CONFEREES BOOST SPENDING, AGREE TO $41.88 BILLION FISCAL 2019 BUDGET
By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JULY 18, 2018....Jacking up spending beyond levels approved by either branch this spring, House and Senate negotiators on Wednesday agreed to a $41.88 billion budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.
The compromise spending plan, now 17 days overdue, was filed with the House clerk's office just after 10 a.m.
The accord is the product of a six-member conference committee, helmed by Ways and Means Chairs Sen. Karen Spilka and Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, which began its talks on June 7. A $5 billion interim budget passed in late June has kept government and its services running while the panel hashed out its differences.
"The $41.88B Conference Report honors our commitment to programs that improve the lives of people across Massachusetts," Spilka and Sanchez said in a joint statement. "Together, we have agreed on a budget that meets people where they are in their lives, supports the most vulnerable amongst us, and ensures our economy grows for the benefit of all residents. It also reflects our continued belief that we have a responsibility to be careful stewards of taxpayer dollars, directing a significant deposit into our stabilization fund to bring the total amount over $2 billion by the end of Fiscal Year 2019."
The deal does not include Senate-backed language that sought to restrict local authorities' cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. That measure was the subject of fierce lobbying by immigrants and activists opposed to a Trump administration crackdown on illegal immigration.
Massachusetts stands alone as the only state in the country without a full budget in place for the current fiscal year.
The House and Senate budgets were similar in their bottom lines but differed on individual line items, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, which tallied the House's at $41.515 billion and the Senate at $41.494 billion.
There were more than $500 million in line-item spending differences between the two budgets, along with 185 non-spending policy initiatives from the Senate and 109 from the House, according to the foundation.
Votes in each branch are needed to accept the deal and then again to send it to Gov. Charlie Baker's desk. The governor will have 10 days to review it and issue any vetoes or amendments.
The budget's late arrival is complicating work on other bills. Lawmakers have less than two weeks to finish writing major bills addressing consumer data protections, short-term rental regulation and taxation, health care, education funding, environmental spending, animal welfare, veterans benefits, civics education, automatic voter registration and clean energy. If the Legislature gets a budget to Baker soon, they'll preserve a short window at the end of the month to consider line item spending vetoes and budget amendments.
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr told reporters Tuesday night as he waited with them to see if a deal would be filed that he was concerned about lawmakers being asked to vote on a budget without adequate time to review it.
"I am disappointed that we're going to go another day without having a budget document and I am concerned that it will put pressure on the membership to try to vote on something and I want to make sure that we have adequate time for it to be digested before that vote is taken, so as we get later in the process it becomes a more difficult situation," the Gloucester Republican said.
Both the House and Senate are meeting in formal sessions on Wednesday, but unless lawmakers opt to suspend a joint rule, votes on conference committee reports cannot take place before 1 p.m. the day after the report is filed.
Lawmakers plan a late-morning briefing for reporters on the budget agreement.
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