State budget deal ‘close;’ House leaders say no vote yet

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By Michael P. Norton


The new fiscal year dawned Wednesday morning without a new state budget in place and it appears an accord won’t be ratified before the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Asked about the outlook for a budget agreement this week, Second Assistant Majority Leader Paul Donato of Medford told the News Service, “Probably not. They’re still working.”

Donato said the six-member conference committee “almost had some kind of agreement” and are “close” to finalizing details of an annual spending bill that will likely total $38.1 billion.

“It won’t be this week,” Donato said. “But we’re anticipating that they’re working and trying to get it done as quickly as possible.”

The House and Senate budgets both feature investments in local aid, education aid and substance abuse treatment, with major areas of disagreement including approaches to fixing problems at the MBTA and tax policy. The House budget steered mostly clear of tax law changes while the Senate passed an increase in personal income tax exemptions and the earned income tax credit while freezing the income tax at 5.15 percent and thus nullifying the current schedule that could ratchet down that broad-based tax to 5 percent.

In a phone interview, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) agreed that negotiators are close to a deal.

“We’re still working,” said Spilka, who is leading Senate budget talks opposite House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill). “There are still some outstanding complex issues for both the House and the Senate that we’re still working on. I know the Senate still hoped to do it this week but we’re working on it.”

The House met for about 10 minutes Wednesday morning before adjourning until Thursday, when they plan an informal session during which controversial bills are usually not considered. Few House members attend informal sessions. The Senate gaveled in its informal session Wednesday morning and held it open for nearly an hour before adjourning until Thursday when another informal session is planned.

Asked if conferees had meetings scheduled, Spilka said, “We’re still working. We’re still talking.”

Before fiscal 2015 ended, Gov. Charlie Baker and legislative leaders began coming to grips with the possibility that budget deliberations that started in early March might not lead to a timely conclusion.

Baker filed legislation to keep state government funded for two weeks but legislative leaders gave their negotiators even more time to work on what’s now a late budget, passing a $5.5 billion temporary budget to keep state government funded for about four weeks.

Lawmakers are juggling the need to be on Beacon Hill to vote on a budget bill when it’s ready with their own plans for the Fourth of July, which falls on Saturday. House Speaker Robert DeLeo notified representatives last week that unless a budget were ready for a vote on Friday, the House will close that day to observe Independence Day.

Spilka held out hope for an agreement this week. “If not this week I would certainly be working for it next week. We really want to wrap this up as soon as possible,” she told the News Service.

Donato said, “We were hoping that it would be done but there’s still a few issues that have to be resolved,” adding that a deal is possible next week “if they keep working the way they are.”