Monday, May 23, 2011

Opportunities for Meaningful Change

The Senate Committee on Ways and Means released its budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2012 last week, and by a 12:00pm deadline on Friday 599 amendments had been filed by Senators seeking to modify that proposal. The Senate Republican Caucus has sponsored a number of amendments which offer the potential to reform state government, impose or strengthen fiscal discipline, and promote economic growth. Among them are:

• Meals Tax Holiday (OTHER-11)
Provides a meals tax holiday from October 21, 2011 through October 26, 2011.

• Job Creation Tax Credit (OTHER-40)
Creates a business tax credit of 50% of a new worker’s income tax for every business that increases its work force. A business may take the credit for no more than 50 new eligible employees added, and must take the credit over the course of three years, provided that the business maintains the employment increase.

• Asset Forfeiture (LOC-64)
Provides for the asset forfeiture of motor vehicles for those individuals charged with violating federal immigration laws.

• Revert Local Aid (LOC-55)
Stipulates that 50% of the state’s surplus revenues available at the end of FY12 be slated for distribution to cities and towns through the Lottery formula.

• Confidentiality Agreements (GOV-113)
Directs state agencies and departments that should they enter into a settlement agreement with an employee that includes confidentiality or gag order clauses, the employer must make publicly available a statement as to why the gag order is in the public’s best interest.

• Taxpayer-Funded Advertising (GOV-115)
Prohibits state advertising on subjects other than public health and public safety.

• Gubernatorial Personnel Cost Savings (GOV-119)
Requires the Governor to report on all salary increases and decreases in FY2011 and planned increases or decreases in FY2012.

• Government Transparency and Accountability (GOV-120)
Establishes a searchable website to find out who is receiving state contracts, grants, and other funds. It would build off other existing but inadequate resources, such as Operational Services Division’s Comm-Pass system, and the Executive Office of Administration and Finance’s budget tracking site.

• Fiscal Responsibility with Grants (GOV-121)
Requires the governor, state agencies and quasi-state agencies to submit a cost benefit and job outcome analysis to the Legislature prior to issuing any grants totaling $500,000 or more to private companies.

• Fair Employment and Security (GOV-122)
Requires the Attorney General to set up a hotline for immigration employment and status violations, and also directs the Attorney General to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Attorney General relative to enforcement of immigration laws. Increases penalties against employers who hire workers not legally present in the United States as well as prevents companies in violation from obtaining state government contracts. The amendment also increases penalties for individuals in possession of and/or who distribute falsified identification documents and protects taxpayers’ money by insuring state benefits are not fraudulently acquired by undocumented residents, including health insurance, housing and educational assistance.

• Voter Identification (GOV-125)
Requires voters to provide at the time of voting an identification document. Those unable to provide an identification document must meet the requirements of Chapter 54, Section 76 of the MGL, requiring the voter to submit their name and residence in writing on the ballot, and for the clerk to keep an accurate record of such voters.

• State Contracting Threshold (ECO-210)
Increases from $500,000 to $2 million the threshold for determining which state projects are eligible for privatization.

• Inmate Fees (EPS-354)
Requires $2 daily payment from prisoners as a form of defraying the costs of incarceration. Also requires sheriffs to report on the success of the program 12 months after passage.

• Restrictions on Cash Benefits and Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) Cards (EHS-444)
Prohibits the purchase of alcohol, tobacco, and lottery tickets with cash assistance benefits. Provides appropriate penalties for both store owners who knowingly sell prohibited items to recipients and for recipients who use benefits for prohibited purchases. Also adds tough penalties for fraudulent uses of cash benefits – for example, fines and possibly prison time for those who misrepresent their life status to obtain benefits.

• Prescription Drug Waste (EHS-445)
Directs facilities licensed by the departments of public health, mental health and corrections to recycle or return unused medication if it is unopened, individually sealed and within its recommended shelf life. Similar legislation has been adopted in 38 states, and will save the state millions of dollars in drug costs. In particular, in nursing homes, unopened and unused drugs are wasted and disposed of after patients leave the facility, discontinue use of the medication, or pass away.

• Medicaid Utilization (EHS-448)
Requires the office of Medicaid to develop and improve regulations to ensure that Medicare-like claims editing is fully and effectively implemented.

• Mandatory Prescription Drug Coverage (EHS-449)
Gives Massachusetts residents the option of selecting a health care plan that does not include prescription drug coverage without violating the individual mandate law.

The amendments proposed by all of the members of the Senate can be viewed by clicking here. Debate on the amendments will begin at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, and will be webcast at