September 16, 2017

On Beacon Hill: Vienna sausage making, the State House way

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Craig Sandler / State House News Service

BIG MARIJUANA: A van parked on Beacon Street advertised wholesale marijuana candy available by the pound. The Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition hosted its 28th "Freedom Rally" on Boston Common Friday, an annual pot gathering that this year celebrated the drug's legalization.

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

BOSTON — The Legislature continued the budget process for “Fiscal Year Two Thousand and … Infinity” this past week — well, half the Legislature.

A budget document unveiled when President Trump’s approval rating exceeded his disapproval rating sauntered through its eighth month, still not truly final, as the House replaced $275 million of the $360 million in vetoes Gov. Baker made in July.

The next step in the saga must be taken by the Senate.

The hangup for now is that there’s a rhythm to legislation and, as fortune would have it, that rhythm is the same as a Viennese waltz: ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three. … And the third step of the override process was paused for the moment, as senators awaited the return of their leader from Austria and the Czech Republic.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg was in Europe — a development that first surfaced publicly when his staff said he wouldn’t be at the weekly leadership meeting Monday with Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and would phone in for the session. He did.

The president, normally quite eager to share the details of his public schedule, made no mentions of his planned sojourn.

State House News Service file

Senate President Stan Rosenberg

His travels through Vienna, Graz and Prague were underwritten by the United Nations Association of Austria, the city of Graz and the Senate Presidents Forum, which collects money from corporations such as Coca-Cola, Pfizer and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and passes it on to presidents in the form of grants for such policy and cultural forays.

Thomas Finneran, late of the Massachusetts House speakership, is on staff as moderator of Forum discussions — a role he filled during the Central Europe sessions, said Rosenberg’s spokesman.

And so the Senate, eager as it may be to restore spending after senators decried vetoes as severe and unnecessary, extended its six-week summer formal-session hiatus. The vetoes may be taken up the last week of the month, after the autumnal equinox.

The 62 overrides processed in the House chamber covered statewide programs and accounts, and Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez said another batch, addressing local needs and services, is forthcoming. [See video below.]

Republicans said the Senate should in fact be in no rush to follow the House’s lead. With state leaders mired in a years-long inability to accurately project tax revenues and then keep spending within actual receipts, GOP representatives said both branches should wait at least another month, preferably two, to see if the overrides are affordable.

For their part, the Baker administration said there was “no basis” to restore spending now, given revenue performance so far.

But Sanchez, speaking for the Democrats, said a conservative approach was already baked into the budget that landed on Baker’s desk in July — that $400 million had been removed from the bottom line before Baker saw it. The spending restorations are sustainable, he assured.

By much more than the necessary two-thirds, Sanchez and his boss Speaker DeLeo had the votes.

For much of Wednesday, House members sat chattering and nattering and fiddling with their digital devices, punctuated by the sonorous reading of one veto after another from the podium. Which items would come up and receive a “yes” vote had been decided in secret over the past eight weeks, so there was no debate.

One by one, with nary a decrease in din, representatives added money back to the commonwealth’s fiscal 2018 bottom line — the scoreboard glowing green on its leftward Democratic side, and more or less solid red on the Republican.

And while wiseguys needed both eyebrows this week — one to raise over Rosenberg’s trip, and the other over the prudence of budget regrowth — the people actually affected by the line items — people hoping to keep their apartments or their jobs — likely breathed a sigh of relief. Or half a sigh, anyhow, if that’s possible.

And by the way? If those real people avoid the hit, they won’t begrudge Rosenberg some late-summer Transatlantic meandering.

— Craig Sandler

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Minimum wage, renewable energy, online Lottery on tap
  • McGovern on health care, Warren on veterans, Polito on bike trail
  • Senators begin joint talks on language learning bill with rebuke of past efforts
  • Watch: DeLeo, Sanchez on budget veto overrides
  • Framingham contractor fined $167,500 for shoddy Worcester Airport work


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