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August 30, 2023

With no tax relief in sight, business groups worried about complacent approach

Photo | Flickr | Ajay Suresh The Massachusetts State House

Some of the powerful players in Massachusetts' business community are getting impatient for long-promised, and long-delayed, tax relief as August stretches on without action.

The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Massachusetts Society of CPAs released a joint statement Tuesday urging lawmakers to "quickly finalize the first step in strategic tax reform that will benefit residents, families, businesses, and the economy."

"Massachusetts is moving in the wrong direction on tax policy compared to other states," the Chamber and MassCPAs said. "At least 10 states reduced their personal income tax rate on January 1, 2023, including three that switched to a flat income tax, while Massachusetts was the only state to increase income taxes. Moreover, no less than five states reduced their corporate income tax rate in 2023. Competitive tax policies are a pillar for other states that are aggressively campaigning to attract businesses and talent, while Massachusetts is falling behind."

Politicians first promised that they would deliver tax cuts last year, but backed down when unexpected rebates owed to taxpayers diverted $3 billion out of state coffers. Gov. Maura Healey came into office in January with pledges to steer tax relief across the finish line, and the House and Senate advanced revived and revised proposals.

Lawmakers left a $581 million hole in the fiscal year 2024 state budget to cover the expected impact of a relief package, yet no tax code changes have taken effect as the specific reform details remain mired in Democrat-led negotiations.

Legislative leaders have not signaled when they plan to return to formal business after a long stretch of inactivity in August, when many lawmakers take vacations.

MassCPAs President and CEO Amy Pitter called for prompt action by warning that "Massachusetts is at a serious inflection point."

"We have seen from our own data, which is supported by recent IRS information, that outmigration is on the rise, particularly among higher income taxpayers. While there are many reasons for it, one thing is clear, tax policy and Massachusetts' outlier status is a primary reason," she said. "To protect our tax base and attract the talent and businesses we need to thrive, we can no longer be complacent. Bold action is needed now to send a loud message that Massachusetts is serious about protecting our resources and competing in today’s global environment. We’re grateful to the Chamber and our tax and legal expert members for their continued work on this critical matter."

Healey's relief proposal included a new, streamlined credit for parents and caregivers, which would give taxpayers $600 per year for each dependent including children younger than 13, disabled adults and seniors.

She also wanted to double the senior circuit breaker credit, increase the cap on rent deduction, and put forward controversial changes to triple the threshold at which the estate tax kicks in and slash the short-term capital gains tax rate from 12 percent to 5 percent. Opponents say these cuts would give businesses an unfair break, while supporters say the business-friendly changes make the state more competitive.

The Senate opted against adjusting the short-term capital gains tax rate in its package, while the House's plan follows Healey's in reducing the rate from 12 percent to 5 percent. The Senate also left out the House's proposal to create a single sales factor apportionment, a measure backed by the business community that would calculate taxes based only on the portion of a corporation's sales that occur in the commonwealth.

MassCPAs and the Chamber said they support reforming the "archaic" estate tax, adopting a single sales factor apportionment, reducing the short-term capital gains tax rate, rejecting joint filing requirements and increasing housing, family and transit tax deductions and credits.

"These tax changes would positively impact the decisions of employers and economic decision makers. Businesses -- including small and local ones -- will see a strong signal that they are valued. Employees will directly benefit from a number of personal income tax changes," the groups said in their statement.

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