The Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants last week launched the Financial Literacy for Newcomers Program

The state Senate working group formed to take a deep dive into tax policy and recommend ways to modernize and update the tax code will hold closed meetings, according to its chairman.

Sen. Adam Hinds of Pittsfield, who also co-chairs the Joint Committee on Revenue, told the News Service that the working group will hold six regional hearings to take public testimony but will keep its monthly business meetings closed in an effort to facilitate “honest conversation” among group members.

“It’s my inclination to do it this way,” said Hinds, who has described the group’s charge as modernizing and simplifying the state tax code by recommending legislative changes for consideration in the 2021-2022 legislative session.

The group’s first meeting is set for 2 p.m. on May 15 in the Senate Reading Room. Its members include a former lieutenant governor and revenue commissioner, representatives of big businesses and labor unions, and several appointees who favor changes to boost revenue and make taxes fairer for low-income workers.

Senate President Karen Spilka held a press conference last month to announce the working group, whose members will work with senators to hash out possible tax code changes that take into account online trends and the ongoing shift from a goods-based to a service-based economy.

Hinds said the public hearing schedule is not set yet, but he anticipates hearings in Boston, Worcester, Springfield, the Berkshires, the Lawrence area and in the New Bedford-Fall River area.

The working group also plans to form subcommittees. Hinds said it will be up to each subcommittee to decide whether to hold open or closed meetings.

The decision of the Senate’s tax task force to hold closed meetings is the latest strike against transparency on Beacon Hill. The legislature is not subject to the public records or open meeting laws, House and Senate Democrats often meet in closed caucuses and voting on bills often occurs via electronic polls that are not publicized.

Legislative conference committees – groups of six House and Senate members that negotiate compromise bills when the House and Senate are in disagreement – also meet in closed sessions, although they have the option to open talks. While it’s unclear why lawmakers can’t hold honest and open negotiations, legislators over the years have said they feel they can be more candid with one another if sessions are not open to the public or the media.

While the working group meetings will be members-only, with outside experts invited to attend on occasion, Hinds agreed to serve public notice of the time, date and location of the group’s meetings and said he would make himself available after the meetings to talk about what was discussed.

“I do think it’s important that we’re involving the public as much as possible,” said Hinds, a former United Nations negotiator.

When she announced the working group in April, Spilka said she the panel would look at the tax code “in a real comprehensive, systematic manner that I don’t think has happened on a combination of the corporate level and personal-income level in decades.”

Beacon Hill to Hold Closed-Door Meetings on Tax Changes

by State House News Service time to read: 2 min