Update! The controversial $3 billion dollar supplemental budget, which included $250 million in additional funding for the state’s emergency shelter system inevitably made it to the Governor’s desk where it was signed into law, but not without a principled fight led by legislative Republicans. As Democrats hold a super majority in the legislature, they have the numbers to overcome any procedural hurdle if they choose, but this time, the Republican caucuses in both the House and Senate were able to force a quorum to show up at the State House, a counted vote, and some much-needed legislative decorum to this process. So, a recap of what happened:
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-After House Republicans doubted the presence of a quorum in multiple informal sessions, going on for several days, Speaker Ron Mariano and House Democrats were forced to show up at the State House to pass their controversial $3 billion spending bill. The spending package included $250 million in additional funding for the emergency shelter system as well as added welfare SNAP benefits for migrants. It did not include the Republican amendments to add a residency requirement for the “Right to Shelter” law benefit. Although a roll call vote was not permitted in informal session rules, Republicans were able to get a standing vote count rather than an illusionary voice vote. The bill passed on a 105-14 standing vote. According to a story from this week’s State House News Service, Speaker Mariano, who has served in the House for more than three decades, “could not recall another instance when there was a quorum during an informal House session.” Even though it was a normal private sector work day, for many State House lawmakers, they were on vacation and the Republicans forced them to come back to work to vote on how billions of our taxpayer dollars are spent.
-From here, Senate Republicans called for a rule suspension to be taken out of informal session and operate in a formal session to address this bill out in the open and were able to get their Democrat colleagues to agree. This would mean they could debate the bill and have a recorded roll call vote. However, based on the Joint Rules, Speaker Mariano and his House leadership team would need to agree to this for it to take effect. To nobody’s surprise, Speaker Mariano never agreed to call all his House members back in for a formal session, and the Senate also took a standing vote on the bill with a 20-3 tally.
So, what does this mean? It means that for the first time in a long time, legislative Republicans led a charge for integrity and transparency in the broken system, and respect for taxpayers to hash out how billions in controversial taxpayer dollar spending would progress. Without the House and Senate Republican pressure, the Speaker and Senate President could have passed their spending plan in the blink of an eye with just a few legislators present, and without the transparency of a vote. It’s important to take this stand now to set precedent when they know the growing migrant crisis will only bring more taxpayer dollar requests.
MassFiscal is pleased they found their voice at a time when Massachusetts faced months of consecutive revenue shortfalls. Just this week, a Revenue committee hearing announced a grim forecast for next year year’s budget. Taxpayers will need a voice in the legislature, opposing wasteful and unsustainable spending, with the goal of taking a stand on much needed reforms to bring about accountability to the Speaker, Senate President, and Governor.
We are hoping this is the last bad action the legislature takes in this informal session for the rest of the month, but we will be watching closely. In the meantime, if you see your local legislative Republican during the Christmas and holiday season, please make sure to thank them for their work to advocate for the taxpayers and bring more transparency in the State House.