Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.
BOSTON — Line ’em up and knock ’em down. That’s been the House’s approach to Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget vetoes since returning from summer recess.
But if Speaker Robert DeLeo was hoping to see the Senate quickly pick up the spare, he found that it might take them a few extra frames.
For the second straight week, House leaders put dozens of votes on the floor to override $9 million more in spending vetoes, bringing the amount of money Democrats are looking to pour back into the $39.4 billion state budget to $284 million.
Then it was the Senate’s turn.
But in their first session since late July, senators acted on only $25 million worth of overrides focused on statewide services and programs that help children [see story below]. It was less than half of what Sen. Karen Spilka said the Senate was prepared to consider restoring to the budget, and the voting came over the objection of Senate Republicans who urged just a little patience.
The release of September tax collection totals this week will color in a full quadrant of the fiscal year picture and give legislators a better idea of how their financial forecast is holding up — well, at least the revenue side of the equation.
“The current fiscal environment, specifically soft revenue collection reports to date, indicates there is no basis to support the legislature’s decision to increase spending by $284 million,” Baker scolded Thursday evening, powerless to stop the type of decisions that have exacerbated midyear budget cuts in each of the last two years.
Baker watched the override votes from Boston after continuing to wear out the shuttle flight path between Logan and Reagan National. The governor headed back to Washington – this time the White House – for a meeting of President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
His path nearly crossed with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, who was at the White House a day earlier as the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. Congressional leaders were there to discuss tax reform, but the bipartisan nature of the photo-op did not exactly buy the president or GOP leadership any rope with Democrats.
Neal, along with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others from their party, blasted the GOP tax reform framework as a trickle-down economic plan geared toward helping the wealthy, despite the White House casting it as middle-class tax relief.
In Massachusetts, leaders – Baker included – seized on the proposed elimination of state and local tax payment deductions as a particularly egregious simplification of the tax code.
That change would particularly hurt Bay State residents, they said, because they earn more than workers in many places around the country and pay higher income and property taxes that can be used to lower their federal tax burden.
Trump’s tax plan also proposed to eliminate the federal estate tax, a levy that got some attention at the state level as well last week. Rep. Shawn Dooley has proposed to raise the $1 million threshold for the Massachusetts estate tax at one of several hearings last week that put the State House in a morbid mood.
Despite the rejection by voters in 2012 of the concept of helping the terminally ill end their own lives, legislative proposals to revive the debate live on, even if their chances of resurrection seem remote.
Matters of life of death were also never far from mind for those with family in Puerto Rico, where water, food and medicine shortages continue to cause grave concern in a state with one of the top five populations of people from the Caribbean island in the country.
The devastation in Puerto Rico from the one-two punch of hurricanes Irma and Maria continued to influence both policy and politics, as Baker took steps to assure the community and his critics that Massachusetts stood ready to assist in any way possible [see video below].
— Matt Murphy
ALSO ON THE AGENDA
- With another break looming, lawmakers about to buckle down?
- McGovern on SNAP, Baker on WPD
- Worcester awarded state recycling grant
- Watch: Baker, Sanchez on Puerto Rico aid
- Senate restores $25 million in Baker budget vetoes
Semi-formal? Slow to make progress, Legislature has full dance card
Massachusetts lawmakers are about halfway into the post-Labor Day stretch of formal sessions but have only held three formals, with a little more than six weeks left on the calendar before they break again, for the rest of the year.
The break date — the third Wednesday in November under legislative rules — falls early this year, on Nov. 15. Activists have been prodding legislators to address scores of issues: transportation system inadequacies, housing affordability problems, taxation of app-based short-term rentals, a financial crisis in the nursing home industry, the lack of access to dental care, and most recently, worries over consumer credit in the wake of the latest in a wave of data breaches, this one by one of the big three credit bureaus.
Legislative leaders have so far failed to tee up any of their stated major priorities, though there’s a stir on the criminal justice front, with the Judiciary Committee releasing bills Friday that move justice reform bills a step closer to the floors of the House and Senate.
Healthcare legislation, which could address rising MassHealth costs and also regulation of private-sector players, is also getting worked out behind the scenes.
During light formal session activity this month, the House and Senate have focused on veto overrides and restoring spending to the $39.4 billion state budget. In the week ahead, legislators will find out about tax collection levels in September, but it’s unlikely that the news will prevent them from completing spending restorations and additional veto overrides.
A LITTLE BIRDIE …
McGovern advocates for SNAP
— Jim McGovern (@RepMcGovern) September 29, 2017
Baker gives a shout-out for new WPD drug program
Learning from this pilot with our colleagues in Worcester, we can further support individuals struggling with substance misuse 1/
— Charlie Baker (@MassGovernor) September 28, 2017
Worcester awarded state recycling grant
From a press release from the offices of state Sens. Harriette L. Chandler and Michael O. Moore [Lightly edited for clarity and brevity.]
BOSTON – Senators Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury, and Harriette L. Chandler, D-Worcester, announced the city of Worcester has been awarded a grant through the Recycling Dividends Program coordinated by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
Funds through the program are available to municipalities that implement specific programs and policies proven to maximize reuse, recycling and waste reduction. Worcester is slated to receive a grant in the amount of $65,000.
“This grant funding is critical to supporting new opportunities for sustainability in the City of Worcester,” Moore said. “As a former Environmental police officer, I recognize the importance of actively promoting environmental protection. I commend the city on their efforts to secure this grant and I am confident that the funding will assist with their ongoing efforts to reduce solid waste.”
“I am so happy that Worcester has received this grant,” Chandler said. “In the Senate, we want to work to promote responsible recycling programs across the commonwealth. And I am proud to know that my district is helping to lead the charge towards a more sustainable future – with this grant and beyond.”
Before 1990, Massachusetts residents recycled about 10 percent of their discarded materials. In 1990, Massachusetts adopted its first Solid Waste Master Plan, a blueprint for managing solid waste that is generated, reused, recycled, recovered and disposed. Since then, government and citizen efforts have led to a 47 percent recycling rate overall, which is among the best in the nation. However, waste generation continues to increase while the growth in recycling has leveled off.
Grant funds awarded through the Recycling Dividends Program may be applied to recycling and composting equipment; mattress recycling; Pay-As-You-Throw programs; waste reduction enforcement; school recycling; and organics capacity development projects. About 238 communities received grants totaling $2.3 million in 2017. To learn more about the program, visit www.mass.gov.
VIDEO OF THE WEEK
Baker, Sanchez on Puerto Rico aid
IN THE NEWS
Senate restores $25 million in Baker budget vetoes, falls short of goal
Over the governor’s objection, the Senate reinserted nearly $25 million into the fiscal year 2018 budget Thursday, focusing on statewide services and programs that help children.
In its first full sessions since July, the Senate overrode 26 of Gov. Charlie Baker’s 169 line-item vetoes from the budget he signed in July, totaling $24.9 million in funding for what Senate President Stanley Rosenberg called “critical services.”
The funding restored by the Senate included about $1.9 million for the Massachusetts Cultural Council, $1.25 million for early childhood mental health services, $1 million for the Reach Out and Read program, $675,000 for unaccompanied homeless youth services, and $200,000 for preschool expansion grants.
At the end of the day, the Senate managed to override less than half of the vetoes it had set out to on Thursday. At the beginning of the session, Ways and Means Chair Karen Spilka told her Senate colleagues from the floor that they would “act on approximately 60 line items totaling a little over $60 million.”
“These overrides are a testament to the Senate’s commitment to local programs, education funding and economic development initiatives,” Sen. Mike Moore said.
The House voted this month to add back $284 million of the $320 million Baker cut from the $39.4 billion fiscal 2018 budget, and successful Senate override votes would ensure those funds are delivered.
“The Baker-Polito Administration put forward a balanced budget, eliminated millions of dollars in earmark spending and increased funding for education, addiction prevention initiatives and other key programs this fiscal year,” Brendan Moss, Baker’s deputy communications director, said in a statement. “The current fiscal environment, specifically soft revenue collection reports to date, indicates there is no basis to support the legislature’s decision to increase spending by $284 million.”
— Colin A. Young