Taking a Look at Local Legislation

Westfield was well represented in State House hearings this week.

Several committees held hearings for several bills with local impact, most notably my aircraft tax bill, legislation drafted by a Westfield High senior, a bill suggested by a local health food store, and a home rule petition. All, on Tuesday.

Topmost on my hearing list Tuesday was my legislation to exempt the sale of aircraft, as well as parts and labor for repairs of airplanes, from sales tax.

The bill was born three sessions ago, when Barnes Airport’s then manager, George Gifford, approached me with the idea. The first year, it passed the Taxation Committee. The second, Taxation and Ways and Means both approved it, and it received initial approval in the House. But, time ran out before it reached the Senate, so we started all over again this past Tuesday.

Mayor Rick Sullivan, Community Development Director Jim Boardman, new Airport Manager Chris Willenborg, Jeff Rich from Gulfstream, and Gary Potts from Airflyte all traveled to Boston to testify, as did fixed base operators, pilots, aircraft owners, airport mangers and many others, to testify in favor of the bill.

The bill is one of the priorities for the area’s Economic Development Council and is supported by all seven mayors in the Pioneer Valley. No one testified against it.

Right now, Massachusetts is losing business to surrounding states with lower, or no, taxes on aircraft and parts. So business is literally flying out of state, with airplanes being purchased and hangared over the border.

What does that mean? Jobs. Construction. Money. Our 41 municipal airports in Massachusetts generate more than $900-million each year. Barnes alone accounts for $48.7-million annually.

Beyond that, think about just one corporate jet. It takes a minimum of three support employees, rental of an 8,000-square foot hangar, some 10,000 gallons of jet fuel a month, office rental, plus aircraft maintenance and cleaning. Add in services like computers, catering, florist, limos and taxis, and you’re up to $1.5-million in annual costs, even before the owner buys replacement parts or pays for repairs.

We’re not just losing corporate airplanes, we’re losing hangars and employees, at Barnes. For example, Gulfstream’s Jeff Rich testified that his company could potentially double their payroll, now at 160 employees.

The day Connecticut cut its tax, Potts testified, he lost a hangar that would have housed four planes.

This bill is important to our economy. It is not a tax cut; it is an economic incentive.

The bill has had its hearing. Written and oral testimony provided. Now, we have to wait for the Taxation Committee to decide if the bill is viable.

I’m encouraged. Partly because of the words of Senate Chair Marian Walsh:

"Exempting airplane sales, repairs and parts from the five percent state sales tax would help Massachusetts’ regional airports compete with Connecticut and New Hampshire, which have no aviation taxes. It’s clearly a situation where the sales tax is costing the people of Massachusetts a lot of money, a lot of jobs, a lot of investments."

Secondly, hats off to student Sam Azar for doggedly working to get his bill heard by the Joint Committee on Education, Arts and Humanities. Azar knew, when he contacted my office last year, that any citizen can request legislation, and he followed through from idea to testimony.

Surrounded by lobbyists and legislators, educators and parents testifying on a variety of other bills this past Tuesday, Azar held his own!

His bill would exempt students who participate in physical activities away from school from participating in physical education classes. Azar testified that, if passed, his legislation would allow more school hours for academic pursuits.

Undaunted and unintimidated by questions from legislators on the panel, Azar—like everyone else who testifies before a committee—had to be ready to answer questions. What about music students? Why just phys ed? Won’t you miss the socialization provided by class experiences? Azar didn’t flinch.

The committee will meet later, in executive session, to approve or disapprove the legislation, which is standard operating procedure for all hearings.

Other Westfield bills heard Tuesday included one suggested by Doug and Suellen Duga, from Choice Health in Westfield. They want dietary supplements exempted from sales tax, just like prescriptions.

Jonathan Evans from Chicopee’s Herbarium, got the panel’s attention when he brought in several samples and testified that items like cayenne pepper, when sold in a grocery store, is not taxed. The same product, sold as a dietary supplement in a health food store, is taxed.

Also Tuesday, a home rule petition to exempt the police chief’s secretary from civil service. The reasoning is that a chief’s secretary deals with many confidential issues and must be compatible with the chief, not just be someone whose name has risen to the top of a list.

In all, I had 20-some bills that I had sponsored or co-sponsored come up for hearings in that one day. It was also lobby day for the beer distributors as well as people interested in agriculture and fairs. I had a Banks and Banking committee hearing, met with the district attorney and … well … it was a long day.

At the end of the day, the Speaker sent daffodils. My favorite flower. Thanks, Tom.

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