Zero Vetoes: Fiscal Conservatives Hit Charlie Baker for Rubber-Stamping Massachusetts Legislature’s Budget

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Some fiscal conservatives are criticizing Governor Charlie Baker for signing an approximately $43.3 billion budget approved by the Massachusetts Legislature without vetoing a single line item.

Paul Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a tax and spending watchdog, noted that state spending has increased more than $5 billion since Baker, a Republican, took office in January 2015, and that even Baker’s liberal Democratic predecessor Deval Patrick vetoed certain earmarks in past budgets approved by state legislators.

“It’s a failure in our democratic process when the branch of government charged with [reining] in spending does not exercise its duty to use the line item veto,” Craney said in a written statement Wednesday. “… Governor Baker has consistently vetoed budgetary pork spending and shined a light onto the wasteful spending additions by State House lawmakers. Today that changed and the public deserves to know why.”

The governor’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Baker signed the budget bill Wednesday, July 31. It provides a 3.3 percent increase in spending over the current fiscal year.

The governor’s office’s public statement Wednesday touts restoring what it calls “structural balance” in the budget from state officials’ efforts to decrease spending on MassHealth, the state’s public health insurance program for poor people.

The governor said he is pleased by increases in state spending on public schools and public colleges “while investing in critical areas of the budget including education, housing, transportation, efforts to fight opioid misuse, the care of vulnerable children and support for cities and towns.”

The statement does not address earmarks, which are appropriations of public funds for a particular purpose that typically affects only a purely local matter.

The Massachusetts Constitution gives the governor a line item veto. Article LXIII, Section 5 says:  “The governor may disapprove or reduce items or parts of items in any bill appropriating money. So much of such bill as he approves shall upon his signing the same become law.”

Baker, for instance, vetoed about $162 million in spending in July 2015, his first year in office. He issued line-item vetoes in 2016, 2017, and 2018, as well.

The state Legislature can override a governor’s line item veto with two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate, just as with other types of bills.

One liberal state legislator from western Massachusetts told his local newspaper he was surprised to see no line-item vetoes from Baker this week for the fiscal year 2020 budget, which began July 1, 2019.

“In my 17 years in the Legislature, I’ve never seen a governor sign without using some veto power. That speaks volumes with the relationship we have with the governor,” said state Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli (D-Lenox), who has a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 8 percent, according to The Berkshire Eagle.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker issued his fifth yearly budget message on Wednesday, July 31, 2019. The graph above shows the amounts of line-item appropriations he vetoed each year. The figures are $162 million in 2015, $256 in 2016, $320 in 2017, $48.9 million in 2018, and $0 in 2019. Each veto was issued during the summer of that year, for the fiscal year that began July 1 of that year. Sources: Fiscal Year Vetoes,