Beacon Hill lawmakers reject rainy day fund, redistricting amendments

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BOSTON >> Recessing until April without voting on a surtax on millionaires, Massachusetts lawmakers on Wednesday rejected constitutional amendments that would make it more difficult to withdraw money from the state's reserve account and turn redistricting duties over to an independent commission.

After the convention recessed, the House returned to session and voted 117-34 to approve a resolution (H 3985) urging Congress to pass a constitutional amendment limiting private and superPAC campaign contributions.

The convention met for less than two hours, recessing at about 2:45 p.m. until April 6 without taking action on a constitutional amendment that citizens want to bring to the 2018 ballot and which would tack a 4 percent tax on incomes above $1 million in order to generate about $1.9 billion in new revenue.

On a vote of 49-140, lawmakers rejected the amendment (S 61) that would have required roll call votes of two-thirds in the House and Senate to make withdrawals from the rainy day fund.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said achieving two thirds support for rainy day fund withdrawals should not be difficult if funds are needed for "extraordinary" purposes. The Gloucester Republican noted land takings require a recorded two-thirds vote.

Sen. Vinny deMacedo said the amendment's passage would send a strong message to Wall Street and rating analysts who alerted the state in November that they are concerned that statutorily required rainy day fund deposits are not being made. The fund had a $2.3 billion balance when the state budget weighed in at $27 billion, deMacedo said, compared to the current $1.2 billion balance with a budget approaching $40 billion.

Senate Ways and Means Chair Karen Spilka said decisions to withdraw rainy day funds have not been made "lightly" and said rebuilding the fund is a priority and is "critically important." She said she hopes to see the fund's balance eventually reach $3 billion and opposed the amendment, noting it could impede the ability to withdraw from the fund in emergencies.

Reps. Paul Frost, David Vieira and Geoff Diehl along with House Minority Leader Brad Jones also spoke in favor of the amendment, while Reps. Benjamin Swan, Peter Kocot and Angelo Scaccia, along with Sens. Joan Lovely and John Keenan spoke in opposition.

The independent redistricting commission amendment was defeated 43-145.

Jones said it was the "perfect time" to pass the amendment since an independent commission could be in place for the next decennial redistricting effort. Jones also noted President Barack Obama endorsed the idea in his State of the Union address and said passing the amendment would represent a "fitting farewell" to the president.

Election Laws Committee Chair Rep. John Mahoney opposed the amendment, saying "no one else" understands the districts of the House better than the lawmakers who represent those districts. Mahoney said the argument that an independent commission would create district maps that would not be challenged in court is "misleading" and not true.

Also opposing the amendment, Rep. Michael Moran said Massachusetts is not among the 42 states that have been sued since the last round of redistricting in the states in 2010, and is the largest and most ethnically diverse of the eight states not sued.

Moran and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg led the most recent effort to redraw House, Senate and Congressional district boundaries.

The convention adopted Sen. Ken Donnelly's motion to postpone action on an amendment (S 53) favored by opponents of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling and stating in part that "money is not free speech and may be regulated."

The Constitutional Convention will return from recess at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6.


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