By Katie Lannan
State House News Service
BOSTON — After alluding to tax reform in an address to her colleagues last week, Senate President Karen Spilka sketched out a few more details of her approach to taxation over the weekend.
In two Sunday television show appearances, Spilka said she wants everything to be on the table when it comes to new taxes and reiterated her support for taxing incomes over $1 million, an idea that requires passage of a constitutional amendment.
Spilka, who as she was sworn into her first full term last week laid out an agenda that includes tackling education funding, transportation, climate change, income inequality and health care costs, stopped short of calling for new or higher taxes.
She told WBZ-TV’s Jon Keller that she was “not necessarily saying we need broad-based tax increases right now,” and on WCVB’s “On the Record” said she thinks there are “lots of ideas without new taxes” around education and transportation.
“What I would like to do is have whoever is chair of the Revenue Committee on the Senate convene a group of senators, experts in the field,” Spilka told Keller. “Our economy is growing so rapidly with so many technological changes, we haven’t been keeping up, we’ve been doing it piecemeal. We make laws to change in how we tax the home-sharing or the ride-sharing businesses, but we’re years behind.
You know the Legislature moves slowly, it takes time, so it not only decreases our tax revenue but in terms of regulation and handling all the new economy, the new technology, it creates a lot of confusion for the businesses, government officials, consumers themselves. It would be great if we could figure out some way to do it more proactively, look at what a 21st century tax system should be.”
Last Wednesday, after her colleagues elected her Senate president, Spilka said the state must create “an economic development and tax framework for the 21st century where innovative technology-driven businesses can develop and thrive here, but where we also capture new revenue to continue providing essential services, and fund our vision for our future.”
Under former Senate President Stan Rosenberg, the Senate often convened working groups outside the Legislature’s joint committee structure to explore and refine policy ideas.
Rosenberg stepped down from the presidency in December 2017 and resigned his seat last May amid a scandal involving sexual harassment allegations his husband, Bryon Hefner.
Spilka told “On the Record” hosts Janet Wu and Ed Harding that she believes the Senate is “moving forward” after a tumultuous year.
“I want to know what’s going on in the Senate,” she said. “It has to be a respectful, welcoming, diverse body that not only wants to have diversity, but celebrates it.”
Five new senators joined the 40-member body after last year’s elections, and Spilka said they are “all smart, passionate, and I think they will be very vocal, which is great.”
The new senators — Jo Comerford of Northampton, Diana DiZoglio of Methuen, Barry Finegold of Andover, Ed Kennedy of Lowell and Rebecca Rausch of Needham — took their seats on Wednesday. On Thursday, Gov. Charlie Baker was sworn in for a second term.
Wu asked Spilka about a moment in Baker’s inaugural address, when many lawmakers, including House Speaker Robert DeLeo, stood and clapped after Baker mentioned closing a structural budget deficit, ending last year with a budget surplus, and depositing more than $650 million into the stabilization fund “without raising taxes.”
Spilka offered more subdued applause and did not stand. Wu asked if that indicated she’d be “at loggerheads” with Baker and DeLeo over raising taxes.
“I don’t think so,” Spilka said, noting that lawmakers from both the House and the Senate last session voted to advance the millionaire’s income surtax to the 2018 ballot. The question never came before voters because the Supreme Judicial Court ruled it improperly mixed the unrelated subjects of taxation and funding for education and transportation.
In the same interview, Spilka tread similar ground as Baker, discussing what lawmakers have accomplished in recent years without major tax hikes.
“Every year, we’ve put tens of millions of new dollars into the K-12 education system, the House has focused on early ed, the Senate on K-12,” she said. “We haven’t raised taxes but we’ve accomplished it. We’ve put lots of money, we have over $2 billion in the stabilization fund, we’ve over doubled the amount in the last couple of years. We haven’t raised taxes. So we have done a good job at being, I believe, fiscally responsible, but there’s still a lot more to do.”