BOSTON — Hoping members of the new state Legislature sworn into office Wednesday will protect taxpayers’ interests, state Reps. David Nangle and Colleen Garry each plan to refile high-profile pieces of legislation that would do just that.
Nangle, a Lowell Democrat, plans to refile legislation that would require certain nonprofit organizations to pay a portion of property taxes to the community where it functions. Currently, these nonprofits are exempt from property taxes, and the community loses the ability to tax the land or property purchased by that nonprofit.
Garry’s legislation would rein in large payouts for unused sick and vacation time to retiring state employees.
Both pieces of legislation were received favorably during the last legislative session, however they failed to advance as the session expired.
Nangle’s legislation would focus on nonprofit hospitals and would affect about 5,000 nonprofit organizations across the state, Nangle said.
“I want to make that clear from the get-go … the Boys and Girls Clubs, the YMCAs, the shelters, those are all going to be exempt based upon the language in the bill,” Nangle said, pointing out a detail that may have been misunderstood in the last legislative cycle. “The language in the bill is specifically going to be the ones that are actually hiding under the pretenses of a nonprofit.”
“These companies, these learning institutions, these medical institutions, in every city or town, they’re using public services, the police, the fire, the public works, yet they’re completely exempt from property tax,” he said.
Nangle cited the controversial UMass Lowell purchase of the Perkins Park residential development last year, and said he is concerned about the burden of the $321,000 property tax bill that will now fall on Lowell taxpayers because as a state entity, UML does not pay property taxes.
In Nangle’s bill, he will propose a sliding scale for nonprofits to pay property taxes over four years after purchasing a building or piece of land. They would pay 100 percent of property taxes in the first year, 75 percent in the second, 50 percent in the third, and 25 percent in the fourth.
Though unsuccessful last cycle, the bill started a conversation several months ago that Nangle is hopeful will continue after a financially tight year in Massachusetts.
“At the end of the day, when it all comes out, there are potentially billions left on the table in the taxes for individual cities and towns,” he said. “My whole gist of this simply is to take the burden off the homeowners in the city of Lowell and throughout the state.”
Garry, a Dracut Democrat, said she has similar concerns about the payment of property taxes for nonprofit group homes that have moved into Dracut and Tyngsboro.
She said residents in these towns feel they are being taken advantage of when their public services or schools are in need of money, but the nonprofit organizations are not contributing.
“When we’re struggling to keep our police officers and firefighters on the streets, we need the help of everybody,” she said. “They (nonprofits) shouldn’t be making more of the calls and not paying anything.”
In another effort to save money and help middle-class families, Garry plans to reintroduce her own bill from the last legislative cycle, an act that would limit the amount of unused sick and vacation time public employees can buy back.
Garry filed the bill last May, after learning about “extraordinary payouts” made to two former Middlesex Community College employees. Former President Carole Cowan was paid $207,807 — $141,241 for 20 percent of accrued, unused sick leave; and $66,565 (480 hours) of accrued, unused vacation leave.
Jay Linnehan, MCC’s longtime executive vice president, was paid $115,500 — $70,846, for 20 percent of accrued, unused sick leave; and $44,653 (480 hours) of accrued, unused vacation leave.
Previously met by opposition from teachers’ unions, Garry’s bill would limit total buyback to 15 percent of the total accrued.
“Public service is service,” she said. “We’re not supposed to be getting rich on it.”
Garry hopes to clear up a misconception from the previous legislative cycle that the bill would affect anyone who has previously bargained their contract in good faith. The legislation would only affect those bargaining after the bill would take effect, she said.
Garry added that the legislation had been previously been submitted as a late-file bill, and she hopes the earlier file this cycle will give it a bigger spotlight.
“We’ll be filing it at the right time, instead of a late file, and hopefully with the new president, there’ll be more push for some of these things that the average middle-class person is frustrated with,” she said.
Lowell Democrat Tom Golden, who had previously been a stronger supporter of Garry’s bill, said he is also hopeful that legislators will go into this year with a new perspective.
He said both Nangle and Garry are presenting legislation to help the middle class and ensure “everyone’s getting a fair shake.”
“I’m more optimistic that people are really starting to ask themselves, what are we doing for the true middle class on a daily basis?” he said. “And that’s Democrats and Republicans. I don’t think that splits by party line.”
“We are very generous in some of our benefits that we give to the most needy communities,” he said, “and sometimes we have to be a little more generous to folks who pay all the bills.”
Felicia Gans writes for the Boston University Statehouse Program.