December 11, 2016

On Beacon Hill: Baker’s budget ax grinds DeLeo’s gears

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Sam Doran/State House News Service

Baker, DeLeo and Rosenberg -- and the entire Legislature -- have their work cut out for them.

From State House News Service

ON THE AGENDA

  • Baker’s $98 million move rankles State House leaders
  • Keefe, area legislators denounce governor’s broad budget cuts
  • Legal marijuana on tap this week as votes are ready for certification
  • McGovern gets down to business in Boston
  • DeLeo signs off on new Red Sox ace Chris Sale

Gov. Charlie Baker last week unilaterally slashed $98 million from the state budget to address flagging revenues.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker last week unilaterally slashed $98 million from the state budget to address flagging revenues.

TOP OF THE HILL

Baker’s budget ax grinds DeLeo’s gears

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and his band of not-so-merry Democrats tiptoed out on a limb last week made of brittle budget projections and the hopes of a snowless, crimeless, healthy winter full of Main Street shopping and large bonus checks.

Underneath, Gov. Charlie Baker sat with his calculator banking on the branch to crack.

Baker warmed an otherwise mild political off-season last Tuesday when he announced he would use his executive authority to trim $98 million from the state’s $39.25 billion state budget, a rather modest sum until lawmakers began to see where he applied his X-Acto knife.

From the governor’s perch, he decided he had seen enough of yo-yoing revenue reports — including a disappointing November — that had tax collections up one month and down the next. Rather than wait to see what December or January brings, he started paring back spending immediately.

“Premature,” DeLeo and the Democrats shouted. “Outrageous and immoral,” the more partisan-prone crowed.

New Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Gus Bickford went so far as to call on the governor to postpone his business development mission to Israel — which the governor left for Thursday — in order to explain to the people why he cut funding for compulsive gambling treatment, parks and the State Police crime lab when revenues are only trailing projections by $20 million.

Someone will end up being right in this budget row, and someone will be wrong.

Either tax collections will rebound, leaving enough loot to reverse the cuts and cover the programs, such as snow and ice removal, indigent counsel services and MassHealth, that Baker blamed the Legislature for leaving underfunded, or revenues will continue to underperform despite low unemployment and growing business confidence.

Either Baker will be the seer or the impulsive Grinch.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo

State House News Service / file photo

House Speaker Robert DeLeo

“It is my hope that if we can continue to either hold steady or show a rise in tax revenues that we’d be prepared to take up a supplemental budget to, at the very least, restore partially some of these cuts that are being made that I believe are going to hurt people,” DeLeo said in an interview Wednesday from Amherst, where he was attending a retreat for incoming legislators.

Just as time will tell on the budget cuts, the coming months should also show whether the butting of heads between the governor and legislative leaders is an aberration or the first of many clashes as legislative leaders think about their chances of winning back the Corner Office in 2018.

Baker may have had reason to be concerned about the financial future for Massachusetts. Economic experts early last week didn’t exactly paint the rosiest of pictures moving forward.

The experts appeared before lawmakers and the administration to try to project the strength of the economy, and more specifically the strength of tax collections, moving into fiscal 2018. Their estimates ranged from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association’s reliably conservative 2.65 growth projections, to the always optimistic David Tuerck’s 5.2 percent growth estimate from the Beacon Hill Institute.

With revenue growth poised to repeat its plodding ways in fiscal 2018, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg told lawmakers she carried a message from the bond rating agencies: Ignore the state’s pension liability or pull back on savings at your own risk.

Goldberg said the agencies that hold sway over the cost of state borrowing are growing more adamant that Massachusetts show a commitment to beefing up its “rainy day” fund and maintain an aggressive pension funding schedule.

Pot revenue won’t help fill that revenue need, Goldberg also warned as she reminded that the legalization of marijuana is unlikely to yield any significant profits until at least fiscal 2019 when dispensaries are up and running, generating sales taxes.

— Matt Murphy


VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Baker on budget cuts and more


SAY WHAT?

“These cuts translate into the removal of resources and services that keep our most vulnerable from being isolated and insecure. These programs help build stronger opportunities and lives in our neediest neighborhoods and communities. Our young people want to be working, our seniors want to have dignity and our families need these supports to care for their loved ones. For many; this is how we, in Worcester, make a difference. It is a BIG bang for not a lot of money.” — state Rep. Mary Keefe

State Reps. Dan Donahue, Mary Keefe and John Mahoney, in a statement and Friday press conference, denounced $645,000 in spending reductions ordered by the governor that will affect environmental improvements at Coes Pond and Indian Lake, services to Worcester’s Latino seniors, Friendly House’s emergency shelter services to families, Dismas House’s re-entry work with ex-prisoners, UMass Memorial’s Down Syndrome clinic, and the establishment of a partnership to address mental health needs of Worcester’s youth.


IN THE NEWS

Legal marijuana on tap this week as votes are ready for certification

While uncertainty remains around federal enforcement, Massachusetts is set to forge ahead next week on its own legalization of marijuana.

A marijuana legalization ballot question was approved by voters, 53 percent to 46 percent on Nov. 8.

Legal adult use of marijuana is set to take effect this week.

Flickr/Martin Alonso

Legal adult use of marijuana is set to take effect this week.

The Governor’s Council will receive the ballot question vote results in time for its Wednesday, Dec. 14, meeting, Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Secretary of State William Galvin, said Friday afternoon.

That means the election results should be certified just in time for Thursday’s effective date of the referendum.

Governor’s Councilor Robert Jubinville conveyed concerns at a November meeting that the results would not be confirmed by a Dec. 15 date in the law pertaining to legalization of home-growing of marijuana and marijuana possession.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law.

— Andy Metzger


COMING UP

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern

Office of Congressman Jim McGovern

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern

  • JIM MCGOVERN “POWER HOUR” (Tuesday, 8 a.m., Office of David Belluck, 699 Boylston St., 14th floor, Boston) | U.S. Rep. James McGovern of Worcester joins the Alliance for Business Leadership for a Progressive Power Hour. The progressive group bills the session with the congressman as a chance to “connect in-demand business leaders with top public figures and thought leaders for networking and Q&A — all strictly limited to one hour.” The event is free for alliance members who have contributed in the past 12 months or $75 for guests, but closed to the press.
  • McGOVERN ON THE RADIO (Wednesday, 12:30 p.m., WGBH-FM, 89.7) |  McGovern is a scheduled guest on “Boston Public Radio” with co-hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan
  • WACHUSETT STATION OPENING (Thursday, 3:30 p.m., 55 Authority Drive, Fitchburg) |  Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack will attend a ribbon-cutting event for the MBTA’s newest commuter rail station in Fitchburg. Earlier this year transportation officials scrambled to finish the five-mile extension of rail to Wachusett Station, which had been funded with federal stimulus dollars. Pollack had earlier warned that if the state did not meet a September deadline for the start of service, the federal government could reclaim nearly $60 million in grant money. According to the Worcester Business Journal, limited service was scheduled to begin Sept. 30.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito

State House News Service / file

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito


LAST WORDS

Forget budget cuts, DeLeo likes a good Sale

Speaker Robert DeLeo was in a fine mood last Wednesday when he took a call to discuss the governor taking pruning shears to his spending plan: “So you want to talk about the trade, right? I’m excited. I’m ready to go.”

Count DeLeo, an avid baseball fan and player in his day, was among those cheering the Red Sox trade for left-handed starting pitcher Chris Sale. DeLeo said he wore his Red Sox cap despite the cold and rain to the retreat for new lawmakers in Amherst last week. As for the promising prospects the Sox gave up to get Sale, DeLeo said he did not like what he saw from the Cuban youngster Yoan Moncada, who came close to setting a Major League record for consecutive strikeouts in his brief callup from the minors this year.

And dealing last year’s third baseman Travis Shaw for a strong, late-inning bullpen arm is fine by him too. DeLeo’s scouts told him that Shaw’s hands got slow through the zone as the season progressed. “I was never as high on him as some others were,” DeLeo said.

— Matt Murphy

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