$38.1 billion budget accord easily clears both branches

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2015/07/09/38-1-billion-budget-accord-easily-clears-both-branches/

By Michael Norton and Andy Metzger

STATE HOUSE-Massachusetts lawmakers were quick to stamp their approval on a compromise $38.1 billion budget unveiled on Tuesday night, approving it on Wednesday afternoon by votes of 153-1 in the House and 31-5 in the Senate.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who made generally favorable comments about the budget on Wednesday morning, has ten days to sift through its details before signing it and announcing vetoes and amendments.

Baker said the budget, which slows the rate of growth in state spending, didn’t include any new taxes or fees and featured reforms that he believes will improve MBTA performance.

One of the MBTA reforms, a three-year suspension of the law governing privatization of state services, came in for harsh criticism from several senators, including the sponsor of that 1993 law, Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton).

In a 43-minute speech, Pacheco painted a picture of profit-seeking companies swooping in to grab MBTA contracts and forcing layoffs of members of an MBTA workforce that he said had grown more diverse over the years.

Supporters of the law’s suspension say it will help the MBTA, whose shortcomings were exposed during this winter’s heavy snowfall, to improve operations and address maintenance and repair backlogs.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said that because of the MBTA’s poor performance “we felt it necessary that we had to give the governor some real strong tools that he can use to turn things around,” including the Pacheco law suspension and a new fiscal control board.

DeLeo said the House planned to address other issues affecting the T in legislation that’s before the House Ways and Means Committee. DeLeo emphasized the importance of making the T run efficiently, and said Baker “has made it clear that he does not foresee any layoffs whatsoever as a result, that’s not his intent.”

Senate budget chief Karen Spilka said the three-year suspension measure was a “bitter pill to swallow” in secret budget negotiations with a three-member House panel. The House had favored a five-year suspension of the law at the MBTA. The law was left untouched in the Senate budget that passed in May and Pacheco during his speech said 32 senators has committed themselves to preserving the law.

[Watch: Budget Accord Reaction]

[Watch: House on Budget Agreement]

Five senators voted against acceptance of the conference committee report, and others who voted for it said the suspension of the Pacheco law made it a difficult decision.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said he was disappointed by the inclusion of the Pacheco suspension in the bill and both he and Spilka said the focus on MBTA reforms should be on the management side.

“I’ll speak for myself. I’m very disappointed,” Rosenberg said. He said he expected about a half dozen no votes and he said the statutory vetting process before privatization of government service is something senators “feel very passionately about it.”

Sens. Ken Donnelly (D-Arlington), Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), Tom McGee (D-Lynn), Dan Wolf (D-Harwich) and Pacheco voted against acceptance of the budget report, though the vote on enactment was unanimous.

Fresh from the final step before his first budget as Senate president is delivered to the governor, Rosenberg was generally pleased with the outcome and particularly upbeat about giving the University of Massachusetts the ability to retain tuition payments, which currently go to the state’s general fund.

“It’s been about 20 years in the making. It’s time we caught up with the rest of the country. Every public university system in America has tuition retention and has for a very long time,” Rosenberg said.

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