Budgeting Season Continues, With An Eye Toward Reconciliation: Beacon Hill In 5

Apr 30, 2018

The Massachusetts Senate passed their version of a midyear spending bill that included money for funding Regional Transit Authorities, money to reimburse school districts for educating special needs students, and more. 

The Senate approved $156.4 million last week. Nearly a month ago, the House passed their supplemental budget with a little more than $131 million price tag.

We begin this week by briefly recapping last week – and get a quick brief civics class refresher. We move forward to reconcile the two bills – right?

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Yeah, that's correct. That means the Senate obviously saw some additional needs that they wanted to fill, including what was quite a lengthy debate over boosting some of the funding for what was known as the special education circuit breaker.

The higher amount there some other changes made by the Senate will probably require the House and Senate to go into what we call a conference committee, where the six of the lawmakers -- three from each branch -- sit down, and negotiate these differences to arrive at a final bill. They'll probably want to do this quickly, given the time sensitivity of getting some of this money into the hands of  programs and local governments.

This probably won't be the last supplemental budget of the year, either. Senator Karen Spilka said there could possibly be two more coming.

They tend to know what accounts may run deficiencies before the end of the year, and there's always the possibility that they try and work this out a little less formally, and just kind of talk it over, and maybe move it more quickly than we think.

Carrie Healy, New England Public Radio: Can entire programs be zeroed out from, say the Senate budget that provided more funding to programs, or is it now all trimming?

Sure. Technically, they can do whatever they want, but the rules of conference typically hold that if the House and Senate both have the same amount of money in the competing bills, that is considered non-conferenceable about the items that may be in one bill but not another. But the numbers can go up or down somewhere in the middle. They can really adjust to fit whatever deal they can strike.

The House already passed their roughly $41 billion fiscal 2019 budget -- a different budget -- last week, and the Senate will be working on theirs. What are the items the Senate will likely be working on this week?

The Senate is planning on taking up a veterans benefits bill. This is a package that they hope to get done in cooperation with the House in time for Memorial Day – at least to get it to the governor. 

And what’s it going to be, a quiet week in the Senate this week, or no?

Apart from the Senate taking up that veterans bill, everyone in the building in on pretty high alert for any movement from the Senate Ethics Committee, and whether or not they finalize that their investigation into former Senate President Stan Rosenberg, and whether or not that has any tentacles that touch any other sitting members in the course of that investigation.

We’ve been told by people in the Senate this is close to being completed, in the final stages, and it’s just a matter of the Ethics Committee deciding what they want to recommend to their colleagues, and kind of ripping this Band-Aid off in the hopes that they can get this done, and move on, without this hanging over them any longer.

What does the week look like for the House legislators?

The House is probably taking it a little easy this week after their four days of debate on the annual state budget that kept them here from morning until evening. It’s typically a breather, but there are committees working on bills.

There is a hearing scheduled to talk about nurse staffing ratios, which is one initiative petition that may be headed to the ballot in the fall.

We also know the House is working on a health care bill that the Speaker [Bob DeLeo] has said will come out after the budget. So we are now "after the budget," and so that could "pop" anytime.

This is a major cost containment health care bill that actually Rep. Peter Kocot was working on before his passing earlier this spring. The Senate has already debated this, and this is one of the major priority pieces that the legislature hopes to get done before August.