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.