Happy October, friends!
Let’s kick off the spookiest month of the year with a scary story:
It was the last night of July–a dark and stormy night. Lawmakers and underpaid overworked staff, who had just been told their union wouldn’t be voluntarily recognized, are passing laws during the witching hour. The halls of the State House are eerily quiet; almost all decisions are being made behind closed doors by a handful of powerful people.
Scariest of all? All the bills they pass at this late hour will have their fate determined by a Republican governor.
Stephen King, eat your heart out!
State House Scoop
Tax refunds in motion, larger economic development bill still in limbo
If you closely followed the chaos during the end-of-session in July, you might remember some drama surrounding the big “economic development” bill. Along with permanent tax cuts, this bill included $250 tax rebates to individuals who earned between $38,000 - $100,000 last year. (You read that right–low income taxpayers, the people who would need a rebate the most, would be excluded. But we don’t even have time to get into that.)
This bill was all but sure to land on Baker’s desk until a 1986 law was “rediscovered” by the legislature. This law, known as 62f, requires that excess tax revenue over a certain amount be returned to the taxpayers, proportionate to what they paid in. In other words, low-income taxpayers would receive the smallest rebate, and highest-income taxpayers would receive the largest. Unsure of how this law on the books would affect lawmakers’ ability to afford their economic development bill, it was shelved until further notice. Not waiting for the legislature to get their ducks in a row, Governor Baker announced last week that taxpayers could expect the 62f rebates this fall.
The 62f rebates total $3 billion. Instead of going towards the MBTA or our public schools, this $3 billion is going disproportionately into the pockets of the wealthiest taxpayers; again, low-income taxpayers are offered the least amount of relief, and stand to gain the most from investment in public goods and programs. Over two months after the end of session, lawmakers still don’t know what the plan is for their original $250 rebates or the rest of the bill that got dragged down with it. If they had people’s best interests at heart, they would ditch their rebates and make 62f reform a priority for next session. But since when do they have people’s--in particular low-income people's--best interests at heart?
Elimination of parole and probation fees goes into effect
While imperfect (not to mention a month late), the FY2023 budget passed by the legislature this summer included funding for many critical public services and some progressives policies. One such policy victory was the elimination of probation and parole fees; individuals on parole or probation had been required to pay fees for their own supervision which ranged from $50-$80 per month. These exploitative fees place a financial burden on individuals already living in precarious circumstances, and increase the likelihood of recidivism–which is already sky-high in Massachusetts: 33% in three years.
But the only reason this passed in the budget is because Governor Baker recommended it. Other criminal justice reforms like the 5-year prison moratorium and eliminating costs associated with calling an incarcerated loved one were killed during the last moments of the session. Why? Because the legislature didn’t pass them with enough time to override Baker’s veto.
In Memoriam: The Graveyard of the 192nd Session
Now that our legislature is through with major business for the rest of the year, it’s time to take a look back through the 192nd legislative session to acknowledge some of the popular progressive bills that died, yet again.
The MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) is a standardized test all high schoolers must pass in order to graduate. Massachusetts is one of only 11 states with such a requirement. This bill (also known as “Cancel MCAS”) would place a moratorium on the MCAS requirement to graduate and create a grant program to develop alternative assessment models. Like all standardized tests, the MCAS comes from and perpetuates a legacy of racism and eugenics. These tests were designed to keep students of color out of prestigious white schools, and today they serve to justify defunding low-income and minority-majority school districts. They also don’t seem to feel any need for subtlety; the MCAS came under fire in 2019 for an essay question that asked students to write from the perspective of a white person speaking derogatorily about a runaway slave.
This bill is incredibly popular and has some heavyweight advocates behind it–the Massachusetts Teachers Association, one of the largest unions in the state, lists the bill among their top priorities. And you know we’re in bad shape when MA is to the right of federal guidance on an issue. Despite it all, the bill has been "sent to study," i.e. killed, twice.
But wait, it gets worse: the Board of Education actually voted to raise the minimum passing score of MCAS just last month. This move makes it even harder for students, in particular immigrants and students of color, to graduate. Hey–at least the big standardized test companies and for-profit Education Management Organizations get to cash in.
Volunteer for Teresa English!
We’ll be knocking on doors in Billerica for State Rep Candidate Teresa English, who is running against one of the furthest right Republicans in the House. Join us on Sunday, October 16th at 3PM in Billerica to canvass for Teresa!
Transparency is on the ballot! Volunteer for Yes on 6
Our non-binding ballot question, which asks voters if they support making committee votes public, will be on the November ballot in 20 districts! Now it's time to ensure they all pass, and with flying colors. But we need your help to make that happen. From flyering, tabling, canvassing and phonebanking, there are tons of ways to volunteer to spread the word about this ballot question! Fill out this google form to let us know how you want to get involved.
Letter to the Editor Workshop 10/13 @ 6:00PM
Back by popular demand, Act on Mass is hosting a Letter to the Editor workshop on Thursday, October 13th at 6pm. LTEs and local press was a huge part of the success of our People's House campaign. At this workshop, you will learn how to write and send an LTE to your local newspapers to share your support for Question 6 (the transparency question) and so much more! Sign up today!
That's all for now! I'll be back in your inbox next week. Until then, remember to have a buddy help you take out your AC unit! Lift with your legs, not your back!
Executive Director, Act on Mass