Massachusetts Democratic Leadership Trying To Blame ‘Super-Minority’ Republicans For Delay In Spending Bill

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By Colin A. Young
State House News Service


“Everybody happy?”

That’s what House Speaker Ron Mariano asked the supposedly obstructionist Republicans in his chamber Friday afternoon shortly before scheduling a rare Saturday session so Democrats can once again attempt to pass their tardy $3-plus billion spending bill without having to take to the House floor to defend it or let anyone who disagrees have a say.

No, Mr. Speaker, no one is happy. Not about getting dragged into the State House on a Saturday in December, not about the fact that disaster relief money, public employee raises and shelter system funding is being held up, and not about the way Beacon Hill Democrats have managed what could be a very simple exercise of closing the books on the last fiscal year.

Mostly no one is happy because this whole situation was avoidable. And it’s becoming emblematic of the way Beacon Hill’s Democrat super-majority operates under Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka.

Governor Maura Healey filed the genesis of the bill on September 14 — two full months before House and Senate rules required that formal sessions (the kind at which controversial issues can be debated and voted on) end. The Democrat-controlled House Ways and Means Committee did nothing with the bill until October 18 — when the committee used part of it as the vehicle for leadership’s controversial gun law reform bill to get around the Senate’s procedural concerns with that bill.

It wasn’t until November 8 — one week before the required end of formal business — that the House actually took up the supp budget. That left one week for the Senate to propose, debate and pass its own version of the supp. And as has become the norm with Ways and Means chairmen Aaron Michlewitz and Michael Rodrigues leading negotiations, Democrats then couldn’t get on the same page with a single bill.

But now that they have an agreement Democratic leaders, and Mariano especially, have been trying to shift all of the blame onto House and Senate Republicans. The super-minority party was united in opposition to the underlying bills and now is seeking a chance to again register their disapproval. They’ve been clear they would take a different approach to managing the migrant crisis.

“The fact remains that every day that goes by is another day the shelter money doesn’t get fully funded, it’s another day that goes by that those [public worker] contracts that have been ratified don’t get fully funded,” Michlewitz said Thursday evening, November 30.

Two weeks ago, though, it could have been one of House or Senate Republicans making almost the same point as Democrat indecision and inaction was holding things up. Somehow that delay doesn’t seem to bother Democrats.

Democrats were ready Thursday evening with a PR offensive blaming Republicans for “obstructionism” and “blocking the passage of the supplemental budget” after they requested that the House call a formal session to deal with the supp. Republicans leaders know they don’t have the votes to stop Democrats from doing what they’ll do, but they want the opportunity to register their opposition once again.

House Minority Leader Brad Jones said Friday afternoon, December 1 that the easiest way to have avoided this situation “is if the Democrats had had their act together and gotten this supplemental budget done in an appropriate time.” The next easiest way, he said, would be to agree to the Republican caucus request for a formal session where the bill could be debated, voted on by roll call, and given the mathematical realities of the House, passed.

“We could have just brought up one issue and it would have been done. Could have had a little bit of a debate, people could have voted for it or against it, and this issue would be done,” he said. “Or, they could just call 81 members and say, ‘hey, you know what, come on in and after we’re done here, we’ll all go out to have a bite to eat.'”

The state Republican Party defended its legislators Thursday night in a statement that castigated Democrats for blaming the GOP for a situation that arose because of their own procrastination and family feuding.

“Despite control of the leadership on Beacon Hill and the Governor’s office, the party in power is unable to work through regular order to serve the people of Massachusetts. Republicans are now being asked to ignore the proper process on Beacon Hill and bail out Democrats with a vote on spending billions of taxpayer money in an informal session,” MassGOP chairman Amy Carnevale said.

And it isn’t just Republicans who are unhappy with the way that Democrat leaders have handled this budget bill.

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers spearheaded by state Senator Walter Timilty (D-Milton) called on the conference committee to expeditiously release some of the funding for things like disaster relief, state employee labor contracts, and other items. And there’s been plenty of second-guessing lately that the Legislature should have passed a “clean supp” to merely close the books on fiscal year 2023 and addressed issues like emergency shelter funding and a potential Everett soccer stadium — both of which have absolutely nothing to do with fiscal year 2023 — separately.

But that’s not how Beacon Hill has operated under the tight top-down control of Mariano and Spilka. Increasingly, everything gets wrapped up into some kind of omnibus package that doesn’t get done until the very last minute (or later) and that features leadership-favored policies or spending that might not sail through as smoothly. Why pass three individual bills that have broad support when leadership could lash more controversial plans onto each one so reps and senators have to hold their noses and vote for it all anyways?

And though public objections from the rank-and-file weren’t particularly loud or pointed, this situation has provided a rare indication of members saying they’re unhappy with the way leadership is doing something.

Claiming devotion to the rules and denying Republicans the chance to just say their piece also, conveniently for Democrats, gives cover for not explaining in session the changes that the four Democrats who agreed to the new package made — like, say, the $300 million in additional spending that was rolled in.

So much for that solemn talk last month from both Ways and Means chairmen about keeping a tighter clasp on the state’s purse strings while tax collections lag expectations by $355 million already this year. Bookmark this one for a few months from now if the idea of reducing the fiscal year 2024 tax revenue estimate gets floated.

With what a Senate Ways and Means spokesman said is a common accounting tactic, the Legislature is effectively letting offices keep the money they didn’t spend from last year’s budget. They might be especially grateful for that if the forecast for a significant slowdown in economic growth through the next year holds up.

Business leaders are coming to terms with the notion that the state’s shrinking workforce might not re-inflate at all, and economists are getting concerned that Massachusetts might not have sufficient revenue to cover the costs associated with delivering on new tax relief directives and raising spending to deal with transportation, child care, and housing problems as a way to position the state for future growth.

“It’s a national issue that is going to have some duration, which means that we’re in competition for talent with other regions all over the country, and they’re competing with us,” Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce chief Jim Rooney said this week. “This is a national competition for talent … we need to understand what levers we have to pull to make it attractive to young people to stay here. I think we know what the answer is, where we need to lean into — it’s housing prices and costs.”

Dust off your green eyeshade for next week, because it’ll be time to talk taxes. Monday brings the annual consensus revenue hearing, at which lawmakers and the administration call upon the usual suspects to get a sense of how much money they’ll be able to spend in the fiscal year 2025 budget. An update on the state’s year-to-date tax revenue shortfall is due from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue by Tuesday, December 5 — through mid-November, the month’s collections were more than 11 percent behind mid-November 2022 mark with decreases in all major tax types except withholding.


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