April 16, 2017

On Beacon Hill: In Baker the House trusts?

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Sam Doran / State House News Service

Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) vowed Wednesday on the State House steps to push back against Trump administration health care policies. The union members were joined by Congresswoman Katherine Clark (background).

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

BOSTON — House Speaker Robert DeLeo sent Gov. Charlie Baker a clear, if not slightly unconventional, message this week about the state’s ballooning Medicaid program and the governor’s somewhat unpopular plan to tax employers to pay for it:

You want it? You own it.

The $40.3 billion House budget plan released this week by Rep. Brian Dempsey and his Ways and Means Committee essentially punted the issue of an employer assessment to help pay for MassHealth back to the Republican administration.

The draft budget greenlights the Department of Revenue and its commissioner, former Republican state treasurer candidate Michael Heffernan, to develop and implement an assessment on employers that don’t provide health coverage to most of their employees at any level it deems fit.

Dempsey did say the state only needs about two-thirds, or $180 million, of the money originally targeted by Baker from his $2,000-per-worker assessment, but there’s nothing to stop Baker from going for the whole pie. The only stipulation from House leaders is that the administration consider some of the critiques made by businesses over the past few months.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey.

That’s not to say the plan absolves House Democrats who vote for the budget of any responsibility should the debate over the assessment turn sour. Those who vote for this budget will, in essence, be writing Gov. Baker a blank check and accepting anything that comes after.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg’s overtly diplomatic response also seemed to belie some apprehension with the House approach of deferring to Baker. “Everyone approaches things in their own way,” he said.

Dempsey said he believes the administration has been talking in good faith with the business community about how to refine the proposal, and is confident that a compromise can be found.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Hundreds of amendments cloud early budget outlook
  • Legislative Trump panel targets immigration, inmate bills
  • Moore trumpets campus safety; McGovern tweaks president
  • State senators plans Capitol Hill lobbying effort
  • Video: Polito talks revenue projections, potential cuts
  • MassDevelopment chief voted out by board

LOOKING AHEAD

First, the amendments

Public school vacation week, shortened by Patriots Day and the Boston Marathon, will give everyone with a stake in the $40 billion state budget debate an opportunity to look into the 1,210 amendments offered to the House Ways and Means Committee budget bill that was released April 10.

Deliberations on the budget, a mostly backroom affair that leads to routinely accepted mega-amendments, are scheduled to begin on Monday, April 24.

THE BIG DEAL

Trump working group backs bills to fight immigration enforcement, inmates building border wall

By Matt Murphy

BOSTON — Several senior ranking House Democrats threw their weight behind a proposal to prohibit inmates from being used to build President Donald Trump’s border wall as part of their efforts to provide a check on the White House’s impact in Massachusetts.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano and Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad on Thursday discussed the efforts of the House’s new working group to respond to actions taken by President Donald Trump. Rep. Antonio Cabral (right) looked on.

The working group created by House Speaker Robert DeLeo to guide the House’s response to the Trump administration also voted April 13 to recommend a bill that would essentially block state law enforcement from participating in a federal program to train local officers as immigration enforcement agents.

The Trump working group met for the first time last Thursday, hosting a free-form discussion about the group’s focus and how it can have an impact.

“One of the things that came up and we thought was really worthy of discussion was Rep. Cabral’s efforts to rein in some of the outspoken volunteerism of a gentleman in his area who is making a lot of headlines,” said House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano, who is leading the group with Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad.

Mariano was referring to Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, who has proposed using inmates under his control as volunteer labor to help build Trump’s promised wall along the Mexican border.

New Bedford Rep. Antonio Cabral filed legislation (H 3034) in response to Hodgson that would prohibit sheriffs from using inmates for labor outside of Massachusetts.

He also filed a bill (H 3033) that would prohibit any state money from being used to implement what is known as a 287G agreement with Immigration and Customs and Enforcement to train local law enforcement or corrections officers in immigration law.

“Really, they become deputized ICE agents,” Cabral said.

Bristol and Plymouth County sheriffs, along with the Department of Correction, have signed 287G agreements with ICE, according to Cabral, but have not yet sent any correction officers to South Carolina for training.

Federal authorities also prohibit federal tax dollars from being spent to implement the program, which Cabral said would have the effect of making any agreement unfulfillable.

The group voted unanimously to recommend both bills for swift action to the Judiciary Committee.

Mariano said he would draft a letter to the committee explaining their position, and the group agreed they would also suggest a “friendly amendment” to allow inmates to be used out of state, only with approval by the governor, in cases of national emergency or disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina.

Democrats have been deeply concerned by the potential local impact of spending cuts outlined in a budget blueprint released this year by the Trump administration that Rep. James Arciero noted would sharply pare back dollars that flow through the National Institutes of Health to Bay State hospitals and research facilities.

“If that happens and the block grant stuff does come down I think we all go look for jobs in gas stations. I’m going to work in a bakery,” Mariano said.

A LITTLE BIRDIE

Moore trumpets his campus sex assault bill

McGovern’s weekly Trump check

NOTED

Senators plan D.C. lobbying effort ahead of state budget rollout

Six Senate Democrats plan to spend three days in Washington, D.C., later this month on an intelligence-gathering trip, lobbying against potential spending cuts as they prepare to assemble a state budget that relies on federal funding for about a quarter of its revenue.

Sen. Sal DiDomenico of Everett will lead the trip, set for April 25-27, in his role as chairman of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Sen. Sal DiDomenico on Thursday outlined an upcoming trip to Capitol Hill by a contingent of Massachusetts senators.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg, a former state representative and member of the Legislature since the 1980s, told reporters he couldn’t recall a similar trip involving a group of legislators lobbying the federal government. “Never,” he said, adding he hopes such trips would become a regular thing.

Massachusetts Democrats have expressed alarm at potential local impacts of spending cuts outlined in a budget blueprint released this year by the Trump administration, which is pressing ahead with plans to fulfill President Donald Trump’s promise of less regulation and a downsized federal government.

The federal budget year begins in October and DiDomenico, vice chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said senators hope to gather information that will inform their consideration of a fiscal 2018 state budget bill in May. State fiscal years run from July 1 through June 30.

The state relies on about $11 billion in federal revenue annually and $1 billion to $2 billion is at risk based on Trump’s spending outlines, DiDomenico said, depending on spending decisions to be made by the Republican-controlled Congress. The possibility of major spending cuts is being taken seriously, especially “when you have all branches in the same party,” Rosenberg said.

Senators plan to offer their perspective on potential cuts in education, transportation, health and human services, and research funding, said DiDomenico. “We’re going to put a face to some of these cuts,” he said.

Senators currently plan to meet with members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, he said, and anticipate meetings with executive branch officials in education, housing and urban development, transportation, health and human services and at the Environmental Protection Agency.

— Michael P. Norton

VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Polito on state revenue outlook, potential late-year cuts

IN THE NEWS

MassDevelopment boss out as board votes 8-3 for ouster

The longtime head of the state’s economic development and financing agency will leave in June after a divided MassDevelopment board of directors voted Thursday not to renew her contract.

Marty Jones, who was hired in April 2011 under former Gov. Deval Patrick to become the CEO of MassDevelopment, left her career in private development as the president of Corcoran Jennison in Boston to lead the state finance and development authority.

MassDevelopment works with businesses, nonprofits, financial institutions and communities to boost jobs and housing and foster economic development, and in fiscal 2016 managed 352 projects that are projected to create 8,200 jobs and rehabilitate 4,200 residential units.

In an executive session discussion about “agency leadership” the board voted 8-3 not to extend Jones, according to the Baker administration, meaning she will leave after June 30 when her current contract expires.

“The Baker-Polito Administration is deeply thankful for Marty Jones’ years of service to the Commonwealth. Marty has led MassDevelopment with integrity and vision, and has been a partner in our work to grow jobs, build affordable housing, and redevelop gateway cities,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash, who chairs the board of directors.

The Baker administration adamantly pushed back against the suggestion that Jones had been fired by the governor, but would not provide any reason for why Jones’ contract was not extended or indicate whether Jones had expressed a desire to move on.

A spokeswoman for MassDevelopment referred questions about the meeting back to the administration.

In 2011, Jones was hired at a salary of $215,000, and currently earns $238,000 a year. Jones’ predecessor Robert Culver earned $299,000 a year before Patrick moved to trim the compensation of several highly-paid quasi-agency executives.

— Matt Murphy

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