The Packet Post Update from Massachusetts State House via MassAccess – September 1, 2022

Update from Massachusetts State House via MassAccess – September 1, 2022

by: Press Release

Provided by David Gauthier

Thursday, September 1, 2022:

As of Thursday, 8/25, DPH reported a total of 1,838,163 cases of COVID-19

The state reported 7,952 new confirmed cases and 38 new deaths

The state now has 20,063 deaths from the virus.

It’s one month into fiscal year 2023 and the headline numbers look good for the Massachusetts Lottery, though the agency’s head on Tuesday flagged two concerning trends that have cropped up and will warrant closer inspection going forward.

Lottery sales were up $15.7 million in July and the agency posted a monthly estimated profit of $102.9 million compared to $96.2 million in July 2021. Interim Executive Director Mark William Bracken, in a report to the Lottery Commission, attributed the profit bump in part to “a combination of a $42.1 million increase in Mega Millions sales for the month as a result of a $1.3 billion jackpot, and a $5.1 million decrease in Instant Ticket grand prizes being claimed for the month.”

Bracken said told the commission that, after adjustments, the Lottery had an estimated $13.3 million increase in net profit through the first month of fiscal year 2023 compared to the start of fiscal 2022.

Scratch tickets became a slightly smaller share of the Lottery’s gross sales, falling from 69.4 percent of sales revenue in fiscal 2021 to 66.9 percent in fiscal 2022, according to Lottery records. Keno gained ground last year, inching up from 18.2 percent of sales in fiscal 2021 to 20.8 percent in fiscal 2022.

The dip in scratch tickets sales comes at a time when Massachusetts is preparing to further expand commercial gambling with sports betting and while the long-sought ability for the Lottery to sell its products online remains hung up in private talks over the Legislature’s stalled economic development bill.

The Massachusetts Budget & Policy Center report released on Wednesday looked at the 644 bridges that were listed in a Mass. Department of Transportation database as structurally deficient as of June 2020 and determined that one in every 12 bridges in Massachusetts fit the label, meaning that at least one major component had serious problems and was in need of repair or replacement.

An average of 11 percent of the daily vehicle bridge crossings in Massachusetts are over structurally deficient bridges, according to the report, which used the most recent official state data on bridge conditions.

The report was released at midnight and at 10 a.m. Baxandall was a featured speaker at a press conference hosted by supporters of the Yes on 1 campaign working to convince voters this November to support a Constitutional amendment that would add a 4 percent surtax on annual household income above $1 million.

The surtax proposal would shift the state away from the flat income tax rate structure enshrined in the Massachusetts Constitution. If the amendment is approved by voters, the first $1 million of household income would still be taxed at the current 5 percent tax rate and household income above that first $1 million would be taxed at an effective rate of 9 percent.

Surtax supporters have said they feel confident that the Legislature would use the proceeds to provide more money for transportation and education.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday filed a $1.6 billion supplemental budget to close the books on fiscal year 2022, proposing another $200 million in aid for the MBTA and setting aside more than $2.9 billion of the state’s surplus to be returned to taxpayers.

The bill (HD 5364) would still leave the Legislature with $1.5 billion of last budget year’s surplus to potentially put towards their own agreed-to tax relief efforts and other spending initiatives that remain bottled up in the stalled economic development bill talks, Baker said.

In its announcement of the supp budget, Baker’s office also said that the Department of Revenue on Wednesday had informed Auditor Suzanne Bump that it believes that $2.941 billion is required to be returned to taxpayers under Chapter 62F, the 1986 voter law that requires excess state tax collections be refunded.

If the auditor certifies that amount by her Sept. 20 deadline, Baker’s office said the state will still have a fiscal year 2022 surplus of $2.3 billion – up from the administration estimate of $1.9 billion earlier this month.

Now that DOR has reported to Bump, the auditor has until the third Tuesday of September – Sept. 20 this year – to “independently determine” whether tax collections exceeded the allowable amount and then notify the executive branch, House and Senate of the amount of the overage. Republican candidate for auditor Anthony Amore on Wednesday called on Bump’s office to certify DOR’s figures sooner than that.

There remains an open question around how the nearly $3 billion in excess tax collections would be returned to taxpayers. The law itself says that excess revenue should be returned as “a credit equal to the total amount of such excess … applied to the then current personal income tax liability of all taxpayers on a proportional basis to the personal income tax liability incurred by all taxpayers in the immediately preceding taxable year.”

The supplemental budget is nearly certain to go first to the House Committee on Ways and Means. Chairman Aaron Michlewitz’s office said he was not available Wednesday to talk about Baker’s closeout supp and his proposal to set aside more than $2.9 billion for Chapter 62F, a law that House leadership has floated changing.

A toxic combination of persistent staffing shortages, misaligned management priorities, and communication breakdowns up and down the chain of command created serious safety deficiencies at the MBTA, federal investigators concluded Wednesday.

Capping off a months-long investigation into high-profile safety failures at the T that in some cases have caused injuries or deaths, the Federal Transit Administration published an extensive, withering report ordering immediate fixes in the next six weeks at the MBTA and at the Department of Public Utilities, two agencies overseen by Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration.

The 90-page report paints a harrowing picture of a transit agency where critical departments are understaffed and overworked, senior leaders focus on the gleaming promise of capital projects at the expense of deteriorating infrastructure, and organizational blind spots leave higher-ups unaware of systemic problems. It also depicted a DPU that has been falling short of its statutory oversight role.

Building on the interim orders the FTA issued in June before concluding its probe, federal overseers instructed the MBTA to make changes in four major areas: staffing, safety management, internal communications, and operating conditions and policies. The DPU also faces additional requirements to ramp up its oversight of the T.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said Wednesday the T has started or is in the early stages of responding to 24 of the 53 total actions recommended by the MBTA. Three others are planned but have not yet begun, while 26 need to be planned, he said.

Several elected Democrats took aim at Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday after a scathing federal report was released documenting the MBTA’s safety deficiencies, pinning the blame on the outgoing Republican or his deputies ahead of corner-office turnover in January.

The Bay State’s two U.S. senators, Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, both slammed “the Baker Administration’s failures” as responsible for the persistent issues at the MBTA, while Congressman Seth Moulton called for clearing house at the T and rolling out “top-to-bottom changes.”

Baker has faced growing pressure for months over the chaos at the T, which has been marred by collisions, derailments, fires and other incidents that prompted a federal investigation.

Attorney General Maura Healey, who is poised to cruise to the Democratic nomination for governor, rolled out a transportation plan on Aug. 16 that includes appointing a new general manager, two deputy general managers and MBTA Board of Directors members with experience in “transit, safety, organizational management, customer service, and crisis communication.”

Partial closures of other subway lines remain on the table once the MBTA completes a 30-day shutdown of the full Orange Line for a maintenance blitz, but the agency’s leader stressed Wednesday that there are no plans to shutter the Red Line from end-to-end.

“We are not shutting down the entire Red Line for the winter, full stop,” T General Manager Steve Poftak said, referencing rumors that have circulated about the MBTA’s upcoming plans. “However, we will continue to use diversions, likely – I would say everything that’s on the drawing board right now is a partial diversion, which is a strategy we have been using for many years.”

Poftak did not provide plans for the Red Line when addressing reporters Wednesday morning, but he said the T would use “smaller and more targeted diversions regularly as one of our tactics to address the operating maintenance issue” flagged by a federal investigation.

The MBTA is 12 days into its 30-day Orange Line shutdown, and so far workers have completed about 48 percent of the work planned, Poftak told the T’s board of directors. That includes replacing 3,500 feet of track, 14,000 linear feet of rail, and replacing more than 40 percent of signals targeted.

Glenn Cunha left the inspector general’s office earlier this month after a decade on the job, but the search that began in early April for his replacement as the state’s independent watchdog is still ongoing.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s office this week said that Natalie Monroe, who had been first assistant inspector general under Cunha, was appointed as acting inspector general effective Aug. 8. As of Wednesday, the inspector general’s office website still listed Cunha as inspector general and Monroe as first assistant, and Cunha penned the opening of the office’s August newsletter, saying the month “marks the end of my second and final five-year term.”

The inspector general is appointed jointly by the governor, attorney general and state auditor. Baker and Auditor Suzanne Bump’s offices said they had no updates to provide about the search for a new IG and Attorney General Maura Healey’s office did not respond to a News Service inquiry.

The inspector general is charged under state law with acting “to prevent and detect fraud, waste and abuse in the expenditure of public funds, whether state, federal, or local, or relating to programs and operations involving the procurement of any supplies, services, or construction, by agencies, bureaus, divisions, sections, departments, offices, commissions, institutions and activities of the commonwealth, including those districts, authorities, instrumentalities or political subdivisions created by the general court and including the cities and towns.”

Monroe served as the office’s first assistant since 2012 and had previously served as the chief of the Appeals Division in the Criminal Bureau at the attorney general’s office, according to her biography. She also has experience as an administrative magistrate for the state’s Division of Administrative Law Appeals.

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