Budget panel convenes as deadline approaches

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2016/06/13/budget-panel-convenes-as-deadline-approaches/

STATE HOUSE — Closed-door negotiations on the fiscal 2017 state budget kicked off Friday morning as six House and Senate lawmakers huddled to begin resolving differences between their competing $39.5 billion spending bills.

After meeting for three minutes in open session, the conference committee voted to continue its discussion in executive session.

“We have a lot of work to do,” House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey said. “We are at a critical point with respect to not only the current fiscal year but in looking at our decisions and how that will impact FY ’17, so I look forward to working together over the next few weeks.”

The budget negotiations commence as lawmakers and the Baker administration adjust to tax collections that have fallen significantly short of their projections, raising questions about whether spending levels are affordable in the fiscal year that ends June 30 and fiscal 2017, which begins on July 1.

Led by Dempsey, a Haverhill Democrat, and Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka, an Ashland Democrat, the committee also includes Democrats Sen. Sal DiDomenico of Everett and Rep. Stephen Kulik of Worthington and Republicans Rep. Todd Smola of Warren and Sen. Vinny deMacedo of Plymouth.

“This is our second year working together,” Spilka told the committee as its members gathered around a table in her office. “We’re veterans at this point, and I look forward to continuing working with you on this as we go through the budget and help the people of the commonwealth.”

The vote to close the meeting, on a motion from Dempsey, was unanimous among the five committee members present – DiDomenico arrived after the vote.

The legislators are working off of budgets (H 4201 and S 2305) with similar bottom lines but different line-item allocations and local earmarks. The Senate also tacked on a host of policy proposals to its spending bill.

The final Senate budget clocked in at $39.558 billion, while the House’s is $39.539 billion, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

A Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center analysis found the budget totals are within 0.1 percent of each other, with no more than half of a percent difference in “every major category,” including education and health care.

Policy proposals added by senators included a ban on “single use” plastic bags at chain stores and large retailers, a waiver of medical marijuana registration fees for veterans, and an MBTA fare hike cap of 5 percent over two years, along with measures dealing with teacher evaluations, retiree health care premiums and mid-level dental practitioners.

After the Senate passed its budget last month, Gov. Charlie Baker called it a “bad practice” to incorporate new policy into the budget. He said he would take “a pretty dim view on issues that resemble major policy that never got a hearing in the Legislature that aren’t related to the budget that come through the final product.”

The new fiscal year begins on July 1. Once the conference committee produces its budget, Baker will have 10 days to review the bill, sign it and announce any vetoes and amendments.

— Written by Katie Lannan

Copyright State House News Service