On Beacon Hill: DeLeo backs charter schools, Rosenberg’s fired up for legal pot, but what do voters think?

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From State House News Service

ON THE AGENDA

  • DeLeo backs charter schools expansion, Rosenberg goes for legal pot
  • Chart: What are likely voters thinking on all four ballot questions?
  • Baker convenes working group on automated cars, growing industry
  • Administration works $294M budget gap; says courts, higher ed to be spared
  • Polito: Layoffs could be part of belt-tightening strategy

Senate President Stanley M. Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo

Sam Doran (SHNS / file photo)

Senate President Stanley M. Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo

TOP OF THE HILL

DeLeo: Charter schools expansion ‘best for students’

The ballot question seeking to expand access to charter schools gained a potentially powerful backer last week in House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who has long expressed sympathy with students and families waiting for openings in charter schools.

In an appearance on WCVB’s “On The Record” set to air today [Oct. 23], the Winthrop Democrat said, “I decided to do what I feel is best for students, whatever the political ramifications may be. I think, again, it’s the right thing to do.”

Question 2 would allow for up to 12 additional charter schools regardless of existing statutory caps.

WCVB released a clip of the interview Thursday, Oct. 20, and the Yes on 2 campaign quickly circulated a link to the clip with a campaign spokeswoman saying they were honored to have DeLeo as part of their “bipartisan coalition.” A source close to DeLeo confirmed he plans to vote for Question 2.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo

State House News Service / file photo

House Speaker Robert DeLeo

The House and Senate were unable to reach agreement on charter school legislation in the past two sessions. In the last session, the Senate turned back a House plan to provide a limited number of additional charter schools in certain districts. This session, the House declined to take up a Senate bill tying charter school expansion to a multi-year commitment to make major investments throughout K-12 public education.

Gov. Charlie Baker backs the ballot referendum. Senate President Stan Rosenberg plans to vote against Question 2, according to a spokesman.

— Andy Metzger and Michael Norton


Rosenberg: Yes on Question 4

After months of keeping his own counsel, Senate President Stan Rosenberg said last week he will support the ballot question that would legalize adult use of marijuana.

“I’m going to vote for this ballot question,” Rosenberg told Margery Eagan on WGBH last Thursday morning. “I believe it’s going to pass.”

Rosenberg, center, with DeLeo and Gov. Charlie Baker.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Rosenberg, center, with DeLeo and Gov. Charlie Baker.

A critic of the ballot process who said legislation could be undertaken to amend the language of the referendum, Rosenberg had long withheld judgment on Question 4.

Gov. Charlie Baker, Speaker Robert DeLeo, Attorney General Maura Healey and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh are working to defeat the question.

Rosenberg has previously discussed adjusting deadlines within the ballot referendum.

According to a chart provided by the Senate president’s office there is a March 1, 2017 deadline to appoint members of the Cannabis Control Commission among several other dates.

The ballot question would allow people to cultivate up to 12 marijuana plants for personal use “within the person’s primary residence.”

“You ought to be able to follow the law and be able to have a few plants growing on your property,” Rosenberg said.

— Andy Metzger


Chart: Which way are voters leaning?


IN THE NEWS

Convening executive panel, Baker wants Mass. in driver’s seat on automated vehicles

Using his executive powers, Gov. Charlie Baker announced he’s forming a working group of high-level state government officials to help prepare Massachusetts for automated vehicles.

An AV Working Group will be formed to work with experts and lawmakers on proposed legislation and to support memorandum of understanding agreements companies will need to enter into with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and municipalities or state agencies “when plans are proposed for conducting testing of self-driving vehicles in Massachusetts,” according to the Baker administration’s announcement.

Working group members plan to deliberate over a process for seeking approval from MassDOT for testing, including submitting an application “which demonstrates the vehicle to be tested has passed a Registry of Motor Vehicles inspection, can be operated without undue risk to public safety, and at all times will have a human being inside the vehicle while it is traveling.”

The governor’s executive order calls for the group to include Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash, Registrar of Motor Vehicles Erin Deveney, Highway Administrator Tom Tinlin, and four members designated by the Senate President Stan Rosenberg, Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, and House Minority Leader Brad Jones.

“The Commonwealth is home to many world-class innovation companies and academic institutions intimately involved in autonomous vehicle technology, which makes Massachusetts uniquely qualified to responsibly host this emerging field to foster innovation and economic growth,” Gov. Baker said in a statement. “The guidance the AV Working Group provides will be instrumental in ensuring companies can further develop autonomous vehicle technology in the Commonwealth and do so while maintaining the safety of our roadways.”

— Michael Norton


Higher education, courts off limits as state mulls $294M budget gap, governor says

Gov. Charlie Baker said last week his administration would not expose vast swaths of state government, including higher education and the court system, to budget cuts as it acts to close a $294 million budget hole before the end of the year.

Gov. Charlie Baker

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker

Baker’s budget chief Kristen Lepore announced last week that revenues, driven by a slowdown in sales tax growth, would be insufficient to meet current spending levels in the state’s $39.25 billion fiscal 2017 budget. As it considers where to squeeze savings or make cuts from the budget, Lepore said local government aid, funding for district public schools and core services at the Department of Children and Families would be spared.

During an interview on WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio” last Thursday, Baker went further, declaring higher education, the court system, the Department of Mental Health, pensions, debt service and the budgets of the other four constitutional officers off limits as he considers cuts.

“The important thing for people to know is that a whole bunch of areas and programs that are funded by the Commonwealth are not going to be part of this exercise,” Baker said.

The administration launched a voluntary program Oct. 17 offering one-time payouts to state employees who agree to leave their jobs as a way to reduce headcounts and generate budget savings this fiscal year. The administration will consider whether layoffs will be necessary in part based on how many employees take the offer before Nov. 14, Lepore has said.

Baker and Lepore have said savings and cuts amounting to roughly 1 percent of executive branch spending may be required to close the gap, and Baker said Thursday he doesn’t want to wait until next year to take action.

“We [are] going to make those decisions over the course of the next several weeks,” Baker said, later adding, “I don’t want to wait until January.” The governor said it becomes harder to make cuts later in the fiscal year because more money from agency budgets has already been spent or committed.

Budget stakeholders are bracing for cuts to come down and speculating about where the governor might trim costs. In July, in addition to pinpointing spending accounts that he said the Legislature underfunded, Baker vetoed $265 million in spending from the budget, but the Legislature overrode $231 million of those spending vetoes. It’s unclear whether Baker will revisit areas that he targeted with vetoes.

— Matt Murphy [with Michael Norton reporting]


Polito: Layoffs could hinge on buyout program

The outcome of a buyout program launched this week for state workers will determine whether layoffs are necessary, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito told reporters last week.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito

State House News Service / file

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito

To help close a $294 million budget gap, the Baker administration Oct. 17 began offering state employees a one-time payout to leave the public sector. Retirement eligible employees can receive a one-time $15,000 payout to leave their position, while other executive branch employees will be eligible for a $5,000 payout to leave their job.

The program will run through Nov. 14, after which the administration plans to reassess whether further reductions are necessary.

“This is a process, obviously, that we announced,” Polito said when asked if she thought layoffs would be needed. “It’s a voluntary process of separation for members of the public workforce and the executive branch to consider, and we will educate them about the process, and we will see this process unfold and depending on what we achieve in this timeframe will depend on whether the layoffs will be necessary.”

Administration and Finance Secretary Kristen Lepore, Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget chief, on Friday attributed the deficit to overly optimistic revenue estimates and the failure of lawmakers to include adequate funding for shelter services, indigent defense attorneys and snow and ice removal.

— Katie Lannan

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