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Senate expects tax haul to fall by $1 billion more

Senate expects tax haul to fall by $1 billion more

An already bad Massachusetts budget forecast is getting even worse.

State Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steven Panagiotakos says he expects tax collections to be $18.5 billion next year — $1 billion less than previous estimates.

The Lowell Democrat says that will require massive program cuts and employee layoffs. He called a hearing with economists on Tuesday to discuss the situation. The Senate unveils its 2010 budget plan later this month.

Echoing Panagiotakos’ statement, state Revenue Commissioner Navjeet K. Bal announced Monday that preliminary revenue collections for April 2009 totaled $1.781 billion, down $953 million or 34.9 percent from last April.

Meanwhile, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts is airing radio ads complaining about the 25-percent sales tax increase approved by the House to offset sagging tax collections.

Retailers fear hiking the tax from 5 percent to 6.25 percent will send customers to New Hampshire.

R.I. panel votes to criminalize indoor prostitution

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A House committee has approved a bill to make indoor prostitution illegal in Rhode Island.

A loophole in state law permits prostitution as long as it takes place behind closed doors. Police say some businesses that advertise as spas are actually brothels, where sex is exchanged for money.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 8-4 last Thursday to close the loophole and criminalize indoor prostitution.

A full House vote could take place next week.

Civil liberty groups have opposed efforts to close the loophole, and advocates against human trafficking say the bill will target prostitutes instead of those who hold them captive.

But police say the bill is needed to crack down on indoor prostitution since current state law only prohibits streetwalkers and soliciting sex outside.

State awards nearly $1 billion for clean water projects

Massachusetts is awarding more than $986 million in loans for improvements to drinking water and waste water projects.

Gov. Deval Patrick announced last Friday that 127 infrastructure projects throughout the state will receive the funding.

New projects include $64 million for a wastewater treatment plant upgrade in Westborough and more than $55 million for collection system and other improvements in Chatham.

The money comes from the state revolving fund program and stimulus money. Massachusetts is receiving $133 million for clean water projects and $52 million available for drinking water projects.

The Patrick administration says the projects are essential for protecting public health and the environment.

Mass. starts new lobbyist public search site

Massachusetts has launched a new public Web site to make it easier for citizens to keep track of lobbyists.

Secretary of State William F. Galvin says the new site, which went live last Friday, is simpler to navigate and data is easier to access.

Galvin says with $80 million paid to lobbyists to influence legislation in Massachusetts last year, it’s important to get the information to the public.

Users can search the site by lobbyist, entity or client, type of industry, campaign contribution, and activity or bill number.

The House passed an ethics reform bill in March, which includes doubling the penalty for violating lobbying laws to $10,000 and barring any gift from a lobbyist to a public official.

Damages awarded to families of Hub mob victims

The families of two men who were gunned down by Boston mobsters in 1982 have been awarded a total of $8.5 million in damages in a wrongful death suit against the FBI.

The late federal judge Reginald Lindsay ruled in 2007 that the FBI was responsible for the deaths of Edward “Brian” Halloran and Michael Donahue. Lindsay found that former FBI agent John Connolly Jr. tipped James “Whitey” Bulger that Halloran had told agents the gangster was responsible for the 1981 slaying of a World Jai Alai executive.

U.S. District Court Judge William Young last Friday awarded damages of $6.4 million to Donahue’s family and more than $2 million to Halloran’s widow.

Donahue’s son, Thomas Donahue, told The Boston Globe that his family was “happy beyond belief,”’ but that the money would never repay the loss of his father.

Patrick focused on his job, not Supreme Court

Gov. Deval Patrick says he’s “120 percent” focused on being governor and replacing retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter is not in his plans.

Yet the governor would not rule out interest in a possible Supreme Court appointment last Friday. The first-term Democrat is a Chicagoan, Harvard Law School graduate and African American, like President Barack Obama.

Patrick says he’s focused on his current job through next year.

But asked if that’s different from saying he’s not interested in an appointment, the governor will only say he wants to do his current job.

Portland’s first black police chief sworn in

PORTLAND, Maine — A 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department has been sworn in as the 18th police chief of Maine’s largest city.

James Craig took the oath of office last Friday at Portland City Hall as his family looked on. He becomes the first black to hold the top job in the department of 210 officers and civilians.

Craig takes office at a time of criticism of officers from Portland’s Sudanese community following the shooting of an immigrant from Sudan who allegedly displayed a gun during a confrontation with officers. He told the Portland Press Herald that his staff was setting up a community forum with Sudanese leaders.

Craig replaces Tim Burton, who left in August to become police chief in Odessa, Texas.

(Associated Press)