March 13, 2018

Chandler: other taxes, fees may be necessary to boost economy

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Senate President Harriett Chandler, D-Worcester.

In addition to promoting a $2 billion tax on the wealthy, Senate President Harriette Chandler on Monday told business leaders from central Massachusetts that other taxes and fees may be needed to make the kind of investments in transportation and infrastructure that will boost the economy and open new opportunities for people.

"The truth is that we need to take a hard look at what revenues may need to come into play to allow us to make the investments in infrastructure and services that you in the business community deserve," Chandler told the Worcester Chamber of Commerce, according to her prepared remarks.

Chandler then listed possible revenue sources: "We need to be creative, whether that means expanded fees from AirBnb or ride hailing services; or new fees from sports betting; or taxes on online sales, allowing local businesses to compete on an equal playing field with their international online competitors."

Asked whether Chandler supports sports betting, a spokesman said she was looking ahead to the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court might open the door for states to regulate sports betting. If that occurs, then Chandler wants to make sure that sports betting fees are an option to consider.

Chandler ascended to the presidency in December after the Senate opened an ethics investigation into former Senate President Stan Rosenberg and plans next year to cede the presidency to one of her colleagues. She has honed in on housing production, in particular, as a priority and her leadership skills will be put to the test in 2018 as the House, Senate and Gov. Charlie Baker seek to advance a host of bills currently held up in committees.

The distraction of leadership turmoil in the Senate has this session been coupled with Beacon Hill's heavy focus on President Donald Trump and Congress.

"We face an economic and social uncertainty that is as influenced by the chaos in Washington, D.C. as by any legislative or executive action in Massachusettts," Chandler said, citing threatened federal government cuts to health research funding, social services, education, and clean energy.

But just as Trump is enthusiastic about the nation's economic growth, Chandler in her remarks was bullish about Worcester.

She called the state's second largest city "the heart and the engine of the Commonwealth" and asserted that "organizations of all sizes are looking at Central Massachusetts not as some sort of alternative, but as a primary place to locate operations."

To help keep the economy growing, she said the state may need even more new housing production than the Baker administration estimates - 17,000 new units a year - and called for less restrictive zoning as a way to lower housing costs and make Massachusetts a place where young workers can settle down.

"In our cities and towns, we need development, and we need community appropriate housing," Chandler said, foreshadowing a potential debate that may hinge on disparate beliefs on what type of housing, and how much, is appropriate from one town to the next.

While revenues from an income surtax on households with incomes over $1 million are still hypothetical - a pending constitutional amendment still needs to survive a court challenge and win voter approval in November - Chandler said investments needed in commuter rail, regional transit authorities, roads and bridges "will be majorly impacted without the additional transit-allocated revenue that the state would receive" from the surtax.

Urging public officials to reimagine the transit system, Chandler said she would call this year on Baker administration tranpsortation officials to submit to the Legislature a plan by early 2019 for the first stage of electrified regional rail to be completed by 2022.

Infrastructure electrification and self-powered electric cars would enable "faster subway-type service" to Worcester and other cities, she said. "Imagine frequent service between Worcester and Boston, in under an hour, throughout the day," she said. "This is not a pie in the sky idea - this is an idea with precedent both within the United States and internationally, and one that brings us in line with the direction the rest of the world is moving on."

Regarding housing and transportation challenges, Chandler wondered aloud whether the state is willing to have necessary "tough and frank conversations."

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