Massachusetts House Speaker Hints State May Eventually Enact Program Cuts To Fund Migrant Shelters

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By Alison Kuznitz
State House News Service

Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano on Thursday painted a bleak picture of the fiscal year 2026 budget cycle amid declining state revenue collections and a flood of new arrivals seeking emergency shelter in Massachusetts.

Addressing hundreds of immigrants and advocates, Mariano suggested the fiscal year 2025 budget, which the House plans to introduce within two weeks, could be insulated by money held in reserve accounts.

But without providing specific examples, the Quincy Democrat broadly hinted that funding for various programs is at stake in next year’s budget-writing exercise, during his remarks at the annual Immigrants’ Day advocacy event.

Mariano at first did not explicitly say whether he foresees budget cuts, telling reporters later Thursday morning, “I don’t know what we’ll see. I don’t know how we’ll see it. We’re going to have to deal with it somehow.”

Yet moments later, he invoked the prospect of cuts as he compared the financial pressure of paying for the over-burdened shelter system to someone getting a new car payment and then the engine falls out.

“What I’m trying to do is, as you begin to have these discussions, there has to be some realities that people put forth so that there’s some understanding that cuts will have to come,” Mariano (D-Quincy) said. “And it’s not something that I look forward to, and I’m not going to spring it on the people at the last minute and say, ‘Hey, we just whacked the budget.’ ”

He added, “The expectations are high because we’ve been pretty good. I just don’t know if we can keep going like this.”

Pressed which items could see funding challenges in fiscal year 2026, Mariano said, “Everything, everything, everything.”

“Every program that we fund is susceptible to being tapped to get to fund this shelter program — not in this budget, but in the next budget,” Mariano continued, as he lamented the lack of help from the federal government. “People continue to come, and we have a commitment to keep this emergency shelter program open.”

Mariano told reporters he did not forecast the same type of budget challenges for fiscal year 2025, saying, “We have some reserve money, that’s why.”

Fiscal year 2025 runs from July 1, 2024 through June 30, 2025.

Governor Maura Healey tapped an array of funding sources to support her fiscal year 2025 budget, including a proposal to use $375 million in “excess” capital gains tax collections. She also wants to use $300 million from a Student Opportunity Act Investment Fund, drain the $265 million from High-Quality Early Education & Care Affordability Fund, and redirect casino gaming revenues.

The state’s rainy day fund hit $8.2 billion in January. 

Mariano did not rule out following the governor’s approach and using one-time revenues to shore up the House’s incoming budget.

“We will look at some of that — we’ll have to,” he said. “Everything’s on the table. We have to get through this. We cannot count on Washington for any assistance.”

Healey’s budget proposal incorporates about $1.1 billion in one-time funding sources, an amount the House and Senate should not exceed during negotiations, said Doug Howgate, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

While Healey left $200 million in the Student Opportunity Act fund, Howgate said the House and Senate may disagree about how to use the resource or how to divert excess capital gains tax revenues from the state’s rainy day fund, among other pots of money. Howgate said Beacon Hill must focus on reining in its spending levels due to stagnant revenues.

“The challenge with one-time solutions is you have to find a new solution next year,” Howgate said. “Incorporating one-time solutions into the budget is appropriate within reason, and I think the governor’s budget kind of gets to the edge of where we want to be.”

Howgate noted that Healey and both legislative branches have already shown their willingness to address budget constraints by relying on a reserve account consisting of federal COVID-19 dollars and other surplus money.

Healey insulated her budget recommendation by maintaining level-funding of $325 million for the state’s shelter system. But in an accompanying supplemental budget request, Healey called for draining the state Transitional Escrow Fund, which the administration said in January had an uncommitted balance of $863 million.

The House earlier this month passed its supplemental budget to steer $245 million from that fund to emergency family shelters in fiscal year 2024. The Senate passed its version allowing the Healey administration to use about $825 million from the escrow fund over the next 15-plus months.

The crush of new arrivals into the commonwealth has inundated emergency assistance family shelters and prompted lawmakers to negotiate imposing shelter stay limits to prevent the system from collapsing.

Shelter costs are expected to approach $1 billion this fiscal year and next fiscal year, a major strain for budget-writers who must also make tough spending decisions due to the state’s revenue slump.

House Ways and Means chairman Aaron Michlewitz (D-North End) earlier this week said the budget and emergency assistance family shelter system are at a “breaking point” due to the migrant crisis.

“And although our fiscal outlook is still pretty strong, and we built up our reserves to record highs, the budget before us today that we’re dealing with is going to be one of the most challenging I’ve had to deal with as the chair,” Michlewitz said at a Black Economic Council of Massachusetts event.

As Mariano explained lawmakers’ financial struggles to immigrants and advocates on Thursday, March 28, he called himself a partner and welcomed them to the state capitol.

“We’re all going to have to tighten our belts and do the best we can to make sure that the programs that are important are funded adequately and that is my commitment to you,” Mariano said. “There will be programs that we’ll look at each other and say, ‘Sure, we should put more money in there, but we don’t have it.’ And we will get through it, we always do, we always seem to come out on the other end — no matter how grim it looks at the time.”

The advocacy event, hosted by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Coalition, kicked off on an upbeat note with musical performances.

Gladys Vega, executive director of Chelsea-based La Colaborativa, celebrated recent legislative victories for immigrants. Expressing her appreciation for the speaker, Vega said Mariano was taking a risk by speaking at the event, as she noted migrants are “not popular” in the current political climate.

State Senator Lydia Edwards (D-East Boston) also spoke broadly about the hatred in today’s world and condemned people for blaming immigrants over problems they “have no control over because they’re an easy target.”

“If we do not fight for immigrants, we are going to hurt our own state,” Edwards said, as she called for legislation that “recognizes we need immigrants.”

Striking an initially optimistic note, Mariano lauded immigrants’ contributions to the economy and noted that one in five workers in Massachusetts is foreign-born, a statistic which he called “amazing.”

Mariano praised advocates’ help in passing legislation that allows residents to get driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status, and he celebrated a “huge breakthrough” in the Legislature last year to provide in-state college tuition rates and financial aid to students who are in the country illegally.

Mariano also pledged his commitment to supporting the overburdened shelter system, and for the commonwealth to stay a welcoming place for immigrants, before he delved into the state’s murky financial prospects.

“One of the things that causes our economy to be successful is the influx of immigrants,” Mariano said. “And it is amazing to me that as we go through these challenges we’re facing daily — and we’re certainly going to be facing budget challenges, not so much this year but next year — it’s going to be extremely difficult. It’ll be extremely difficult for us as legislators and for you as advocacy groups. There is no money coming from the federal government.”

Massachusetts should not expect help from Washington until after the November election, Mariano said.

Yet immigration remains top of mind for voters, with 28 percent of Americans ranking it as the country’s most important problem, a Gallup poll in February found. That compares to 20 percent in January.

Mariano could not say whether new state policies benefiting immigrants, including in-state tuition, would remain intact in fiscal year 2026 (which runs from July 1, 2025 through June 30, 2026).

“You know, good times are great, and when there are good times, everyone, everyone really enjoys spending the money,” the speaker said. “And I enjoyed spending the money, but I’ve been through bad times in here when local aid has been cut, when everything in the budget has been on the table for a cut.”


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