The legislator that is pushing back against the now infamous Massachusetts tech tax with newly presented legislation for its repeal voted at least three times for the tax to be implemented despite being an active legislative leader in the technology industry.
State Sen. Karen Spilka's (D) proposal of the tax repeal comes just a few months after she announced her candidacy for Ed Markey's vacant U.S. congressional seat, of which many of the towns are state technology centers.
Before her recent change of heart, Spilka voted at least three times for the tax, depending on how you count, said state Sen. Bruce Tarr (R), who proposed three amendments that would strike the tax from the bill, two specifically targeted at the software services tax. She could be seen to have voted for the tax as many as six times, he said, depending on how it is counted.
"This is something that is very concerning," Spilka said. "It really is taking over the conversation everywhere we go. We need to send the message that we really want the tech industry to grow and thrive here. And this tax seems to go against this."
A few months ago, Spilka gave a similar message at the launch of a Tech Caucus with other legislators and industry members. At the end of February, Spilka helped launch the group, around the same time the tax was proposed. The Caucus was designed to inform the legislature about the importance of the tech industry to the economy.
"It's this partnership that lets us in the legislature learn more about our role in helping Massachusetts companies thrive," said Spilka at the caucus' first meeting on June 12. "And that is part of what we are here for -- to help Massachusetts companies grow here, come here and stay here."
Spilka and her associates voted to pass the tax into law on July 24, little more than a month after the meeting in which Spilka professed the legislature's support for the technology industry. Spilka pointed out four members of the legislature at the speech, indicated they were present at the event and thanked them for their support of the technology community. All four named also voted to push through the tax as part of the transportation bill.
Despite being co-chair of the Caucus, Spilka said that she did not hear any complaints about the tax prior to her vote. It was only after the bill was implemented that she started to get a flood of feedback from her constituents.
"I have to rely on the tech companies and the industry," Spilka said of her votes. "They're the experts. I'm not. And at that point in time [when the bill was passed] there was no feedback given."
Tarr said that he objected to the lack of public process and public hearings involved with the tax, which left the legislature without a true sense of the possible consequences. "It reinforces that we've had a policy, with this and other parts of the transportation bill, of tax now ask later, and that's not how it should be," said Tarr.
Spilka said that the tax was presented to her as what it was intended to do, and without further information from her constituents, she voted for it. Now, she is spearheading newly proposed legislation to pull the tax back in wake of the response.
"I don't think anyone realized how much of a burden and how complicated this is," Spilka said. She added that many of the complaints she received were from small businesses, who seemed particularly hard hit by the tax. "I feel like we need better discussion and we need more alternatives to raise the $160 million," she said, referring to estimates of how much the proposed tax is expected to raise.
Tarr agreed that legislation was needed to repeal the tax and said he actually planned to file a similar measure himself. He said that he has opposed the tax since the beginning and will continue to do so, whether through legal channels or on the ballot.
"This may be a new proposal, certainly on her part, but it's not new for us," Tarr said. Now that the repeal is before the legislature, it will be assigned to a committee and put before a hearing before finally being voted on. Spilka said that if businesses wanted to show their support for the tax's repeal, they should contact their local legislator and urge them to vote for the repeal legislation.
PUBLISHED AUG. 16, 2013