No wonder Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) inspires tremendous loyalty among the Democrat caucus. He's got a winning leadership strategy: More pay, less work.
After rallying the troops to pass a huge pay increase for themselves as the first order of business this legislative session, he's made quick work of the single most important piece of legislation, the House budget.
In just two days, DeLeo and his lieutenants rammed through a budget of just over $40,000,000,000 with only 17 hours of debate allowed on the House floor.
How quickly is $40B allocated for in 17 hours? For each second: $653,594. For every minute: $39,215,686, and for every hour of debate: $2,352,941,176.
The pace broke all speed records in the House. Between 2012 and 2016, House lawmakers engaged in three days of debate before sending the package on to the Senate. In 2011, debate lasted for four days; in 2010, five. A generation ago, budget debate would last weeks. The days of open discussion seem to be a relic of the past.
DeLeo worked behind closed doors, horse trading and consolidating, obfuscating and placating in Room 348, a private room closed to the public. In Room 348, over 1,200 budget amendments transformed into just nine consolidated amendment votes. Out of the 1,200 amendments, excluding consolidated amendments, only five standalone amendments got a straight up or down roll call vote.
DeLeo uses backroom deals, a rushed schedule, and procedural gimmicks to avoid debate and votes on good amendments. One of their favorite gimmicks, is to “study” an amendment. The studies never happen, but instead of voting on the piece of legislation, they take a vote to “study” it.
The MassFiscal policy team tracks all the real votes, however few they are, and the Speaker’s gimmick votes. Check the updated scorecard, and search for House lawmakers and view their new scores and votes at www.MassFiscalScorecard.org.
Budget-busting MassHealth, the behemoth state-funded medical cost assistance program, is a crucial focus in this year's budget debate.
Medicaid, the largest program within MassHealth, eats up about 41% of the state budget. Enrollment in the program, meant to be a last-resort choice for the uninsured, has grown by 70% since 2007. According to the House budget proposal, next year it will increase by $322M.
To deal with the costs of MassHealth, the budget submitted to the legislature by Governor Baker included an employer tax of $2,000 per employee levied on businesses whose private health insurance covers fewer than 80% of its workers. While the Governor's reasoning is understandable, MassFiscal opposes penalizing businesses who are, in fact, offering coverage.
At the heart of the debate is finding a way to encourage people to use private insurance when available, not MassHealth. The administration's solution targets the employers. From our perspective, it makes more sense to rein in an out of control subsidy program.
Among the "fixes" offered is a well-intentioned bad idea from State Representative James Arciero, of Westford. Arciero filed an amendment calling for a “hardship waiver” for businesses which serve populations using MassHealth. Rep Arciero’s well-intentioned bad idea would not address the problem of employees choosing MassHealth over private insurance or how to pay for the rising healthcare costs at MassHealth. Instead, his proposal would add more of a burden to the system by adding a new class of people exempt from providing quality health care to workers. Rep. Arciero, whose experience before becoming a lawmaker was working as a legislative aide, is an example of big-government thinking at its worst. It solves nothing, and makes the problem bigger.
A better idea, offered by State Representatives James Lyons and Marc Lombardo (amendments #876 and #914), calls for a temporary Fiscal Management Control Board (FMCB) to take over MassHealth. The board would apply private-sector bottom-line thinking to the out-of-control growth at MassHealth. A similar board has produced dramatic results at the MBTA. Already the MBTA’s FMCB has enacted measures expected to save the state $400M over 10 years, while increasing ridership and revenue.
Rep. Lyons also proposed an amendment (#878) aimed at reducing MassHealth’s costs by levying a fee on MassHealth plans for households earning more than the federal poverty level. The fee would be calculated on an income-based sliding scale. The more you earn, you more you pay for your government subsidized healthcare. The fee would help protect services for the most needy.
Another Lyons amendment (#880) would limit spending on MassHealth to 30% of the state budget. Currently, spending is unlimited, and we all know how effective a blank check is at controlling costs.
We’ll continue updating you on the budget as it makes its way through the House and Senate.
This week, MassFiscal is running an advocacy campaign in Worcester County to educate constituents on the pay raise scheme passed by legislators. The content highlights freshman State Rep. Brian Murray and his decision to give himself a pay raise before doing his job.
We've attached the mailer below.
We also wrote an Op-Ed on the matter that's been featured in the Milford Daily News. You may read it here.