A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 17, 1998
CONTACT: Tom Nolan (617) 722-2230 or at Thomas.Nolan@state.ma.us
FORMAL SESSION ENDS WITH A BANG!
Last January, while praising the legislative achievements of 1997, I
tempered my aplomb with reservations about the Herculean tasks that lay in
waiting for the new year. In particular, I cited issues ranging from state
income tax and insurance industry tax reform, to graduated driving licenses
and gun control legislation. Now that the dust has settled, following a
flurry of debate over the past few months, I can sound the victory trumpet
with unflagging resonance, knowing that we have just completed one of the
most productive legislative sessions on the Hill that I have experienced.
In fact, our achievements far surpassed those issues that I mentioned last
winter, and included major legislation in the areas of tax and finance
policy, education, the environment, retirement, public safety, and
community development. Indeed, we have built a remarkable legislative
record that will undoubtedly serve as an example for our sister states to
Over the past six years, the legislature has acted responsibly and
prudently in reducing the tax burdens on families, individuals and
businesses in the Commonwealth. This year was particularly historic for tax
cuts and tax reform. In addition to the $772 million dollar tax cut reform
incorporated into the FY'99 budget, taxpayers will receive an additional
$200 million in tax relief this year as part of a FY'98 supplemental budget
amendment in the form of a one-time increase in the personal exemption.
This will translate into an additional $50 in savings on average to each
As for reform, the rate of taxation applied to unearned income (e.g.
interest and dividends) was slashed from 12% to 5.9%. Moreover, in an
effort to comport with federal tax policy, certain earnings from Roth
I.R.A.'s or the sale of one's home have been exempted from state taxation.
These changes will encourage savings and investment, thereby opening
opportunities for home ownership, easing the burden of college tuition and
assuring a secure and comfortable retirement. "Taxachussets" is clearly an
outdated description of the Commonwealth.
The state continued to invest in our children as well by fulfilling
its promise on education reform funding. Many of us in the legislature
have lobbied hard for greater investment in the improvement of local
schools. Our efforts, in collaboration with many members of our
communities, were not unfruitful. The end of session saw additional
funding for high enrollment growth communities and local school improvement
projects. Winchester, Stoneham and Reading all benefited from increased
Chapter 70 funding this year, a trend that should continue in years to
Realizing that our youth is our future, ambitious funding was also
provided for higher education. These funding initiatives took the form of
increased loan and scholarship tuition assistance programs for working
families and greater support for campus operations. I am proud to report
that Massachusetts is the only state in the country to have reduced tuition
for higher education three years in a row. In conjunction with the tuition
reduction, administrative costs at state/community colleges have been
reduced. In sum, not a single state has performed as well as Massachusetts
in the area of higher education over the prior three years. This is
something in which we can all take great pride.
More importantly, serious efforts are underway to support our teachers
and insure that our schools attract the best and brightest educators. By
providing incentives such as alternative retirement benefits and increased
salary options, we will guarantee that our students will master the skills
of "reading, writing and `rithmetic." We have read much about the higher
standards required of our teachers. Yet, the heightened accountability and
performance are staples for meaningful education reform, and those
standards should not be diluted.
The Commonwealth's environment also received a significant boost,
largely due to the passage of a few key bills. The enactment of the
Utility Deregulation measure last fall was a national milestone, but its
implementation is worthy of greater accolades. While primarily a consumer
protection matter, the deregulation bill has significant environmental
advances. In the new market, nuclear plants and old oil and coal fired
plants have nearly become obsolete, replaced by new, more efficient,
state-of- the-art gas fired co-generation plants. These new plants are
cleaner, quieter and much more fuel efficient, which will improve the
state's air quality.
Another major victory for our environment was gained at the end of
this session with the enactment of the "Brownfields" bill. Simply put, the
newly signed law encourages the productive clean-up and reuse of abandoned
and contaminated industrial sites throughout the Commonwealth. By limiting
responsibility on liability claims and providing public dollars for
accelerating restoration of these sites, this legislation will spur
economic growth opportunities in older industrial areas while relieving the
developmental pressure on our "greenfields."
In addition to strengthening our fiscal policy and cleaning our
environment, we have taken great strides to make our streets safer and to
protect our citizens from violence. For the past year, I, along with many
of my colleagues, worked tirelessly on drafting a gun control measure that
balances the rights of lawful gun owners with the need to stamp out
unnecessary acts of gun violence and accidental injuries. As part of the
special commission, and as House Chairman for the Committee on Public
Safety, I was more than pleased upon the enactment of the comprehensive
measure that we passed through the legislature this spring.
I am also pleased with the progress the legislature made in addressing
the concerns of the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) regarding the Sex Offender
Registry in the Commonwealth. When the implementation of the Registry was
placed in limbo last fall, following a decision issued by the SJC, we
worked feverishly to correct the Constitutional infirmities, realizing that
time was of the essence. In the final days of the session, we put the
final touches on a bill designed to address the Court's concerns that will
alert citizens to the presence and potential danger of convicted sex
offenders in their community. The bill also requires for lifetime parole
for the most dangerous offenders. Our neighborhoods and our children will
surely be safer by this measure.
Improving the quality of life was a common theme throughout many
legislative initiatives. We took advantage of our strong economy by making
important investments to improve the infrastructure of our learning
environments, in addition to investing in many other projects. Significant
funding was provided to renovate and construct local libraries. Support
was also earmarked for computers and technological improvements in our
local school systems. With these measures, we will be well on our way into
the 21st century.
At the start of the session in January, the list of initiatives seemed
highly ambitious, to say the least. Eight months later, I am proud to be
able to write that we in the House and Senate stepped up and met the
challenge. Our work is by no means complete, and there are issues that
remain to be addressed in the future. Yet, we have set a positive formula
for success and have built a strong foundation to continue advancing this
great state. It has been my distinct pleasure working day in and day out
for the Commonwealth and my constituents. I look forward to the fruits of
our efforts and the continued success and progress of this state.