Recap and analysis of the week in state, and federal, government from State House News Service
The slow start to the year on Beacon Hill got an assist this week from the dangerously distracting one-two punch of championship euphoria and the first significant snowfall of the season.
The former essentially turned Monday into a bleary-eyed reliving of how Tom Brady engineered the greatest Super Bowl comeback in history to defeat the Atlanta Falcons. The later turned Thursday into a governor-sanctioned day off for revelry recuperation.
Sandwiched between Super Bowl hangovers, a victory parade and the blizzard called Niko, Gov. Charlie Baker continued his Supreme Judicial Court makeover, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren was simultaneously silenced and handed a megaphone in one, deep Mitch McConnell breath, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, gave Jay Gonzalez something to build off for his gubernatorial campaign.
Meanwhile, as giddy New Englanders were quickly reminded Thursday that Punxsutawney Phil wasn’t joking around when he said there would be six more weeks of winter, the state Legislature’s hibernation continued. Since taking office in January, lawmakers have barely poked their heads from the den except to gavel through a pay raise bill for public officials.
But if someone thought legislative leaders might be inspired by Patriots coach Bill Belichick leading the City Hall Plaza crowd on Tuesday in a uniquely Belichickian chant of “No Days Off,” they were in for a letdown.
DeLeo, apparently, is not the taskmaster Belichick is, having postponed due to “inclement weather” what was supposed to be a noon Wednesday caucus for House Democrats to get all their feelings about the new president off their chest and discuss how the body should respond to the actions taken so-far by President Donald Trump.
— Matt Murphy
OFF THE TOP
Warming up to a full-fledged legislative plan
Last Wednesday’s 50-degree temperatures didn’t stop House Speaker DeLeo from rolling out his early education plan, though, promising to boost funding in next year’s budget for early educator salaries and benefits.
The speaker also said he would file legislation in the next two months to improve professional development opportunities for preschool educators.
The action plan stemmed from a report produced by a group of business leaders that DeLeo tasked last year with assessing an early education system that he described as “in crisis,” plagued by paltry pay and high turnover rates.
Jay Gonzalez, a former Deval Patrick lieutenant who launched his Democratic campaign for governor last week and made early education a central theme, was on hand to take some credit for serving on the speaker’s task force and helping to write the report.
— Matt Murphy
ALSO ON THE AGENDA
- Pay raises, no problem — but about those $98M in budget cuts …
- Gov. Baker’s center court play
- Pair of Mass. sanctuary cities sue Trump over executive order
- Baker, Polito praise MBTA work amid tour
- Video: On storm response, looming budget battle
THE BIG DEAL
Pay raises in the bank, DeLeo still needs to see more revenue before addressing Baker spending cuts
By Colin A. Young and Antonio Caban
The Legislature may restore some, but not all, of the $98 million in spending Gov. Charlie Baker cut from the budget in December, but House Speaker Robert DeLeo said last week he wants at least one more month’s revenue report before taking any action.
“I think it’s still very much up in the air. I think that the good part was that we’ve pretty much been stable,” DeLeo told State House News Service when asked if the December and January revenue reports were sufficient for the House to start drafting a supplemental budget to restore the cuts.
“Right now, as we speak, I would have to say I’m not sure if we’re there. I don’t think we’re there yet.”
In early December, Baker cut $98 million from the $39.25 billion state budget in an effort to match sluggish state revenues with likely spending, including accounts he said the Legislature underfunded.
Legislative leaders said the cuts were premature and pledged to restore funding as revenue collections allow.
January revenues of $2.703 billion were roughly on target with benchmarks, and collections and fiscal year-to-date revenue are 0.2 percent, or $33 million, shy of benchmark, a small margin in a nearly $40 billion budget.
January receipts were up 4.4 percent, or $114 million, over January 2016. Tax collections are up 2.7 percent over the first seven months of fiscal 2017, the Department of Revenue reported earlier this month.
The revenue picture was bright enough for the Legislature last week to pass an $18 million pay raise package for public officials over Baker’s objections. Baker called the bill “fiscally irresponsible,” but legislators said they deserved significant raises, along with judges and constitutional officers.
Baker’s cuts hit funding for health care, the State Police, municipal regionalization, parks and recreation, senior care and eliminated funding for a postpartum depression pilot program, a Down syndrome clinic and a suicide-prevention account. The largest cuts came from MassHealth fee-for-service payments and the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism budget, while the smallest cut of $10,000 was for elder home care purchased services.
In total, 140 programs and accounts in the budget were reduced, including the elimination of a $2 million “Big Data and Innovation Workforce” fund, money for digital health internships, and a computer science education initiative.
After Baker announced his cuts in December, Senate budget chief Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, said, “The governor is shifting important funding away from the priorities of the Legislature in favor of his own. These cuts will have real consequences on all the communities of the Commonwealth struggling with opioid addiction and housing, and should not be made at this time.”
DeLeo said he wants to see at least the February revenue report, which will come out in early March, before moving ahead with plans to restore spending.
— Michael P. Norton contributed reporting
Baker moves to add fourth judge to Supreme Judicial Court
At the same time DeLeo rolled out his early education agenda, Baker was in another part of the State House, introducing Appeals Court Judge Elspeth Cypher as his latest nominee to the Supreme Judicial Court.
If confirmed, the 57-year-old Assonet resident will become Baker’s fourth jurist on the top court and replace SJC Justice Margot Botsford, a Deval Patrick appointee who hits the mandatory retirement age of 70 next month.
So far, Baker has tapped judges first put on the bench by all four of his immediate predecessors.
Cypher was first nominated for a judgeship by the late Paul Cellucci. And while it hasn’t always been clear how the governor’s pick might impact the state court, Martin Healy, the chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association, said Baker appears to be moving the court “more to the center.”
— Matt Murphy
Chelsea, Lawrence sue trump over immigration order, de-funding threat
The cities of Lawrence and Chelsea are suing President Donald Trump over an executive order that would stop cities from receiving federal funds if they do not comply with federal immigration law.
Sun sanctuary city coverage
- Mariano: Breaking down the battle [with reader survey]
- Sina-cism: Real dangers of the debate
- Super debacle at City Hall, and penalty flags all around
- Hitch with Mayor Joe Petty, on an island
The suit is at least the second Massachusetts-based legal challenge so far to an executive order issued by the new president and comes as state lawmakers are determining their own response to the Trump administration and its immigration policies.
The complaint, filed Feb. 8 in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, describes the order as “a major affront to the basic principles of federalism and the separation of powers.”
“The Executive Order seeks, without congressional authorization, to commandeer local officials to enforce the federal government’s immigration policies, and threatens municipalities with crippling losses of funding, apparently including funding for programs with no connection to law enforcement, if the municipalities do not come to heel,” the complaint reads. “Particularly for smaller and more impoverished cities and towns, the impact of this Executive Order is both immediate and chilling.”
Trump’s Jan. 25 order said sanctuary jurisdictions that “attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States … have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.”
The order directs federal agencies “to employ all lawful means to ensure the faithful execution of the immigration laws of the United States against all removable aliens,” and instructs the attorney general to ensure that municipalities that do not comply with federal immigration law do not receive any federal funding other than what is required by law.
Chelsea describes itself as a “sanctuary city” and Lawrence a “Trust Act City,” with both labels indicating a practice the suit describes as “deprioritizing local law enforcement participation in federal civil immigration investigations and detentions.”
The suit argues that such policies do not violate federal law, giving the Trump administration no basis for its order, according to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which filed the suit with the Goodwin law firm.
Several other Massachusetts municipalities — including Cambridge, Somerville and Northampton — consider themselves sanctuary cities, which are communities where policies exist to prevent police and other officials from asking about immigration status or to use municipal resources to enforce federal immigration law.
— Katie Lannan
IN THE NEWS
Baker, Polito tour MBTA operations center, thank workers for parade, snow response
Two years ago last Friday, as subways stood at a standstill, the MBTA’s general manager gave a rollicking press conference, protesting that she had limited ability to fix a system that had then been hammered by three successive snowstorms.
Things were quite different weather-wise and operations-wise as Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito toured the same building last week in which Beverly Scott had said she was unable to control “Mother Nature” and couldn’t fix signals and switches with the simple push of a button.
A blizzard Thursday dumped about a foot of snow on Boston, which began to melt under Friday’s sun. MBTA workers had also been busy on Tuesday accommodating some of the roughly 1 million people who visited Boston for the New England Patriots Super Bowl victory parade.
[story continues after video]
VIDEO OF THE WEEK
Joined by MBTA acting General Manager Brian Shortsleeve and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, Baker and Polito toured the control rooms for the subway and bus operations, thanking dispatchers for their work. Fixing the finances and operations of the “T” and investing in repair projects and winter preparedness has been a major focus of Baker’s administration.
“Our primary point in coming out today was first of all to thank the folks who basically spent the last 24 to 36 hours here working at the operations center on the storm, and for the most part delivered a pretty solid performance and experience for the riders,” Baker told reporters at the High Street location.
“We also wanted to get a sense from them about lessons learned from this experience.”
— Andy Metzger