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Early-Afternoon Briefs: School Mask Mandate Extension | Taxing High Earners .: The State House News Service

Early-Afternoon Briefs: School Mask Mandate Extension | Taxing High Earners

  • Riley Extends School Mask Mandate Through October
  • Report: SALT Change Compounds Surtax Impacts On High Earners

Riley Extends School Mask Mandate Through October
Masks will remain required in Massachusetts public schools until at least Nov. 1, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said in guidance issued to districts and published Monday. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in August authorized Commissioner Jeff Riley to require masks for students age 5 and up and school staff through at least Oct. 1, and Riley on Monday extended the requirement through at least Nov. 1. The board in August also declared that "exigent circumstances" exist that hinder students' ability to safely attend classes, a move that allows Riley to issue health and safety requirements for districts. The mask plan Riley put forward in August allowed for middle and high schools where at least 80 percent of students and staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to be able to lift the mask requirement in October, for vaccinated individuals only. Kids age 12 and under are still not eligible for the shots. Under the latest guidance, as of Oct. 15, in schools that submit to the state an attestation form demonstrating a vaccination rate of 80 percent or higher among students and staff, vaccinated individuals will no longer need to wear masks. The department also posted additional details on calculating the 80 percent vaccination rate, which says, "Schools should determine a method to collect proof of COVID-19 vaccination for all eligible staff and students." School districts last week reported 2,236 new COVID-19 cases among students and 318 in staff. The combined total of 2,554 during the week of Sept. 16-22 is up from the 1,420 logged over three days in the previous week's report. - Katie Lannan/SHNS

Report: SALT Change Compounds Surtax Impacts On High Earners
The House last week passed, despite the governor's veto, a change in state tax law to allow the owners of partnerships and S corporations to avoid the federal limit on state and local tax deductions, but the Pioneer Institute said Monday the change will not be enough to avoid compounding effects if voters next year approve a surtax on household income above $1 million. The 2017 federal tax law capped state and local tax (SALT) deductions at $10,000, increasing the liability on higher earners and property owners in Massachusetts and other states with relatively high taxes and property values. In a whitepaper published Monday, Pioneer said the cap "will greatly exacerbate the adverse effects" of a proposed 4 percent state surtax on household income greater than $1 million, a proposal the organization has long opposed. "After the authors of the proposed graduated tax in Massachusetts submitted their proposal for legislative approval in 2017, the federal government placed a $10,000 limitation of deductibility of state and local taxes on federal tax returns. This unforeseen change in the federal tax code had the effect of turning what would have been a 58 percent increase in average state income tax payments among Massachusetts millionaires, from $160,786 to $254,355, into what is essentially a 147 percent increase when the federal SALT limitation is included in the calculation," the Pioneer report concluded. "This substantial change should be taken into consideration by voters when they contemplate approving the surtax proposal." The state budget approved this summer included a provision to allow the Department of Revenue to implement an optional pass-through entity excise in the amount of personal income tax owed on a member's flow-through income and a corresponding tax credit equal to 90 percent of the member's portion of the excise. Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed the provision in favor of his own proposal to return 100 percent of the excise to the taxpayer but the House last week overrode his veto (H 4009) and the Senate could follow suit. But Pioneer said Monday that a workaround, with a credit at either 90 percent or 100 percent, would "not diminish the amount of surtax payments Massachusetts taxpayers will owe DOR if state voters approve the graduated income tax." "It appears that neither the [workaround] tax credit nor the taxpayer's state tax liability are relevant to the proposed constitutional amendment because the additional 4 percent surtax is charged by calculating the total amount of annual taxable income, not the amount of taxes due on that income," Pioneer said. Roughly 55,500 Massachusetts personal income tax filers would benefit from a pass-through entity (PTE) tax workaround and could save up to an average of $20,158 in federal taxes annually, DOR estimated in a March report. The Senate as early as Thursday could complete the override initiated by the House last week. - Colin A. Young/SHNS


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