The Packet Post Update from Massachusetts State House via MassAccess October 31, 2022

Update from Massachusetts State House via MassAccess October 31, 2022

by: Press Release

Davide Gauthier
Monday, October 31, 2022:

On October 27, 2022, DPH reported there were 7,318 new, confirmed cases reported during the past 7 days, bringing the total to 1,909,721 total confirmed cases of COVID-19.

On October 25, 2022, there were 239 patients primarily hospitalized for COVID-19-related illnesses and 764 total patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

There were 61 patients in ICU and 34 patients were intubated.

There were 86 new confirmed deaths reported during the past 7 days. There have been 20,545 confirmed deaths in total.

Massachusetts lawmakers appear to be readying proposals capable of doubling as fodder for their own reelection campaigns and stimulus for the state economy, where growth has slowed in the months since legislators removed the urgency around their $4 billion economic development proposals.

The federal government reported this week that the U.S. economy rebounded in the third quarter, growing by an annual rate of 2.6 percent.

The state economy, meanwhile, barely grew over the same quarter, expanding at a 0.5 percent annual clip. State economic growth has lagged that of the U.S. in three of the last four quarters, all at a time of record state government surpluses that lawmakers have chosen to sit on despite constant prodding from Gov. Charlie Baker and others to put that money to use in sectors of the economy that need help, by helping to ease the workforce crunch, and by delivering tax relief to people who are especially vulnerable to the pinch of soaring inflation.

Beacon Hill leaders over the past few days have signaled they might be finally ready to roll out a revised economic development bill and fiscal 2022 closeout budget and see if they can get the unanimous voice votes needed to move the bills through the House and Senate during informal sessions.

A conference committee has been trying to reconcile House and Senate versions since July 26. A spending bill to wrap up the last fiscal year is commonly passed during informal, but lawmakers do not usually attempt to pass bills of the magnitude of the economic development bill after the July 31 end of formal sessions in an election year.

The $1.6 billion supplemental budget bill (H 5260) that Gov. Baker filed at the end of August to close the books on the budget year that ended June 30 has not moved since it was sent to the House Ways and Means Committee on Sept. 1.

Advancing the bill right before the election could open up representatives and senators to claims that they are using their posts for political advantage while tackling the bill after the election could lead to a different criticism: passing major bills during lame-duck sessions rather than waiting for a new Legislature to tackle the matter in January.

A major offshore wind project in the Massachusetts pipeline “is no longer viable and would not be able to move forward” under the terms of contracts filed in May and now both developers behind the state’s next two offshore wind projects are asking state regulators to pause review of the contracts for one month amid price increases, supply shortages, and interest rate hikes.

Utility executives working with assistance from the Baker administration last year chose Avangrid’s roughly 1,200-megawatt Commonwealth Wind project and a 400 MW project from Mayflower Wind in the third round of offshore wind procurement to continue the state’s pursuit of establishing cleaner offshore wind power.

But last week, Commonwealth Wind filed a motion for a one-month delay in DPU’s review, telling the state that their project can no longer move forward as planned. A one-month freeze, the developer said, “would give the parties an opportunity to evaluate the current situation facing the Project and potentially agree upon changes to the PPAs, along with other measures, that could allow the Project to return to viability.”

The developer’s brief highlights “cost-saving measures, tax incentives under the newly enacted Inflation Reduction Act, an increase in the PPA prices, and improvements to Project efficiencies” as the possible approaches to restoring their project to viability. The developer also said that it “remains fully committed to the Project and to delivering cost-effective renewable energy from the Project to the residents and businesses of Massachusetts in a manner that advances the purposes of [the state’s clean energy law] and the Commonwealth’s energy and climate policies.”

Mayflower Wind, the other developer tapped last year to help Massachusetts plug into offshore wind power, on Thursday told DPU that it supports the request from Commonwealth Wind but did not specifically say that its project is at risk.

It is unclear when a DPU decision will come, but the agency had previously set a Tuesday deadline for briefs related to the latest offshore wind contract. If approved, Mayflower Wind said its 1,200 MW “SouthCoast Project” would come online by 2028, three years later than its first project was expected to begin providing cleaner power to Massachusetts.

The first checks and direct deposits from a nearly $3 billion pot of excess tax revenue will head back to taxpayers starting on Tuesday when the calendar flips to November, the Baker administration announced Friday.

A spokesperson for the Executive Office of Administration and Finance said the money will head out the door under the voter-approved tax cap law known as Chapter 62F, which taxpayers triggered for the first time since 1987 by delivering massive amounts of taxes.

The spokesperson said about 3 million taxpayers will receive a refund in the form of a mailed check or a direct deposit worth about 14 percent of what they owed in state personal income tax in 2021. The administration plans to distribute the refunds on a rolling basis through Dec. 15. The administration had previously estimated refunds of about 13 percent of income tax liabilities.

The Baker administration previously said taxpayers needed to file a 2021 tax return by Oct. 17, 2022, to be eligible for a 62F refund, but a spokesperson said Friday the administration pushed that deadline until Sept. 15, 2023 – which is the latest date possible to file a 2021 tax return when accounting for extensions – to accommodate taxpayers who might not have been aware of the original deadline.

Citing “strong” ridership, state officials and Amtrak announced Friday that train service for passengers traveling between western Massachusetts and New York City will become permanent.

The so-called Valley Flyer service, which has been operating as a pilot program, is on track to provide 24,000 annual trips for fiscal 2023, and transportation officials said it “has continually exceeded expectations” for ridership.

The seven-day-a-week service features a connection in New Haven Union Station on the route to New York City. The announcement was made in Northampton on Friday, where the station platform was dedicated in memory of former Rep. Peter Kocot, who served in the Massachusetts Legislature from 2001 until 2018.

The service announcement comes as state officials continue to explore expanded service to better connect eastern, central, and western Massachusetts.

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