LAWMAKERS START VOTING ON DEAL TO AVERT BALLOT QUESTIONS
By Michael P. Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 20, 2018.....Pressured by ballot activists, Massachusetts lawmakers are scrambling to advance a deal to knock a $1.2 billion sales tax reduction off the November ballot.
Members of the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday morning were asked to vote on a bill raising the minimum wage, implementing a paid family and medical leave program and instituting a once-a-year sales tax holiday weekend.
There's a good deal of support in the Democrat-controlled Legislature for two initiative petitions that are part of "grand bargain" negotiations - the plan to raise the $11 minimum wage to $15 an hour and a proposal calling for a $1 billion paid family and medical leave program. But legislators in 2009 raised the sales tax from 5 percent to 6.25 percent, a tax increase that would be wiped out under a popular ballot question backed by the retail sector.
The calendar is likely figuring largely into the equation since the November ballot will be set in early July.
If lawmakers can strike and pass a deal on all three questions this week, perhaps as early as Wednesday, they can assure themselves of enough time to deal with any response from Gov. Charlie Baker, who has been rooting for a "grand bargain" but declined to stake out viewpoints on any of the specific proposals.
But the deal, since it's intended to settle the ballot questions, will also need signoff from the major players behind each of the ballot campaigns.
The bill moving through Ways and Means calls on the Legislature every year to set a date for an August sales tax holiday weekend. If they don't, the revenue commissioner is authorized under the legislation to schedule the tax holiday.
The bill would gradually increase the minimum wage from $11 an hour to $15 an hour over five years, with a corresponding five-year phase out of the requirements that most businesses pay workers time-and-a-half on Sundays.
In exchange, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts has agreed to drop any cut to the sales tax.
Someone within the Raise Up Coalition told the News Service on Wednesday morning that they were briefed on the broad contours of the bill Tuesday night, but had not signed off on the deal and still had questions and were not familiar with all of the details, including how the paid family and medical leave system would work.
Two Beacon Hill sources told the News Service that Jon Hurst of the Retailers Association has accepted the deal, but the Raise Up coalition has a meeting scheduled Thursday morning to discuss the bill with its stakeholders.
A fourth ballot question, imposing nurse staffing requirements to increase patient safety, has not been part of the negotiations and earlier this week survived a court challenge from its opponents.
[Matt Murphy contributed reporting]
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