MORNING BRIEFS: HEFFERNAN UNAVAILABLE | RMV HEARING, TAKE TWO | RECORD HIGH PRICES
7/25/19 11:13 AM
- STATE BUDGET CHIEF UNAVAILABLE ON "MOST NOTABLE" PART OF BUDGET
- LAWMAKERS EXPECT FULL PARTICIPATION AT JULY 30 RMV HEARING
- SALES OFF AS HOME, CONDO PRICES SET NEW RECORDS
STATE BUDGET CHIEF UNAVAILABLE ON "MOST NOTABLE" PART OF BUDGET
The Baker administration's budget chief is dodging questions about a big revenue markup that the Democrat-controlled Legislature embraced this week as part of an effort to substantially drive up state spending. The $43.1 billion fiscal 2020 budget filed Sunday and approved by the House and Senate on Monday raised spending by about $317 million more than either the House budget that was approved in April or the Senate budget passed in May. The bottom line is about $400 million more than Gov. Charlie Baker sought in January. With the revenue markup, the Legislature has put before Baker a budget that raises spending by 4 percent, a notable $1.6 billion increase heading into the 2020 election year. Marie-Frances Rivera, president of the independent Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, on Monday called the revenue markup "the most notable feature" of the entire budget. "Though these additional investments are welcome, it is possible that this revenue growth will not last forever," Rivera said. "While revenue growth estimates remain strong for the coming fiscal year, expectations are that the national and state economies will slow eventually and state revenue collections will follow suit. A few, unexpected 'boom years' do not change the underlying fact that Massachusetts has a long-term problem with inadequate revenues." Also Monday, the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation checked in on the markup, saying it had recommended a $455 million increase in the projection, with just $113 million of that available for spending in the budget. "These more aggressive assumptions add risk to the fiscal 2020 budget picture and raise the prospect of midyear budget cuts if the assumptions do not prove valid," the foundation said, estimating appropriations in the conference budget of $43.6 billion, not the $43.1 billion claimed by legislators. With the markup substantially altering the budget picture, the News Service asked Baker budget chief Michael Heffernan for his take on the maneuver. A Heffernan spokeswoman said he wasn't available on Monday. On Wednesday, the News Service renewed its request to briefly discuss the revenue markup with Heffernan, a former Citigroup and Salomon Brothers executive who previously served as state revenue commissioner. Julie Mehegan, communications director for the Executive Office of Administration and Finance, responded only by saying the budget is under review, refusing to respond to the request about Heffernan's availability. - Michael P. Norton/SHNS
LAWMAKERS EXPECT FULL PARTICIPATION AT JULY 30 RMV HEARING
Transportation Committee chairs told the administration that they expect full participation from Registry of Motor Vehicles employees when they reconvene an oversight hearing about an ongoing scandal next week and warned that failure to preserve records related to the issue could draw a formal contempt charge from the Legislature. In a letter to Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack sent Wednesday, Rep. William Straus and Sen. Joseph Boncore — who on Monday abruptly recessed the first attempt at the hearing after several witnesses did not show up and Pollack indicated she planned to limit her testimony — added MassDOT audit project manager Brie-Anne Dwyer to the list of employees they want to speak at the July 30 hearing. "We expect that you as well as all of the employees, contractors or vendors of MassDOT previously identified by the Committee as persons of interest will be present and prepared to testify before the Committee — without exception or qualification," the chairs wrote. Straus and Boncore did not indicate whether circumstances had changed since Monday, they said all options were on the table to require participation in their oversight hearing. Neither lawmaker could be reached for comment Thursday morning on how they planned to compel all witnesses to attend. They also stressed in their letter that the RMV must retain all documents and data, including internal communications, related to the tens of thousands of out-of-state violation notices that had piled up without being processed. Not doing so, the chairs wrote, "could be a violation of state law and could also be deemed contempt of the General Court." The Boston Herald reported this month that the RMV had withdrawn what a spokesman described as a "routine" application to destroy records unrelated to the violations. - Chris Lisinski/SHNS
SALES OFF AS HOME, CONDO PRICES SET NEW RECORDS
Home sales declined in June nearly 10 percent and condo sales plunged nearly 12 percent compared to last June as the median sale price for both homes and condos in Massachusetts soared to all-time highs. Last month, the median home sale price rose 2.1 percent over June 2018 to $429,000, The Warren Group reported Wednesday. Over the first six months of 2019, home sales in Massachusetts are down 1.1 percent and the median sale price of $395,000 is up 3.9 percent compared to the first half of 2018. "The lack of supply in the Massachusetts housing market and its impact on prices has never been more evident," Warren Group CEO Tim Warren said. The median condo sale price in June was $420,000, and Warren said it was the second straight month that the median condo sale price was north of $400,000. "While this isn't a total surprise, a $20,000 price hike on a month-over-month basis is truly unprecedented," Warren said. Additional housing production has long been flagged as a way to give buyers and renters more affordable options, but production bills remain stalled at the State House where there's no consensus on how to move forward. - Michael P. Norton/SHNS
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