Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan has officially proposed a meals tax for Braintree residents, which would generate $900,000 annually for the town.
The Town Council has looked into the meals tax twice previously, and voted it down both times. Yet Councilor John Mullaney is not one to be deterred, and brought it up again for a third try this year.
“All I’ve ever tried to do is stimulate conversation,” he said.
The Council will take up the issue at the May 15 Committee on Ways and Means hearing, which will make a recommendation to the full council, to hear the debate on May 21.
Yet in his opening budgetary remarks on Wednesday night, the Mayor gave the proposal his full backing.
“Within this budget, I am asking for the adoption of the meals tax,” Sullivan said. “This modest increase - an additional fifteen cents on a $20 meal - will allow for continued investment in our community. I am committing to putting the realized revenue towards the principal and interest of an expanded capital plan.”
Improvements will include work on town roads, school improvements, public safety upgrades, and public works projects.
Mullaney said it’s about time.
“Braintree has missed out on $2.4 million, and that’s according to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue,” he said. “So when you ask how I feel, my job is to raise issues that the mayor didn’t raise and continue to be a thorn in their side.”
Mullaney said he didn’t expect a unanimous vote for the meals tax, seeing as Councilor Ron DeNapoli is a strong advocate for the business community, and Councilor Sean Powers has long been opposed to the .75 percent tax on Braintree meals.
According to Powers, he is opposed to the tax, but hasn’t cast his opinion in stone.
“I am still currently opposed to it, but I am going to do my due diligence and review the proposal from the mayor,” he said. “I think that’s the right thing to do, like I’d review anything he sends down, but I still have a problem taking $1 million out of a struggling local economy.”
Powers said the real problem is a reduction in local aid, which has placed the financial burden on cities and towns, and subsequently onto the backs of small business owners.
“This whole issue is really a problem of beacon hill, not willing to make local aid a priority, and really shifting the burden onto local cities and towns, small businesses and local officials,” Powers said. “We should be making local aid a priority.”
Powers isn’t alone in his opposition. Members of the business community have shown up at council hearings regarding this item, and have opposed yet another tax on local meals, which would be in addition to the state’s sales tax on meals, which increased from 5 percent to 6.25 percent in fiscal year 2010.
Michael Wilcox, Chairman of the Braintree Chamber of Commerce, has spearheaded the opposition, saying that the money is coming out of the local economy - money that could otherwise be spent in Braintree.
Previously, Wilcox has said that putting the budgetary burden on the restaurant businesses is disproportional, as it’s a problem the entire community shares.
Yet for Mullaney, putting the meals tax revenue towards the community will benefit businesses in the end.
Coupled with the fact that almost half the state’s 350 towns have passed the tax makes the choice obvious, Mullaney has said.
“Carl Johnson, [an attorney] representing the South Shore Plaza, was first to come over and support the meals tax,” Mullaney said. “He said, ‘If we keep Braintree a beautiful place, the business community will prosper.’ That’s my whole premise. I’m not trying to hurt the business community. I’m going to make sure it’s safe. We’ll have a fully staffed Police and Fire Department and make it a beautiful place people want to come visit, and the business community ends up benefiting from that.”