A meeting held behind closed doors at the Massachusetts governor's office regarding the highly contentious state tax on software services drew together mostly a collection of those supportive of the tax and colleagues of the governor to discuss a possible repeal.
The invite-only meeting drew together around 15 legislators and business owners Wednesday morning in Governor Deval Patrick's office, according to those who attended the meeting. Attendees of the meeting said it was "constructive," but the governor and legislators made no promises one way or the other on the issue.
Scheduled to attend from the legislature were House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Therese Murray, House and Senate Ways and Means Chairmen Stephen Brewer and Brian Dempsey. Sen. Brewer's office said he was unable to attend the event. All four of the legislators voted for the tax to be implemented in July. Also scheduled to attend from Massachusetts State House were Administration and Finance Secretary Glen Shor and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki.
In addition, Gov. Patrick gathered seven business leaders from around the state. President of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation Michael Widmer, Verizon New England Regional President Donna Cupelo, Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council President Tom Hopcroft, partner at Flybridge Capital Partners Jeff Bussgang, Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange President Debi Kleima, co-founder of William Edmundson and Associates Phil Edmundson and President of Assembla Andy Singleton were listed as those who attended the meeting. The governor's press office could not confirm a list of who actually attended the event, and most of those who attended did not respond to CRN's calls or emails for comment.
While many of the attendees have connections to the Massachusetts software industry as consultants, investors or leaders of business groups, only Assembla's Singleton is actually involved in a company that faces the direct implications of the tax.
Five of the seven business leaders are involved as leaders of the governor's various initiatives in tech, healthcare, education and business development in the state. Six of the seven are listed at multiple events with the governor across the past couple of years. Four have donated to Patrick's campaign, for a total of $5,650 since 2006.
"[Patrick] definitely knew what he was doing," said Singleton, in reference to the meeting's invited guest list consisting primarily of Patrick supporters. Singleton, along with only two other attendees, signed the petition to repeal the tax on the November 2014 ballot that was recently certified by the state attorney general.
The governor's press office could not comment on why the governor chose to invite this specific group of legislators and business leaders.
Rep. Dan Winslow, who voted against the tax, said that the meeting was a good sign that those who voted for the tax might be willing to swallow their pride and discuss a repeal.
"My first impression was that it was the first ever for the Democrats [who predominantly voted for the tax] to retreat from their bad tax," Winslow said.
Winslow said that the discussion seems to be moving more toward replacing the tax rather than repealing it. However, he said at this point, those who voted for the tax can't keep ignoring the growing ire in the state's business community.
"There's just no way," Winslow said. "It would be suicide -- political suicide."
Carl Rubin, operations manager at software consultancy firm Monument Data Solutions LLC in Needham, Mass., said that if legislators met with people actually trying to implement the tax on their business, they would be appalled at the administrative burden it presents for businesses.
"They need to invite someone who is actually doing the work, not some corporate worker or lawyer; they need someone who is doing the work and making the decision," Rubin said. "The only way you can understand this is if you talk to the people who do the work."
PUBLISHED SEPT. 5, 2013