May 28, 2017

On Beacon Hill: Senate drops $40.4B spending plan, with a bang

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Sam Doran / State House News Service

Sen. Walter Timilty of Milton stepped out onto the Senate balcony to use his cellphone during the second of three full days of budget debate. It was the first Senate budget week for Timilty -- who previously served several terms in the House -- and his fellow freshmen Julian Cyr of Truro and Adam Hinds of Pittsfield.

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service

BOSTON — The walls crumbling literally and figuratively around them, senators did their best to pretend everything was purple ties and punch last week as they sped through their annual budget debate and marched off into Memorial Day weekend.

The exercise dominated activity on Beacon Hill, while off campus Joe Biden was bopping about town, Hillary Clinton and Mark Zuckerberg were advising the newest college graduates, and the world was coming to grips with the latest terror attack in England.

The final vote on the $40.4 billion budget bill may have come just in the nick of time, following a loud bang and falling debris from the ceiling — like a bad omen for things to come.

“It sounds like we need to get out of here,” Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said, perhaps half joking, before calling for the vote. The Senate chamber will soon, supposedly, undergo structural renovations.

The finalizing of the Senate budget, however, sets the stage for a month, and maybe more, of negotiations with the House over not just spending, but projections for economic and revenue growth in the coming year that have been called into questions by months of troubling signs.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday pointed to this week’s release of May revenue collections as a clarifying moment when leaders will have a better idea of how fiscal 2017 will end up, and what it could foretell for fiscal 2018.

State House News Service file

Senate President Stan Rosenberg

“It’s going to be a rough budget conference,” Rosenberg said following passage of the Senate budget, which only added to the choices that will have to be made as the body loaded the bill with policy proposals, tax adjustments and spending that don’t jibe with the House’s version.

The lack of disposable state income may have made some choices easier this year, but senators found enough money for earmarks — $30 million in fact — to ensure that things like the new Dr. Seuss museum in Springfield and a steampunk festival in Waltham got a piece of the pie.

Those are also likely to be among the first items on the chopping block, if not in conference then by Gov. Baker’s veto pen. The Senate also voted to eliminate parole fees, increase taxes on flavored cigars, and scale back the film tax credit, which House defender and Majority Leader Ron Mariano called an “attack” on job creation policy.

The Senate even found time for a public reading of “Casey at the Bat.”

Over the course of the three days (one longer than it took the House) and consideration of 1,031 amendments, the Senate took just 35 roll call votes, all but one of which was unanimous.

“First time in a long time, when the majority party and the minority party are hard to distinguish,” lamented Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance Executive Director Paul Craney.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

State House News Service / file

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito

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  • Senate pivots to policy in face of spending restraints
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  • Key departure prompts MBTA management overhaul


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