestic product than the United States on scientific research. She said 80,000 western-trained Ph.D.’s in science have returned to work in China.

“We are running out of time. If we continue on our current path, we will lose a whole generation of young scientists and all the discoveries they could have brought to us,” Warren said.

A bipartisan budget committee, created as part of the deal to lift the debt ceiling, will begin meeting Wednesday, and Warren said she hopes the conversation will be not just about how to reduce the deficit, but also what types of programs should be invested in to create jobs. She opposes President Obama’s offer to Republicans to adjust the formula for Social Security benefits, known as “chained CPI,” that would reduce cost of living adjustments.

“Our seniors got out there and earned that money and we made a commitment as a people and we have to honor that commitment…,” Warren said. “I do not support the chained CPI.”

She also dismissed the continued national speculation that she could be a contender for president in 2016, perhaps if Hillary Clinton decides against running. “Oh, stop,” she said, walking away without answering. When pressed, she added, “That’s a no.”

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