Today, Massachusetts took a small step toward attaining a fairer tax system. The legislature’s Joint Committee on Revenue heard public testimony on an initiative petition that would establish an additional tax on incomes over $1 million. This hearing is a key step in a four-year process that would potentially put the question of a “fair share tax” before the Commonwealth’s voters in 2018.

Members of the Joint Committee on Revenue listen and take notes during public testimony on the Fair Share Tax amendment.

Members of the Joint Committee on Revenue listen and take notes during public testimony on the Fair Share Tax amendment.

Before I go into greater detail about this proposal and why I think it’s a good idea, it might be helpful to present some background information on the income tax in Massachusetts.

Currently, it is unconstitutional in the state of Massachusetts for the government to tax different income levels at different rates. This restriction originates from Article 44 of the Massachusetts Constitution, which was ratified by the state’s voters in 1915.

Article 44 is probably most well known as the reason Massachusetts has a flat income tax rate for people of all income levels.  When article 44 was ratified by the state’s voters, it was during the advent of stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments–a new class of property known as intangible property that had not been encountered previously. The tax system of the time allowed municipalities to set their own tax rates on intangible property (as they do with other types of property, such as real estate), which lead to varying tax rates throughout the state, typically with cities having the highest rates. Under this system, the wealthy would often shift domiciles from cities to towns in order to take advantage of lower tax rates, and in some cases, to try their luck at hiding intangible income from assessors that had fewer resources at hand to ensure all owed tax was being collected.

Article 44 sought to remedy this situation by establishing the power of the General Court (the formal name for the state’s legislature) to levy state-wide taxes on various classes of income, including intangible income, as long as tax rates were uniform for each class. So, although many see article 44 as a limit on the legislature’s power to establish a more nuanced income tax system in the present day, at the time it was a major expansion of the legislative branch’s power to levy taxes.

While the establishment of a state income tax that applies equally to residents regardless of city or town made sense in 1915–and continues to make sense today–the requirement that the income tax rate be flat for all income levels has proven to be inherently unequal. For a single mother making $45,000 per year in greater Boston, every dollar is important. She spends a great deal of her income on basic necessities for her family like shelter, transportation, food, and clothing (some of which are taxed, some not). However, as a person’s income increases, the proportion of their income that they must spend on basic needs decreases. They spend a smaller percentage of their total income on necessities that are subject to other forms of taxation, like sales and fuel taxes, and when you add up all the taxes an individual or family pays over the course of the year, it turns out that the richest 1% are being taxed at a lower rate than middle and working class families.

Right now, the poorest Massachusetts residents wind up paying more of their income in taxes than anyone else. Chart produced by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, CC BY 4.0.

Right now, the poorest Massachusetts residents wind up paying more of their income in taxes than anyone else. Chart produced by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, CC BY 4.0.

There have been many attempts to correct this phenomenon–the personal income exemption, the earned income tax credit, and exemptions for food and clothing from the state sales tax, to name a few. However, these solutions often require a reduction in state revenue because the legislature is constitutionally barred from asking the highest earners to make up the difference.

For this reason, I feel that it is time for Massachusetts to amend its constitution to allow for more equitable effective tax rates. Which brings us back to today’s hearing.

Before the Revenue Committee was H.3933, a constitutional amendment which would create an additional 4% tax on income over $1 million. This is a simple, straightforward proposal that will create parity between the effective tax rates paid by the richest and the poorest in Massachusetts, and in doing so, will raise an estimated $1.9 billion annually to finance public education, roads and bridges, and public transportation.

In order for this proposal to appear on the ballot in 2018, it must receive 50 affirmative votes at a Constitutional Convention during the current legislative session, and 50 affirmative votes at a Constitutional Convention during the next legislative session. The next convention is set for February 3rd, 2016.

 

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) will hold a public informational meeting in Cambridge on Wednesday, January 20 to give an update on ongoing construction and to discuss Stage 3 of construction, which is scheduled to begin on February 1. The meeting will take place at the Multicultural Arts Center on 41 Second Street from 6-8pm. Staff from MassDOT and the design/build contractor, White-Skanska-Consigli JV, will be available to answer questions from the public after the presentation.

If you can’t make the informational meeting in Cambridge, MassDOT will hold a similar presentation in Boston on Thursday, January 21 from 6-8pm in the Auditorium at the Shriners Hospitals for Children on 51 Blossom Street.

For more information about the project or to sign up to receive email advisories, please visit the project website. For construction related questions or issues, please contact the project hotline at 617-519-9892.

The McGrath Boulevard Project Working Group will meet next Thursday, January 21st at 6:00 pm. The meeting will be held in the library of the East Somerville Community School and is open to the public.

In late 2014, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) formed a working group of residents and stakeholders in order to better involve the public in the redesign of McGrath Highway. This project is a planned redesign and overhaul of the McGrath Highway corridor in Somerville. It would remove the McCarthy Overpass and transform McGrath into a more connected, accessible, and livable urban boulevard.

An early design from the 2013 Grounding McGrath report shows the McGrath and Washington St. intersection transformed by the removal of the McCarthy Overpass.

A graphic from the 2013 Grounding McGrath report shows how the Washington St. and Somerville Ave intersections of McGrath Highway could look after removing the McCarthy Overpass.

All meetings of the working group are open to the public, and residents and interested parties are encouraged to attend.

The working group session on the 21st will continue discussions regarding pedestrian and bicycle connectivity and green space in the corridor. I am a working group member, and I encourage you to get in touch with me if you have any questions, concerns, or ideas about this project.

More information about the McGrath Boulevard Project is available in English, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Cambridge City Council meetings are now available to view in an enhanced web format through the City’s brand new Open Meeting Portal. As meetings progress, viewers will now see relevant agenda items automatically appear alongside the new high definition video broadcast, making it easier to follow along at home. The Open Meeting Portal also provides a powerful new search function, allowing users to easily search through over a decade’s worth of minutes, agendas, and roll calls.

The Open Meeting Portal will also display information about upcoming meetings, so make sure to check it out and add it to your bookmarks. It can be accessed here: https://cambridgema.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx

Work continues on the restoration and rehabilitation of the historic Longfellow Bridge.

Work continues on the restoration and rehabilitation of the historic Longfellow Bridge.

The Longfellow Bridge will be closed to vehicle traffic during each of the next four weekends, and Red Line service will be diverted to buses during the closures. The bridge will remain open for pedestrians. Please read the following press release from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation for more details, including suggested detour routes. – Tim.


MassDOT’s contractor, White-Skanska-Consigli JV (WSC), will implement a series of bridge closures and Red Line weekend diversions during January 2016. WSC will close the Longfellow Bridge to all vehicular traffic, except MBTA buses, from 11:00 PM on Fridays to 5:00 AM on Mondays. The closures are necessary to implement MBTA Red Line diversions that replace trains with buses. This will allow WSC to perform work in close proximity to the Red Line tracks to prepare for Stage 3 of construction. The schedule is as follows:

Longfellow Bridge Closures:
• Friday, January 8 – Monday, January 11
• Friday, January 15 – Monday, January 18
• Friday, January 22 – Monday, January 25
• Friday, January 29 – Monday, February 1

Red Line Weekend Diversions:
• Saturday, January 9 – Sunday, January 10
• Saturday, January 16 – Sunday, January 17
• Saturday, January 23 – Sunday, January 24
• Saturday, January 30 – Sunday, January 31

Bus service will be in place from the start of service on Saturdays to the end of service on Sundays. Buses will replace Red Line trains in both directions for service between Kendall/MIT Station and Park Street Station, with a stop at Charles/MGH Station. The bus route and stops are shown on this map. All shuttle bus stops are accessible for people with disabilities. Red Line trains will resume service on Monday mornings. Please visit the MBTA’s service updates webpage for additional information.

MBTA buses will be the only motor vehicles permitted on the bridge. All other motor vehicles, including passenger vehicles, trucks, and all other buses, will need to use one of two Boston-bound routes to reach Charles River Dam Road (Monsignor O’Brien Highway/Route 28) and Leverett Circle.

Emergency response, bicycle, and pedestrian access will be maintained across the bridge during weekend diversions. Cyclists must walk their bikes on the sidewalk across the Longfellow Bridge in both directions to ensure the safety of all bridge users. Inbound and outbound bike lanes will be closed during this time to ensure cyclist safety. The Massachusetts Avenue Bridge and Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path across the Craigie Dam Bridge can be used as alternate routes to ride bicycles across the Charles River.

Boston-bound Detour Routes: Height restrictions are in place for Memorial Drive, so all buses and trucks must use the 3rd Street to Binney Street detour described below.

  • From Main Street, turn right onto Memorial Drive westbound, and make a U-turn at Ames Street to access Memorial Drive eastbound. Follow Memorial Drive eastbound to Land Boulevard and turn right onto Charles River Dam Road (Monsignor O’Brien Highway/Route 28) to reach Leverett Circle.
  • From Broadway, turn left onto 3rd Street, turn right on Binney Street, turn left onto Land Boulevard, and then turn right onto Charles River Dam Road (Monsignor O’Brien Highway/Route 28) to reach Leverett Circle.

The Cambridge-bound detour remains in place using a signed route from Charles Circle following Charles Street to Leverett Circle, Monsignor O’Brien Highway/Charles River Dam Road, and Edwin H. Land Boulevard.

MassDOT encourages drivers to avoid the area and seek alternate routes to minimize delays. Those traveling through the area should expect delays and should reduce speed and use caution. The schedule for this major infrastructure project is weather dependent and subject to change without notice.

For more information on the project, visit the website at www.mass.gov/massdot/longfellowbridge. View construction progress photos on MassDOT’s Longfellow Bridge Flickr Album. For questions or to report issues related to construction, please call the project hotline at 617-519-9892 or email longfellowbridge@state.ma.us.

The third and fourth grade students at the Cambridgeport School are collecting items for care package to send to our Men and Women in the Armed Forces. The students are working on this as part of a community service project and hope to send a seasonal care package to our military members to help them feel closer to home.

Items can be dropped between 8:00am and 2:00pm at the front office of the Cambridgeport School until Tuesday December 15, 2015.

The student chose this project because they want the troops to know that kids care about the sacrifices that they are making each and every day.

The students have suggested some of the following items for those who would like to donate:

Pocket protein snacks: nuts, sunflower seeds (different flavors), corn nuts, granola/protein bars, beef jerky, beef sticks, cookies, peanut butter, crackers, tuna or chicken pouches, drink mix singles, pop-top canned food, or ready to eat meals.

Toiletries: Grab and go hygiene kits (travel size toiletries), bath/baby wipes, body wash, body spray, deodorant, foot powder/spray, body powder, eye drops, toothbrush/paste, lip balm, sunscreen with high SPF, black or white crew socks, and

Anything to help boost Soldiers’ morale: letters/mail, current magazines (Motorcycle, Workout, Car), DVD Movies, music CD’s, puzzle books, sports balls or games, card games, board games, assorted greeting cards to send home, retractable pens.

Please consider supporting our students in this great cause, and thank you to the students of the CPort for working on this great project.

 

Two zoning petitions are currently before the City Council that will dramatically increase the development potential in Kendall Square and East Cambridge. The first is best known as the Volpe Rezoning and the second is a petition by the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) to increase the square footage of the MXD district by approximately 1 million square feet. In my opinion neither of these proposals will be ready for ordination by the end of the term and I do not plan on voting in favor of either one in its current form.

With the Volpe rezoning we have an opportunity to use 14 acres in the heart of Kendall Square to redefine what Kendall will be for future generations. It is a complicated petition for sure, due to the economics of the site and the need for the future developer to construct a new facility for the Federal Government. It is the sort of hypothetical development scenario they base graduate courses on at MIT. The economics of the site—the affordable housing component, the allowed heights versus open space, the cost of a new building—is the primary sticking point in this process, and frankly I have not been presented with a compelling enough case on this point to consider voting in favor of the petition.

NASA officials examine a model of the Electronics Research Center, which became the Volpe Center when it was transferred from NASA to DOT in the early 1970s.

NASA officials examine a model of the Electronics Research Center, which became the Volpe Center when it was transferred from NASA to DOT in the early 1970s.

More work needs to be done, more questions need to be answered, and more feedback from residents of East Cambridge and The Port needs to be incorporated. The East Cambridge Planning Team has spent many hours examining the proposal and have some thoughtful alternatives that should be considered or hard evidence needs to be presented to explain why that concept cannot be done.

Just across the street we are presented with a second up-zoning of the CRA parcels which would allow 1 million square feet of additional development. Again, I haven’t heard a compelling argument on why we should be considering an additional 1 million square feet at this location with 3 million square feet being proposed across the street at Volpe.

Perhaps with more information, discussion, and community feedback we can find a proposal that works for Cambridge’s future. These petitions are not there yet, and I will not be supporting them in their current form.

Skate Park Officially Open

Tim speaks at the opening of the Lynch Family Skatepark on Saturday, November 14th.

Tim speaks at the opening of the Lynch Family Skatepark on Saturday, November 14th.

The Lynch Family Skate Park is now open! After years of waiting, Boston-area skaters and riders now have a world-class public skate park to practice and compete in. The 40,000 square-foot park sits underneath two large highway ramps, tucked between North Point park and Boston Sand and Gravel. It is the result of strong cooperation between the Charles River Conservancy, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the City of Cambridge, the City of Boston, and hundreds of generous private donors. The private donors include Peter and Carolyn Lynch, who contributed an incredible $800,000 to the project, and Vans shoes, who have donated $1.5 million to construction and will contribute $25,000 per year over seven years to help maintain the skate park.

groupskatepark
The Lynch Family Skatepark represents an important piece of the work that has been done by the state, the Charles River Conservancy, and others to restore underused and inaccessible portions of the Charles River Basin and return them to the public. Construction of the skate park included extensive clean-up of land that had been contaminated by a century of industrial uses, and has activated what was previously a vacant lot. It is a great example of the kinds of public-private partnerships that are restoring parkland all up and down the banks of the Charles River and creating recreational opportunities for people of all ages.

Photograph by Joanne DeCaro, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Photograph by Joanne DeCaro, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The announcement last month of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s closure, the only nuclear power plant in Massachusetts, is a great opportunity to increase the amount of electricity the Commonwealth generates from renewable energy sources. Pilgrim is the source of 14% of all of the power produced in Massachusetts and we need to make up that capacity with clean, renewable sources like wind energy and solar power.

The Commonwealth is a nationally recognized clean energy leader because we have made a clear legislative effort to grow our green energy sector in order to meet our Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) goals, which requires a 25% reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050. Earlier this year, I joined many of my colleagues in asking the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy to pass comprehensive energy legislation by the end of the 2015-16 legislative session. This is a big issue on Beacon Hill right now, and I know that Chairmen Downing and Golden and the rest of the Committee are working diligently to develop a robust energy policy that would allow the Commonwealth to meet its GWSA goals.

However, in the interim, it’s vital for our solar power sector that we lift the cap on net metering immediately. The state’s 2007 solar incentive program has made Massachusetts a national leader in solar energy with more than 1,000 solar companies producing power to as many as 133,000 homes while employing 12,000 people, but a cap on financial credits given to solar power producers is currently stalling the production of additional solar facilities across the Commonwealth.

If we don’t raise this cap, the Commonwealth’s solar industry risks long-term setbacks and could lose millions of dollars through the federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) program, which expires on December 31, 2016. Although this deadline is a little over a year away, being connected to the electric grid is required to qualify for the ITC, and solar power developers estimate that they need to secure financing within the next three months in order to start and complete construction by next year’s deadline.

Growing the solar power sector will create jobs and is an important part of the Commonwealth’s retreat from fossil fuel dependency.

Please see the following construction and traffic advisory from the Department of Transportation (MassDOT) – Tim.

“The previously announced traffic shift on the Longfellow Bridge will now begin on Monday, November 9. MassDOT’s contractor, White-Skanska-Consigli (WSC), will shift traffic on the downstream side of the Longfellow Bridge to accommodate modified Stage 2 construction of the temporary outbound Red Line track (called a “shoo-fly”) on the roadway. WSC is beginning the work early to advance the schedule and minimize the risk of delays due to winter weather. Stage 2 will last approximately three months, through January 2016.

During Stage 2, WSC will also close the Longfellow Bridge to all vehicular traffic overnight, Mondays through Fridays. The closure will begin at 9:00 PM each night and end at 5:00 AM the following morning. The closure may extend to Saturday nights, if needed. The closure will be from November 9, 2015 through January 2016, and is necessary to expedite the work and shorten the duration of the temporary traffic shift.

Temporary Traffic Shift

The work will require temporarily narrowing space for vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians on the downstream side of the bridge. The traffic shift is necessary to maintain two-way bike travel across the bridge until construction of the upstream side is complete and all bike travel is shifted to it.

While the temporary traffic shift is in place, inbound bikes will continue to use a dedicated lane on the roadway, which will be shifted to the east away from the MBTA Red Line tracks. Inbound vehicles will also be shifted to the east, so the temporary tracks can be installed. Outbound bikes and pedestrians will share the sidewalk. This configuration differs from the original Stage 2 plan where bike travel in both directions would have been shifted to the upstream side of the bridge for construction of the temporary track. It is an extension of what is currently in place in the middle of the bridge between the “Salt and Pepper” towers. Bicyclists will be asked to walk their bikes across the bridge to ensure the safety of all users, and signs will be posted noting this requirement. View the Modified Stage 2 Graphic for new travel space configurations.

Nightly Closures of the Longfellow Bridge to Vehicles

Overnight closures of the Longfellow Bridge will expedite construction of the shoo-fly. Boston-bound vehicles should use the inbound detour routes described below. Bike and pedestrian traffic will be maintained across the bridge at all times. No closures will be implemented until one hour before and after all events at TD Garden to minimize traffic impacts at Leverett Circle.

Inbound Detour Routes: All motor vehicles will be detoured using one of two routes. Passenger vehicles may use Memorial Drive westbound to make a U-turn at Ames Street for access to Memorial Drive eastbound to Land Boulevard and Charles River Dam Road (Monsignor O’Brien Highway/Route 28) to reach Leverett Circle, or 3rd Street and Binney Street to reach Land Boulevard. Height restrictions are in place for Memorial Drive, so all buses and trucks must use 3rd Street and Binney Street to reach Land Boulevard and Charles River Dam Road (Monsignor O’Brien Highway/Route 28).

The Cambridge-bound detour remains in place using the existing signed route from Charles Circle following Charles Street to Leverett Circle, Monsignor O’Brien Highway (Route 28)/Charles River Dam Road and Land Boulevard.

Next Steps

WSC held an emergency responder briefing on October 30 to discuss traffic management plans with Mass General Hospital and first responders, such as police and fire personnel. WSC has also coordinated with the MBTA to ensure access for emergency busing should an emergency shutdown of the Red Line be necessary.

In early February, once the temporary track is complete, all bikes will be shifted to the upstream side of the bridge and the outbound MBTA Red Line will be shifted to the temporary track. Inbound trains will be moved to the current outbound side and WSC will begin rehabilitating the bridge under the current location of MBTA inbound tracks. This Stage 3 work will take approximately eight months to complete. During this stage, inbound vehicles and pedestrians will continue to use the downstream side. View the Stage 3 Graphic for new travel space configurations.

For more information, visit the project website at www.mass.gov/massdot/longfellowbridge. For questions or issues and concerns related to construction, please call the project hotline at 617-519-9892 or email longfellowbridge@state.ma.us. View construction progress photos on MassDOT’s Longfellow Bridge Flickr Album.”