Month: February 2014

Cutler Corner: Issues behind the scenes on Beacon Hill

The big hot-button issues tend to draw all the attention and headlines on Beacon Hill and usually for good reason. Gun control, medical marijuana and state foster care policies are just a few critical issues currently under debate.

Still, there are plenty of other ideas being championed that could impact our quality of life and our bottom lines in less dramatic, yet still meaningful ways. This month I’d like to call your attention to three such bills. Each is what I would call a common-sense piece of legislation and all three have garnered bi-partisan support.

Direct Shipment of Wine. Massachusetts is one of just a few states that does not allow residents to purchase wine to have it shipped to their homes. That would change under proposed legislation (H. 294) currently before the Joint Consumer Protection Committee, which I am a member of.

In its current form, the bill would allow consumers to purchase a limited quantity of wine directly from out-of-state wineries, such as that of former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe who now runs a winery in the state of Washington. He visited the State House this fall to advocate in favor of the bill and recounted the time he promised Tom Brady he would send him the 12th bottle of his first vintage to match his jersey number. Due to our state laws, however, Bledsoe was forced to ship the bottle to Brady’s father in California who reportedly drank it instead!

Some valid concerns have been raised to ensure that we do not make it easier for minors to access alcohol or harder for our local package stores to do business. For those reasons provisions have been added to limit the quantity of wine that can be shipped and include strict reporting requirements. Massachusetts has some fairly archaic alcohol laws on the books and this is an opportunity to update them to be more pro-consumer.

Charitable license plates. We’ve all seen those specialty license plates on the roads, often promoting a favorite cause. Since 2003, the Massachusetts RMV has allowed non-profit groups to raise money through the voluntary sale of specialty plates, collectively bringing in nearly $75 million for these charitable groups.

While the law has been a smashing success, its demanding requirements mean that only the biggest non-profits can qualify. Applicants must post a $100,000 bond and sell at least 1,500 plates in advance at $40 per plate and 3,000 in the first two years or risk losing their bond. Every year dozens of otherwise qualified charitable organizations fall short of this threshold, shutting them out of a valuable potential revenue stream.

Many other states have much lower thresholds for specialty plates. For instance Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey and Ohio impose minimums of no more than 500 plates and Missouri requires only 200. With new technology the additional cost of producing a specialty plate is lower and lower.

A bill, H. 3136, I am working on with my colleague Rep. Jeff Roy (D-Franklin) and a bi-partisan group of legislators, would lower this threshold in Massachusetts to 500 plates and allow more charitable groups to take advantage. The bill includes provisions to ensure that the RMV can still recoup any fixed costs for producing the plates. This is a far more manageable threshold and will allow smaller and mid-sized 501c(3) groups to apply.

All of the sudden it would not be out of the question for a local non-profit to qualify for a specialty plate. Imagine driving around town with your “Friends of the Pembroke Library”, or “Pembroke Education Foundation” specialty license plate, and knowing your extra fee was going to a great cause in your own backyard.

Mobile phone tax relief. A recent directive from the Mass. Department of Revenue has caused issues for consumers who purchase mobile phones with a service plan. Instead of paying state sales tax on the purchase price at the cash register, some consumers are being charged tax on the much higher manufacturers price.

In other words, if you paid $199 at the cash register for an iPhone but your phone is actually valued at $799 by Apple, you’d be forced to pay sales tax on $799. For an older model or a used cell phone that means you could actually pay more in sales tax than you would for the actual price of the phone!

Massachusetts is one of just two states to single out mobile phones for such disparate treatment. It is a practice that is unfair to consumers and also a headache for retailers, often putting franchise owned stores at a competitive disadvantage over stores owned by mobile phone service carriers.

A bill that Rep. Jay Barrows (R-Mansfield) and I are working on was recently given a favorable report and is now before the Ways & Means Committee. Our legislation (H. 3586) would level the playing field and treat a mobile phone purchase the same whether it was bundled with a calling plan or not. The price you pay at the register is the price you are taxed on.

So there you have it, three issues that won’t make front page headlines but are still worthy of attention. If you have questions about these bills or any other please drop me a line at josh.cutler@mahouse.gov

Cutler Corner is a monthly column published in the Pembroke Mariner by Rep Josh Cutler.

Small business summit in Hanson

HANSON – Current and prospective small business in Hanson are invited to a special Small Business Summit to get to know local town leaders and learn about many state services available to help small businesses thrive.

The event, co-hosted by Hanson Town Administrator Ron San Angelo and State Representative Josh Cutler, will be held Tuesday, March 18 at 5:30 p.m. at the Hanson Town Hall in the Selectmen’s meeting room.

This is a great opportunity for small business leaders to get to know key staff members at Hanson Town Hall and learn how the town and business community can work together. Representatives from the regional Mass. Small Business Development Center will also be on hand to explain many of the services available to help new and existing small business.

Some of these free services include guidance on how to write a business plan and launch a start-up, how to market and promote your business, how to develop a financial plan and improve cash flow and how small business can tap in to government procurement and international trade programs

“As a town we need to work with our local businesses. They are a great asset to the community and I look forward to working with them to help them be successful in their endeavors,” said Town Administrator Ron San Angelo.

Capital funding sources for launching or growing a small business will also be discussed, including details on how to tap into state and federally assisted programs, venture capital and SBA loan guarantee programs.

 “Small business is the economic engine that drives the South Shore. I applaud Hanson selectmen and town leaders for reaching out to the business community and encourage everyone to join us for this great forum and learn more about how the state can partner to help our local businesses,” said. Rep. Josh Cutler.

Sponsors of the event include state Sen. Tom Kennedy, Hanson Board of Selectmen and the Mass. Small Business Development Center Southeast Region. Light refreshments will be served.

House approves bill to repair natural gas leaks

Rep. Josh Cutler joined his colleagues in the Mass. House in approving a bi-partisan bill aimed at preventing natural gas leaks, reducing methane gas emissions and making utility companies more accountable to repair their own aging pipelines.

It is estimated that Massachusetts has 5,700 miles of leak-prone underground gas distribution pipes and in many cases consumers are forced to foot the bill for gas leaks that might occur before the gas ever reaches their property. There is little incentive for utilities to repair many of these leaks so the result is harmful methane gas being released into the atmosphere.

The bill establishes an infrastructure replacement program to accelerate the process of replacing aging pipelines in a manner that can lower capital costs for companies and gas rates for consumers. The legislation also creates uniform classification standards with corresponding requirements and timelines for repair, surveillance or reevaluation.

The legislation also creates a Gas Expansion Program which makes natural gas service available to new consumers and allows companies to offer financing programs to those switching to natural gas. This should result in cost savings for households, businesses and municipalities.

“The legislation presents a painless and inexpensive way to reduce emissions while also saving ratepayers money and preventing deadly explosions. The bill will also create jobs around the Commonwealth for those working to repair these leaky pipes,” said Rep. Lori Erlich (D-Marblehead), Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.

The legislation will also:

  • Require gas companies to coordinate surveys, replacements and repairs with municipalities and state paving organizations;
  • Mandate gas companies to report location, classification and date of leak to DPU;
  • Authorize DPU to establish a minimum winter patrol standard for cast-iron pipelines;
  • Increase worker safety by requiring minimum safety standards for utility infrastructure.

The bill passed the House unanimously and now moves to the Senate.