Last week, the House took their last vote and their final budget proposal for FY2019 is off to the Senate. In addition to being the largest House budget ever filed (and the first to crest $40 Billion), the debate itself was also notable for another major superlative; it is by far the least transparent debate they have had in years.
While 1,400 amendments were filed, only five got an up or down vote, and after taking out the unanimous votes, there were only two. That’s down from last year’s low of six. Instead of debating amendments individually and out in the open, House leaders are now opting to do their work behind closed doors and in bulk. Most of the legislating took place in the closed-to-the-public Room 348, where giant "consolidated amendments" were hammered out, away from the scrutiny of voters. Combining hundreds of amendments at a time, this process leaves the public completely in the dark regarding their decision making process.
They even dodged a bullet by furtively discarding an amendment to subject themselves to the public records law which they are currently exempt from-- because they said so.
Since it is an election year, none of this should come as any surprise. Legislators want no hiccups on their way to reelection. Heaven forbid they are forced to take a tough vote that they will have to defend to their constituents before they go to the polls. Instead, they decided to keep everyone in the dark.
While the scrutiny that Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance has leveled at legislative earmarks over the last several years has undoubtedly had a hand in lowering their total number, the ones that did make it in are just as ridiculous as ever. They include:
- $75,000 for a playground in Brockton
- $50,000 for a new Dog Park in Braintree
- $35,000 for an aquatic weed harvester in Duxbury
- $25,000 for community garden irrigation system in Berlin
- $50,000 for signs on a rail trail in Weston (those must be some signs), and
- $100,000 for an Emerald Necklace….which is actually the name of a land conservancy
In the end, legislators added over $80 Million in pork barrel spending and district earmarks to secure the passage of their spending bill. Passage of this budget was on a 150-4 vote. Representatives Nick Boldyga (R-Southwick), Kate Campanale (R-Leicester), Kevin Kuros (R-Uxbridge), and Jim Lyons (R-Andover) had the courage to take a stand and vote against it.
We could only hope for greater fiscal prudence and positive reform coming out of the Senate’s version, but we won’t hold our breath.
Today the House released their $40.98 billion state budget proposal—this represents an increase of $83 million over Governor Baker’s original budget proposal.
Over the last several years revenues have consistently declined below their projected levels every spring. This has put some severe strains on our state budgets, added to our state's overall debt load, and even led to the downgrading of our bond rating last June. This year, however, we’ve seen a sizable increase due to the Trump tax reform law and legislative leaders seem very eager to spend that surplus.
The budget conveniently doesn’t include any broad-based tax increase, insulating legislators from the wrath of an election year.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, claims the budget reflects living within the state's "fiscal realities” but we’re not so sure.
For the second year in a row, House leaders scrapped the Governor's attempt to find savings at MassHealth through shifting 140,000 able-bodied adults making over 100% of the federal poverty limit to comparable plans at the MassHealth Connector, despite assurance that people who are transferred would receive zero-copay, and zero-premium coverage. In this budget, MassHealth makes up 41% of all spending.
According to the Mass Taxpayers Foundation, MassHealth debt service and pensions accounted for 55% of tax revenues in FY2007. That number jumped to 73% in FY2017.
As we speak, House members are furiously writing up their amendments to the budget that will likely add millions in pork projects and earmark spending to its bottom line.
We will keep you informed as the budget continues its way through the halls of Beacon Hill..
Have you seen the new movie Chappaquiddick that was released over the weekend?
We have, and we think it’s something that all lawmakers at the Massachusetts State House would benefit greatly from seeing.
To help make this happen, the Fiscal Alliance Foundation and the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance will be sponsoring movie tickets for legislators. Just send us an email at email@example.com and we’ll make sure you get your ticket to this eye-opening film.