Biden's gas tax holiday sputters on Beacon Hill - POLITICO

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STILL STALLED — President Joe Biden’s plea for states to suspend their gas taxes for three months won over some of Massachusetts’ top pols — just not the right ones to make it happen.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov Karyn Polito offered their most full-throated support yet for temporarily shelving the state’s 24-cents-per-gallon gas tax, “as President Biden called for,” while also continuing to push the raft of tax breaks Baker first proposed back in January. Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr — saying the president “now acknowledges the need for what we have encouraged for months” — again urged Democratic legislative leadership to act.

But House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka again rebuffed those calls. “We hear from our constituents loud and clear that their dollars aren’t going as far as they used to, and we believe the Legislature has a role to play in providing relief,” the Democrats said in a joint statement. “But we fear that, as many economists have warned, a gas tax holiday would result in billions of dollars in profits for oil companies — and only pennies in the pockets of consumers.”

Biden also suggested states could offer “equivalent relief to consumers.” And leaders in some states and cities have already turned to prepaid gas or public transit fare cards, or eliminated fares on public buses, to offer motorists and commuters some relief.

Legislative leaders were noncommittal on those options when asked by Playbook on Wednesday. “The Legislature is working diligently to find ways to deliver direct relief to residents, and we will continue to prioritize solutions that put people first,” Spilka and Mariano said in their statement.

The results of a new survey from The MassINC Polling Group could factor into lawmakers’ decision-making. The poll of 1,002 Massachusetts residents conducted June 8 to 12 and sponsored by The Barr Foundation found that 84 percent of respondents support giving low-income residents a discount on public transportation fares and passes — up from 79 percent in MassINC’s December transit poll — and that 56 percent “strongly support” it.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents support making MBTA and other regional transit authority buses free to ride, including 46 percent who strongly support the idea. And a plurality, 43 percent, support making buses free while also giving low-income riders a discount on other transit services.

GOOD THURSDAY MORNING, MASSACHUSETTS. Assistant House Speaker Katherine Clark is endorsing former Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell for state attorney general.

“Andrea knows firsthand the difference that opportunity can make in a child’s life,” Clark, who previously worked in the attorney general’s office, said in a statement. “She will fight for every child in Massachusetts: from health care, to early education, to housing and safe neighborhoods.”

This is Campbell’s third endorsement from a delegation member, following Rep. Jake Auchincloss on Tuesday and Sen. Ed Markey in March. Campbell has also been endorsed by Frank Bellotti, the former attorney general and lieutenant governor.

One of Campbell’s Democratic rivals, Quentin Palfrey, is also out with new endorsements today from former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Don Berwick, the New England Chinese American Alliance, Governor’s Councilor Paul DePalo and over 40 activists.   

TODAY — Governor hopeful and state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz makes a mystery campaign announcement at 9 a.m. outside Nurtury Learning Lab in Boston, a year to the day after launching her campaign. Governor candidate Geoff Diehl wraps up his “Berkshires to Boston” tour with stops in Boston. The Edward M. Kennedy Institute celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Ted Kennedy-John Hume meeting at 7 p.m.; speakers include Ireland’s Ambassador to the U.S. Daniel Mulhall.

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“Massachusetts reports 1,636 new COVID cases, hospitalizations tick down,” by Rick Sobey, Boston Herald: “The Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s report of 1,636 COVID cases was a tick up from last Wednesday’s total of 1,543 infections.”

“Mass. Senate unveils new pay structure, raises for staffers,” by Samantha J. Gross, Boston Globe: “Amid a growing chorus of criticism that Massachusetts Senate staff are paid unequally, chamber leaders announced Wednesday that they are implementing one-time 10 percent raises for their staff, a $50,000 salary floor, and a new pay structure — news that comes about eight months after a salary study commissioned by the Senate found fault with the chamber’s hiring and pay practices. The new system, laid out for senators and staff by the chamber’s Personnel and Administration committee, results in an average 15 percent raise for 260 Senate staff. The total cost has not yet been finalized, according to a spokeswoman for Senate President Karen E. Spilka.”

Pay has been a key reason behind state Senate staffers’ push to unionize. “This is what happens when we organize: we win real change,” the Massachusetts State House Employee Union said in a statement. “But there is still work to be done,” the group said, including securing protections against workplace harassment, annual cost of living increases and the right to collective bargaining.

Spilka has not voluntarily recognized the union, a source of continued frustration for the staffers behind it. Some staffers were also perturbed by how they were informed of the changes to their pay on Wednesday — in a webinar in which they couldn’t turn on their cameras or microphones and could only use a chat feature to ask questions.

“Bucking party, Baker makes vote-by-mail permanent,” by Shira Schoenberg, CommonWealth Magazine: “Despite concerns by members of his own party, Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, signed a law Wednesday making voting by mail permanent. … The new law will permanently allow voting by mail for any state or presidential primary or general election. It shortens the voter registration window to 10 days, although it does not allow for same-day voter registration, as some advocates had hoped. ”

“‘A series of often tragic events’: MBTA safety oversight hearings to take a broad look at management, spending decisions, lawmakers say,” by Chris Van Buskirk, MassLive: “The two lawmakers charged with holding oversight hearings into safety at the MBTA are hoping to take a broad look at management and spending decisions at the public transit agency in the Legislature’s effort ‘to restore public confidence’ in the system after federal regulators painted a grim picture of the agency’s safety culture. Transportation Committee Co-Chair Rep. William Straus said they are eyeing the first half of July for the first hearing and said that while the FTA’s mission is geared towards identifying solutions to specific issues, the committee plans to take a different approach.”

“Grants that sustained state’s childcare industry set to expire,” by Shira Schoenberg, CommonWealth Magazine: “[M]onthly grants – from the state’s Commonwealth Cares for Children, or C3, grant program – will end this month, if the governor and lawmakers don’t get on the same page to extend them. The C3 grants have been a financial lifeblood for childcare programs that struggled to make ends meet as enrollment fluctuated and staffing challenges abounded during the pandemic. They are also unique in that they provide public support to what is mainly a private system.”

“Impatient for children’s vaccine after a long wait, parents scramble for appointments,” by Felice J. Freyer, Boston Globe: “Since vaccines for children 6 months to 5 years old were approved last week, parents have scrambled to get the shot for their youngsters. They’re conferring through Facebook and texts, calling clinics and doctors offices, and — when the state’s VaxFinder website had a few hours’ delay listing sites for young kids — experiencing traumatic flashbacks to last year’s vaccine rollout debacle.”

“Boston slams new state schools plan as moving sides ‘further apart’ as receivership looms,” by Sean Philip Cotter, Boston Herald: “Mayor Michelle Wu is slamming the state’s latest proposal around schools receivership, saying the commissioner’s most recent answer merely pulls the two sides ‘further apart.’ … In a response addressed to state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley on Tuesday, Wu, as well as outgoing Superintendent Brenda Cassellius and School Committee Chair Jeri Robinson, said they would be reaching out for a meeting as they said more conversation is needed on timelines, data and the structure of reforms.”

“Boston homelessness continues downward trend,” by Grace Zokovitch, Boston Herald: “The city’s homeless population, as counted by city officials and volunteers Feb. 23 during the 42nd annual homeless census, decreased by 2.4% from 2021. The drop brings the measure for the number of people experiencing homeless at one point in 2022 down to 1,545.”

“Boston city councilors, administration clash over budgeting authority,” by Sean Philip Cotter, Boston Herald: “Frustrated city councilors crossed swords with administration officials over apparent budget misunderstandings around the body’s new powers ahead of an upcoming final vote. The beef in question largely centered on last week’s move by the mayor to throw out the council’s proposed intra-departmental transfer amendments — and then send over a memo Wednesday morning a few hours before a council hearing about it providing reasons.”

“Rail experts say Orange Line battery ‘failure’ was likely a battery explosion; no answer from T,” by Taylor Dolven, Boston Globe: “Two rail experts said Wednesday that a battery explosion on a new Orange Line car earlier this week was likely behind the MBTA’s decision to keep all new Orange and Red Line trains away from passenger service.”

“T ambassadors take the first formal step to unionize,” by Bob Seay, GBH News: “A small group of ambassadors has filed what’s called a formal notice of representation with the National Labor Relations Board. If they can get 30% of their 200 colleagues to sign on, that will trigger an election which they hope to have in late August.”

“Will there be a passenger rail from North Adams to Boston? State presented updates to its ongoing study,” by Greta Jochem, Berkshire Eagle: “Existing railroad tracks between North Adams and Boston could support passenger trains, but it’s not clear how good that ride would be. That was one takeaway Wednesday from a meeting of a working group of politicians, municipal leaders and experts looking into the possibility of re-establishing a passenger rail line linking North Adams and Boston.”

“Berkshire Flyer Is First Direct Rail Connection to NYC in 51 Years,” by Brittany Polito, iBerkshires: “After five years of planning, the Berkshire Flyer will begin transporting people from New York's Penn Station to Pittsfield via Albany-Rensselaer in New York on July 8. Officials are celebrating this as an economic development project that will enhance one of the county's key sectors: tourism.”

— FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: Boston City Councilor Gabriela Coletta has endorsed her colleague, Ricardo Arroyo, for Suffolk district attorney.

— Chelsea School Committee member Roberto Jimenez-Rivera has been endorsed for 11th Suffolk state representative by the Massachusetts Chapter of the Sierra Club.

— CASH DASH: Former state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez is among the hosts of a “Latinos for Liz Miranda” event in support of the state representative’s bid for Second Suffolk state senator at 6 p.m. at Doña Habana in Boston. Sánchez, a former House Ways and Means Committee chair, was ousted from office by one of Miranda’s Senate rivals, state Rep. Nika Elugardo, in 2018.

“Healey campaigns in Western Mass., reiterates commitment to affordable housing,” by Kate Selig, Boston Globe: “Attorney General Maura Healey took her campaign for governor to Western Massachusetts on Wednesday, picking up endorsements from local officials and emphasizing her commitment to economic development across the state.”

“Secretary of State Candidate Rayla Campbell Defends Controversial School Remarks,” by Alison King and Mike Pescaro, NBC10 Boston: “Last month, Rayla Campbell made history, becoming the first Black woman to make Massachusetts' statewide ballot as a candidate for secretary of state. … Campbell's candidacy has made headlines. Most recently, after the MassGOP Convention in May, when she used vulgar language to describe reading material she claims elementary school students are being exposed to. … Campbell did not provide any evidence for her claims that educators encourage sex between young children. But she defended her remarks in an interview with NBC10 Boston. … If elected secretary of state, Campbell says she would call for mandatory voter ID and would not allow the Registry of Motor Vehicles to register people to vote. She says 'non-citizens' should be prevented from voting.”

“Can you name the Massachusetts Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor? New poll has ‘disheartening’ results,” by Alison Kuznitz, MassLive: “Most Bay Staters have never heard of the three Democratic hopefuls for lieutenant governor, alongside other down-ticket candidates for state auditor and attorney general, a new University of Massachusetts Lowell poll finds.”

“‘A huge step forward’: Female candidates are facing off statewide, changing the narrative for future elections,” by Samantha J. Gross, Boston Globe: “Now, in a state long-dominated by male politicians, Massachusetts voters are poised to find a ballot that looks different than those they’ve filled out before: Female candidates are running in every statewide race and facing off against one another in four statewide primary elections. Experts say the candidates have the opportunity to prove to voters their capacity to serve at the highest level, but also show them that women are not monolithic and that their positions and perspectives can be just as varied as what voters have long taken for granted in male candidates.”

“Mass. high court rules ‘millionaires tax’ question was written ‘fairly.’ It goes before voters in November,” by Matt Stout, Boston Globe: “The state’s highest court on Wednesday rejected a challenge from business leaders to rewrite the summary of a ballot measure that would raise taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents, handing a victory to labor unions, Democratic lawmakers, and others who’ve spent years pushing the measure to a November vote.”

“Rep. Pressley and Sen. Warren renew calls to cancel student debt,” by Rebecca Tauber, GBH News: “Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Elizabeth Warren renewed their calls Wednesday for President Joe Biden to cancel student debt. They joined union leaders and borrowers for a roundtable hosted by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.”

“SEC urged to disclose costs of climate change,” by Christian M. Wade, Eagle-Tribune: “The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is finalizing rules that would require detailed climate change disclosure in financial statements and reports by publicly traded companies, in what has been described as the largest expansion of corporate disclosure rules since the Great Depression. In a letter to SEC Secretary Vanessa Countryman, Attorney General Maura Healey joined 19 other attorneys general in urging regulators to approve the rules. … Meanwhile, members of the state's congressional delegation are also urging financial regulators to go further than the draft rules that are being considered.”

“Worcester's homeless population rose 43% over the last year, officials say,” by Sam Turken, GBH News: “The city of Worcester’s homeless population has risen to nearly 500 people, a 43% increase over the past year, according to city human services officials.”

“Marblehead election mired by ballot shortage, town-wide hand count,” by Dustin Luca, Salem News: “A shortage in ballots early in the evening caused Marblehead election workers to switch to photocopies of ballots during Tuesday's town election, triggering a hand count across all six precincts in town.”

“Boston Marathon switching from WBZ to WCVB, ESPN,” by Rick Sobey, Boston Herald: “The Boston Athletic Association on Wednesday announced that WCVB Channel 5 and ESPN will serve as the exclusive local and national broadcast stations for the Boston Marathon beginning in 2023.”

SPOTTED — former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley and Maryland attorney general candidate Katie Curran O’Malley at Deuxave’s in the Back Bay for a fundraising dinner in support of Curran O’Malley’s campaign hosted by former Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley and Sean Curran. Also there: Matt O’Malley’s wife, Kathryn Niforos, and Rep. Jake Auchincloss campaign manager Anna Fletcher. Pic by Danny Gaynor.

SPOTTED — at a book reception for Gov. Charlie Baker and Steve Kadish: Jonathan Kraft, former Gov. Bill Weld, Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish, Matt Keswick, Gregg Lisciotti, Jason Kauppi, Ed Cash and Putnam Investments’ Bob Reynolds.

TRANSITIONS — Joe Sherlock has been appointed acting executive director of MassDems after serving as the party’s convention director.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY — to Samuel O. Thier.

NEW HORSE RACE ALERT: E-BICYCLE BUILT FOR WHO? — MassINC Polling Group's Rich Parr takes hosts Steve Koczela and Lisa Kashinsky through MassINC's latest transit poll. Galen Mook, executive director at the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalitions, discusses e-bike legislation. Subscribe and listen on iTunes and Sound Cloud.

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