State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, 40, has been named Chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee by Speaker Robert DeLeo. The appointment comes ten years after the Democrat from Boston’s North End was first elected to the Mass. House of Representatives through a special election to fill the seat formerly held by Speaker Sal DiMasi. Michlewitz represents the 3rd Suffolk District in Massachusetts covering the Boston neighborhoods of the North End / Waterfront, Downtown, Chinatown and the South End.
The Ways and Means Committee is responsible for writing the $41 billion state budget and puts a mark on nearly every piece of legislation in the House. The chair seat is often seen as a stepping stone toward House Speaker. Current Speaker DeLeo of Winthrop has been in the role for ten years, the longest in state history. Michlewitz is the fourth chair to serve under DeLeo following former legislators Jeff Sanchez, Brian Dempsey and Charley Murphy. In the Senate, President Karen Spilka appointed Democrat Michael Rodrigues, 59, of Westport to Chair of the Ways and Means Committee. Both DeLeo and Spilka were Chair of Ways and Means before ascending to Speaker and President, respectively. (View the full list of committee assignments in the House and the list of committee assignments in the Senate.)
Most recently, Michlewitz led the House to pass high profile legislation regulating and taxing short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, making Massachusetts the first to regulate statewide. Aiming to prevent housing stock from becoming off-market hotels, the legislation goes into effect on July 1 for taxes and regulations including insurance with September 30 the start of a registration requirement. There will be a 5.7% state tax and up to 6% municipal tax (6.5% in Boston). This will raise an estimated $50 million in revenue, split 50/50 between the Commonwealth and the municipalities. On second, third, fourth, etc. units, the municipality has the option to raise an additional 3% of tax revenue. A portion of that funding is earmarked for affordable housing in that local municipality. The state bill complements Boston’s city ordinance on short term rentals, which bans them from non-owner occupied buildings, eliminating investor units and absentee landlords.
His latest effort related to technology companies is to regulate peer-to-peer car sharing entities, such as Turo and GetAround, where people rent their cars directly to others by listing on an app or website. In addition to safety and insurance, proposed legislation would add a $1/day fee toward funding the MBTA. The bill would also seek to eliminate the $10/day car rental fee that Boston and Cambridge residents pay toward the Convention Center. In prior sessions, Michlewitz also led efforts to regulate ride-sharing companies, such as Uber and Lyft.
Rep. Michlewitz has made re-precincting his top priority in the current session to even out voting lines. Boston has been exempt from re-precincting since 1921. Development over the last century has drastically changed the populations in certain precincts, making the numbers uneven. For example, the North End has four precincts with Precinct 3-1 on the waterfront being the largest at nearly the size of the other three combined. This creates longer lines and voter inequity that could be solved through re-precincting.
Aiming to help traffic congestion, Michlewitz has introduced a new bill to increase fines, particularly around blocking the box. He is looking to raise the current fine of $150 up to $500, and add insurance points to the driver’s record.
On a neighborhood level, Michlewitz has introduced legislation regarding Commercial Wharf and Chapter 91. Over the years, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) made modifications that allowed residential units to be built on the first floor of Commercial Wharf, which is now being seen as violating Chapter 91. This license requires properties with direct access to the water to have commercial or public use on the first floor. Now, there are a handful of residential units that the DEP wants reverted back to commercial. Rep. Michlewitz is working to protect these residents and make these units exempt from Chapter 91.
This week, Rep. Michlewitz spoke to both North End / Waterfront neighborhood groups emphasizing his commitment to his home district despite his larger role in State government. Watch the video to the Residents Association at the top of this post and also view the Neighborhood Council video.