Legislative News

11/20/2020

Massachusetts Senate Passes $46 Billion Fiscal Year 2021 Budget

The Massachusetts Senate passed their $46 billion fiscal year 2021 budget late last night with a unanimous vote of 40-0. The budgets from both branches of the Legislature now go to a conference committee where details will be finalized before landing on Governor Baker’s desk for review and potential signature. The Senate budget price tag largely mirrors both the House and Governor’s and it does not call for new revenues or raising taxes.

Like the Governor’s and House budget proposals, the Senate budget includes the language relative to partnership audits, which would enable the Department of Revenue (DOR) to collect tax from partnerships or from individual partners in cases where the partnership accounts for the federal tax as a result of changes in federal partnership auditing rules in order to avoid significant revenue loss.

The Senate also adopted language that will accelerate sales tax collections from businesses that collect and remit more than $150,000 from sales taxes in a year that reportedly would collect $267 million.

Leading up to the budget discussions, Senate leaders stated they had little interest in instituting new taxes on corporations in this budget. On Tuesday, an amendment that would increase taxes on businesses was withdrawn. Lawmakers say that discussions on new revenue will commence in 2021 as they begin to craft a state budget for Fiscal Year 2022.

We should know more details in the coming days and will provide that information to you once we have it.

Governor Baker Announces $10 Million to Community Foundations for COVID-19 Relief

Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito announced a $10 million fund to support individuals and households experiencing severe economic hardships due to COVID-19.

The money is distributed among 14 community organizations across Massachusetts and can be used for housing and utilities, food security, emergency childcare and more.

For more information on this program, click here.

Governor Baker Announces Additional Restrictions to Curb COVID-19 Cases

In early November, Governor Baker released a series of executive orders aimed to “disrupt rising trends” of positive COVID-19 cases. Included in the orders and advisories are:

These advisories and orders became effective on November 6.

Guidance for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) DOR & IRS Updates
U.S. Department of Labor Announce Online Portal for Paid Leave Eligibility
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released an online portal through which workers can determine their eligibility for paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).To view the Families First Coronavirus Response Act FAQs, click here.

Massachusetts Resources

Reopening Massachusetts: We are in Phase 3 of out reopening plan. For more information, click here.

DUA Unemployment Scam: If you believe you may have had a false unemployment claim filed using your identity, contact the DUA here or at 877.626.6800. Please stay vigilant.

Additional information on this will be posted here as it becomes available.Department of Public Health (DPH): Click here to read updates from the DPH regarding COVID-19.

Division of Local Services (DLS): For those who work with cities and towns across the Commonwealth, the DLS has a dedicated webpage that provides finance guidance to city and town officials related to the state of emergency. For more information, click here.For urgently needed guidance, please email the DLS.

Older Coverage

Massachusetts 2020 General Election Results
In what is likely to be a record-setting election turnout in Massachusetts, former Vice President Joe Biden captured over two million votes to President Donald Trump’s 1 million plus votes. For a results breakdown by city and town, click here.Massachusetts voters decided to send Senator Markey and the rest of the Congressional delegation back to Washington D.C. for another term. Voters in the Fourth Congressional District elected Democrat Newton City Councilor, Jake Auchincloss, over Republican opponent Julie Hall. To read more about the Massachusetts Congressional elections, click here.The Massachusetts House of Representatives maintained its supermajority as the Senate Democrats expanded their majority by one and now holds 37 of the 40 seats. To read more about the Massachusetts Legislature races, click here.There were also a number of county races throughout the Commonwealth that haven’t garnered as much media attention as the other competitive races. For more information on those races, click here.The well-funded ballot questions that commanded the airwaves for months were decided in convincing fashion. Voters overwhelmingly voted yes on Question 1, the “Right to Repair” campaign and voted no on Question 2, on Ranked Choice Voting.The official results will be posted to the Secretary of State’s Office webpage once all towns and cities finish counting the ballots. Once that information is finalized, you'll be able to view it here.Massachusetts October Tax Collections a 3.5% Increase from October 2019
The Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) collected $2.089 billion in October and reported that “collections are running 1% ahead of their fiscal year 2020 pace” as a total of $9.347 billion has been collected in the first four months of fiscal year 2021.DOR Commissioner Geoffrey Snyder projects tax revenues will come in-between $25.918 billion and $28.387 billion by the end of June 2021, which represents a decline of $2.76 billion to $5.23 billion from fiscal year 2020 total collections of $29.596 billion.Massachusetts House of Representatives Meet to Close Fiscal Year 2020  
The Massachusetts House of Representatives will hold a formal session to advance legislation that provides supplemental appropriations in order to finalize the fiscal year 2020 budget, which ended June 30, 2020.Outlined in the “close out bill” is: To read the supplemental bill and all provisions outlined in the legislation, click here.Governor Baker Launches $115 Million Economic Stimulus Program for Massachusetts’ Small Businesses
Governor Baker released an economic stimulus program aimed at assisting struggling small businesses with various expenses including payroll costs, rent and personal protective equipment.As part of a $50.8 million grant program included within the stimulus package, eligible businesses may receive grants of up to $75,000, which are made available through the Massachusetts Capital Growth Corporation.Applications for the small business grants are accepted until 12:00 p.m. next Thursday, November 12.To apply for a small business grant and for more information on the grant program, click here.New England Advocacy Coalition November Newsletter
The New England Advocacy Coalition released its November newsletter on happenings specific to each state in the New England region.To read the newsletter. click here.IRS: Renew Preparer Tax Identification Numbers
In preparation for the 2021 tax season, the IRS is encouraging tax preparers to renew their PTINs before the December 31, 2020 expiration date.For more information, click here.Governor Baker Releases Updated Fiscal Year 2021 Budget
In October, Governor Baker released an updated budget for Fiscal Year 2021 based on revised revenue estimates. The $45 billion budget raises no taxes, ensures no budget cuts and projects a roughly $3.6 billion revenue shortfall than what was originally forecasted in January 2020 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new budget comes a week after an economic roundtable coordinated by the Joint Committee on Ways and Means and the Executive Office for Administration and Finance. The Governor’s new budget provides better context of the fiscal state of the Commonwealth for lawmakers as they continue their own discussions on how to best craft a budget for the remaining months of the current fiscal year.The revised budget calls for a withdrawal of up to $1.35 billion from the Commonwealth’s Stabilization Fund, a figure that could be reduced based on whether tax collections exceed expectations. According to the fiscal overview provided by the Governor’s office, the budget is built to absorb the “income tax rate decrease from 5.05% to 5% effective January 1, 2020” and proposes a one-year delay for the state charitable deduction scheduled to begin January 1, 2021.Also included in the Governor’s budget are sales tax modernization provisions that would:
  1. Require that vendors file returns for the sales and use tax, the local option meals excise and the room occupancy tax within 30 days after the relevant filing period;
  2. Require vendors to remit an initial payment of the sales and use tax, the local option meals excise and room occupancy tax, if said vendors collected more than $150,000 in the previous year;
  3. Require(s) third-party processors (predominantly credit card companies) to remit to the Commonwealth on a daily basis, the portion of a sale that is attributable to sales tax, with an effective date of July 1, 2024; and
  4. Impose civil penalties on those who sell or install "zapper" software, which is software that falsifies the electronic records of electronic cash registers and other point-of-sale systems.
The Governor also included language relative to partnership audits, which would enable the Department of Revenue (DOR) to collect tax from partnerships or from individual partners in cases where the partnership accounts for the federal tax as a result of changes in federal partnership auditing rules in order to avoid significant revenue loss.The legislature will debate the Governor’s revised budget and will likely offer its own budget sometime after the November 3 elections.Massachusetts Primary Election Results U.S. Senate 
There were a few hotly contested races on the September 1 Primary Election Day, but none more than that between incumbent Senator Ed Markey and challenger Congressman Joseph Kennedy III. After a year-long campaign, Senator Markey bested Congressman Kennedy with around 55% of the vote. On the Grand Old Party (GOP) side, Attorney Kevin O’Connor defeated Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai with 59% of the vote. Senator Markey and O’Connor will face each other in the November 3 general election.

Massachusetts First Congressional District 
In a race at the First Congressional District that caught the eye of national media outlets in the last few weeks, Congressman Richie Neal, chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, defeated Alex Morse, mayor of the City of Holyoke. While Congressman Neal won with almost 59% of the vote, this was said to be his most challenging primary to date. Many suspect that 31-year-old Mayor Morse will be around elected politics in Western Massachusetts for years to come.

Massachusetts Fourth Congressional District
About 1,000 votes between the top two candidates in a seven-person race in the fourth Congressional District, currently represented by Congressman Kennedy, will decide the Democrat party’s nominee for the November general election. In a race that is still too close to call, Jake Auchincloss, Newton city councilor, and Jesse Mermell, former president of the Alliance for Business Leadership, both hope to be their party’s nominee to face off against the Republican nominee, Air Force veteran, Colonel Julie Hall (Ret.).WBUR has a full list of election results including additional contested congressional and county races. To learn more, click here.

Fiscal Year 2020 Closes $3 Billion Short of 2019 Projections
The over $4 billion in tax collections for the month of July was a welcomed surprise, but the close of the fiscal year fell around $3 billion short of the revenue projections set in 2019. About half of the July collections will help close the $3 billion budget gap and the other half will go towards crafting the FY21 budget. As many sectors of the economy continue to struggle and with the virus promising to stay around for quite some time, Governor Baker and administration officials don’t believe the July returns signify the beginning of a trend. We will learn more about the economic status of Massachusetts once we are able to see the August and September collections, which are less likely to be as positive as July.

Massachusetts to Continue Taxing Telecommuters
The Massachusetts Department of Revenue released a technical information release (TIR) in July stating they will continue to tax telecommuters, including non-residents, to the end of this year. The declaration sparked an outcry from our New Hampshire neighbors, which led to NH governor Chris Sununu directing the NH attorney general to review the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s TIR to ensure that NH residents are not being “improperly taxed.”In an interview with WBUR Radio Boston last week, MSCPA President and CEO Amy Pitter agreed with Massachusetts’ approach as any changes to this process would require employers to “jump through a lot of very complicated hoops and [rework] their payroll systems for something that’s only going to be in place for a number of months.” To listen to Pitter’s interview with WBUR, click here

Massachusetts Legislature Releases $16.5 Billion Interim Budget to Fund State Government through October 
The Massachusetts legislature announced a $16.5 billion interim budget that will fund state government services through October 31. This proposal comes as legislators continue discussions on how to both close the FY20 budget and craft a budget for FY21. Beacon Hill leaders are waiting to see what level of federal relief, if any, comes from Washington, D.C. to assist with the budget gap. 

Legislators are also discussing an extension to its formal legislative session as there are multiple high-profile bills currently being debated. As the formal session concludes tomorrow, we should know more details on the potential extension soon, and we will share that information with you when it’s available. 

MSCPA President and CEO Amy Pitter will take a leading role in these discussions through her involvement with the Senate Revenue Working Group, which has shifted gears to assist in finding quality solutions for the significant economic and financial problems Massachusetts faces. Pitter is convening a group of business leaders in the next week to discuss the difficult path forward and ensure that individual taxpayers and local businesses don’t bear the brunt of tax burdens.
The MSCPA compiled a list of business community tax policy principles to guide these discussions. To read the principles, click here

There are several major initiatives waiting for action before the legislature breaks in August. For a summary of the “nine Issues to watch over the next nine days,” please click here.

Senate GOP Unveils the $1 Trillion HEALS Act
In August, the Senate GOP unveiled its HEALS Act, a $1 trillion piece of legislation that would send payments of up to $1,200 to qualifying individuals, providing funds for school openings, bolstering unemployment assistance and more. The legislation does not provide funding for state and local governments, a main policy point for democrat lawmakers in the House and Senate.In May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the $3.2 trillion HEROES Act that would also provide payments of up to $1,200 to individuals, as well as funding for community hospitals, COVID-19 testing, state and local governments and much more. Now that the Senate and the House have produced each of its own federal relief legislation, leaders in each branch of Congress will begin discussions to find a compromise on a final bill. 

We hope that both branches of Congress and the White House find a compromise that would provide much-need relief to state and local governments before drastic measures are taken. 

Read the key differences of both federal relief bills here

The MSCPA led the charge of 28 state societies of CPAs advocating for federal funding for state and local governments. To read our letter to congressional leadership, click here.

Governor Baker Implements Travel Order Effective 8/1
As the number of COVID-19 positive cases begins to increase, Governor Baker issued a travel order to all visitors, including residents returning to Massachusetts, to complete a Massachusetts travel form and requiring them to quarantine for 14 days or produce a negative COVID-19 test. Travelers returning from lower-risk states as designated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health are exempt from completing the form or quarantining. Failure to comply with the COVID-19 travel order are subject to a $500 fine per day.For more information, click here.

Massachusetts DOR: How Does the CARES Act Impact MA State Tax?
The Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) recently released a blog post outlining the Massachusetts tax implications of the provisions in the CARES Act and how they affect individual and business and corporate tax filers. 

To read the blog post, click here

To read the Technical Information Release on the Massachusetts Tax Implications of the CARES Act, click here.

IRS Lock Box Locations
The IRS recently published a 2020 Lockbox Address Directory for tax practitioners and taxpayers. Please take note that the addresses to mail returns varies by form and whether or not a payment is included with the returns.

Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA) Model Rule Change to Support CPA Evolution
The AICPA and National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) leadership recently proposed changes to the Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA) to ensure the CPA credential reflects the rapidly changing landscape of the accounting profession and the necessary skills CPAs need today and will need in the future. The exposure draft issued by NASBA updates the educational requirements that create more flexibility and consistency and would:  Massachusetts Economists: Q2 Will be Worst in Recorded History
The MassBenchmarks Editorial Board, comprised of leading economists and financial experts in Massachusetts, recently suggested that the Q2 of 2020 is likely to be the worst financial quarter in recorded Massachusetts history. Between March 15 and May 30, the Department of Unemployment Assistance received over 1.4 million new claims, representing one-third of the Massachusetts workforce and led to a 15% unemployment rate in April.

Economic recovery will be largely based on public health data, employee comfortability to return to work, financial assistance from the federal government and whether a second wave of the virus hits in the future. MassBenchmarks advises against making cuts to services that would have long-term ramifications, put more people out of work and on unemployment. Solutions provided to bridge the gap include tapping into existing reserves and raising taxes temporarily.

Separately, but on a related note, the Boston Globe Editorial Board this week called for the state to borrow through bonding to avoid budget cuts and increased taxes.

U.S. Congress Passes Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020
In an unanimous vote last night, the U.S Senate passed the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020. The legislation, which moved through the U.S. House of Representatives last week, creates more flexibility for borrowers and extends the time period for businesses to use the funds from eight weeks to 24 weeks, and changes the ratio from 75/25 to 60/40 for payroll to other fixed costs. Other updates include: The bill now goes to the President's desk for his signature. 

To learn more about the details in the legislation, click here.

Professional Resources

MSCPA Legislative Brief
This newsletter offers information and resources available through the federal and state governments regarding business loan programs, updates from the Departments of Labor and Health, and news as it relates to the impacts of COVID-19 on the accounting profession, the economy and the Society. Check out past issues here.

Coronavirus Resource Center for CPAs
For a full list of Massachusetts relief programs and professional resources, please visit the MSCPA’s Coronavirus Resource Center for CPAs.

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