State lawmakers send revised $39.15B budget to Baker [with video]

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Reacting to a fast-changing revenue picture late in their budgeting process, legislative leaders pared their state spending plan through a series of cuts and financial maneuvers to produce a $39.15 billion budget bill set to be dumped on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk just in time for some in the administration to spend their holiday weekend determining whether lawmakers went far enough.

Baker said Thursday that he plans to use the Independence Day weekend to take a deep dive into the Legislature’s compromise spending plan agreed to by negotiators Wednesday.

“I’m glad to be getting it before the end of the fiscal year,” Baker said of the budget (H 4450) that the House and Senate passed late Thursday night. “I think that’s a real tribute, frankly, to the collaborative spirit the House and Senate brought to the process.”

Watch Gov. Baker talk about the compromise spending plan

The House surfaced the compromise budget just after 1 p.m. and by 2 p.m., after brief debate, the House approved it 150-3, with Republican Reps. James Lyons of Andover, Shaunna O’Connell of Taunton and Geoff Diehl of Whitman voting against it.

House budget chief Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, emphasized the importance of having an on-time budget. Dempsey said plans to raise spending by $1.1 billion had been scaled back in favor of a $667 million increase.

Amid worsening revenue projections for the coming fiscal year, the conference of six House and Senate negotiators cut $750 million in projected revenue and $413 million in proposed spending from the budget bills the branches agreed to in April and May.

“I do think, based on a very cursory review, that they recognized and appreciated the fact that we were going to have a revenue issue in ’17 and worked pretty diligently to deal with that,” said Baker, whose team came into office in 2015 focused on ways to address state spending problems.

Before the budget was pared back last month, Baker, the House and the Senate had spent the first half of 2016 promoting spending plans in the $39.5 billion range.

Asked if he plans to take the full 10 days he is allowed to review the budget before signing or vetoing, Baker said he doesn’t yet know.

“Let’s see how the weekend goes. That will tell us a lot about it,” he said. “My preference would be to do it in less, but we may need all 10, I don’t know.”

Rep. James J. O'Day

Rep. James J. O’Day

Rep. James J. O’Day, a West Boylston Democrat who is House chairman of the Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government, noted that cities and towns were “pretty much held harmless” in the slimming down of the budget.

“It’s always nice to have what you asked for, right? But some difficult times have approached us,” O’Day told the News Service.

Budget negotiators settled most often on the lower appropriations when contrasting the House and Senate’s $39.5 billion spending proposals for fiscal 2017. But a report accompanying the conference committee’s recommended budget (H 4450) shows the six-member team forced to come up with a budget after this month’s news that revenue estimates to support spending were overly optimistic shows how negotiators used a free hand in recommending appropriations.

Both branches recommended $6.38 million for Secretary of State William Galvin’s office, but the conference shaved his appropriation by $63,832. Conferees agreed to the Senate’s $565,557 appropriation for Galvin’s archives division, choosing that allocation over the $365,557 recommended in the House budget.

At the Group Insurance Commission (GIC), which oversees public employee health insurance, conferees chopped $6.08 million off identical appropriations recommended by the House and Senate, settling on $1,637,028,930 in the premiums and plans line item, based in part on lower caseload projections. Negotiators went $45,076 below the House and Senate recommendations for GIC administration, recommending $4,462,538.

In the MassHealth administration line item, conferees agreed on an appropriation that’s larger than the appropriations recommended by the full House and Senate. The House recommended $100,213,866; the Senate recommended $100,295,735; and the conferees settled on $100,501,087.

All of the spending decisions are laid out in an 11A report available on the Legislature’s web page for the fiscal 2017 conference committee report.

— Matt Murphy contributed reporting

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