Governor Baker ‘anxious’ for results as state budget talks drag on

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Written by Andy Metzger

After meeting with Gov. Charlie Baker Monday afternoon House and Senate leaders declined to rule out needing a second interim budget to keep state government open while expressing optimism about ongoing annual budget negotiations.

“We have another three weeks, but let’s hope it doesn’t take another three weeks,” Senate President Stanley Rosenberg told reporters outside his office after meeting with Baker and the House speaker.

The fiscal 2016 budget was due last week and legislative leaders were vague when asked when it will be ready for delivery to the governor. As they have repeatedly, they said only that negotiators were working.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said the conference committee – a six-member group of House and Senate members charged by their colleagues with reconciling two competing budget bills (H 3401/S 1930) – was meeting on Monday and said he “can’t” discuss the sticking points.

Both DeLeo and Rosenberg declined to directly answer whether the budget would be done Tuesday.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” said DeLeo, continuing, “The fact again that they’re not here, that they are trying to work on the finalization of a budget, should tell you that hopefully we’re progressing forward and not inching backwards.”

“There’s lots and lots of details. I mean there are hundreds and hundreds of outside sections in both budgets,” Rosenberg said. He said, “They’re taking the time to make sure they get it right.”

In late June lawmakers delivered a month-long budget – known as a one-twelfth – that maintains state spending through July. Asked whether he would be willing to take up a second interim budget, Rosenberg was quiet for a few moments before answering.

“Thanks guys,” said DeLeo’s spokesman Seth Gitell said, breaking the silence.

Baker then offered: “I hope there’s not a second.” Patting both DeLeo and Rosenberg on their backs, he added, “I’m very optimistic that these folks will figure this one out, OK?”

At that point, Rosenberg said that budget negotiators had three more weeks.

“I am anxious as many others are to see where these two branches land on a whole bunch of the issues between and among them, but I have full confidence we won’t have to do another one-twelfth,” Baker said.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr told the News Service there has been no discussion of a second interim budget, but he said “I think everyone right now is concerned” that the Legislature is into fiscal 2016 without a fiscal 2016 budget.

Tarr said he did not know what the sticking points were and said there appeared to be “good communication” among the conferees.

The final budget will also provide more information to Baker, who is optimistic that the administration will not need to initiate layoffs after a savings-generating early retirement program has fallen short of its target.

“Obviously the budget depends a little bit on what the folks in the House and Senate ultimately send our way, but the fundamental objective of this program was to come up with a way to deal with a yawning gap in the fiscal ’16 budget and to do it in a way that would treat people with an appropriate level of respect,” Baker said.

Both the House and the Senate passed budgets with bottom lines around $38.1 billion, which is about the size of the budget Baker recommended to the Legislature back in March.

DeLeo said he hoped some of the “tools” Baker has sought to reform the MBTA will be included in the final version of the budget. A standalone MBTA reform bill is currently in the House Committee on Ways and Means, where the chair, Rep. Brian Dempsey, is leading House annual budget negotiations.