Mum's The Word On The Delayed Massachusetts Budget

Jul 9, 2018

Massachusetts is the last state in the country without a permanent spending plan for fiscal year 2019. What do we know about the status of the $41.5 billion budget?

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: That's right: Massachusetts is the last state in the country, with 46 states starting the new fiscal year on July 1. Because of the way the conference process works, in the closed-door nature of these negotiations, we don't know much about what's holding them up.

We do know there are a lot of differences between the House and the Senate -- spending differences, major policy differences. There are efforts in there to put in some oversight of the state police, following some of the scandals there. The branches have different takes on that.

It would appear, if you're reading between the lines between some of the comments we've heard, that the immigration issue is also rearing its head in conference talks. The Senate is taking a crack at a big policy initiative to limit local police cooperation with federal immigration agents. The House is a little more reluctant to take this on, as leadership in that branch doesn't really sense consensus among its members about what they want to do -- and this could be holding things up.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: That’s all in a spending document?

It is all in a spending document. Governor Baker told reporters that perhaps the legislature should strip all of that policy out, just focus on the line items, the spending items, and send him a budget, so they can get the spending plan in place.

But after speaking with House Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez last week, he noted that the budget has been a traditional vehicle to advance not just spending for next year, but also policy. It's something that's been done. It's a tool they use to get some of these initiatives in place. And they don't appear to be backing off that.

As unbelievable as it sounds, there are other big-ticket measures that are still in need of work. Both the House and Senate have passed versions of some of these measures, but lawmakers need to work out the differences. Remind me what those are?

Because the formal sessions end on midnight July 31, lawmakers have limited time to get these things done.

You have legislation that's passed both branches currently sitting in conference committee, dealing with short term rental regulation through sites like Airbnb.

You have something dealing with data breaches in response to the Equifax data breach.

You have a civics education bill, and also a package of veterans benefits all before conference.

And that's not counting the bills that haven't even gotten off the ground yet. There's an economic development bill that the House is looking at, there’s the governor’s opioid legislation, the Senate has passed an energy bill, and that hasn't yet surfaced in the House.

So there are a lot of remaining items on the checklist that leaders ostensibly wanted to get done this session. 

Legislators worked through allegations of sexual harassment in the House and the Senate this year. They established a path for reporting sexual harassment, and then set up guidelines to protect the victims. But in the sexual assault case involving former Senate President Stan Rosenberg’s husband, Bryon Hefner, Hefner’s lawyer is calling for the accuser to be publicly named. If the judge grants that request, what's the fallout?

I think we don't yet know that, but there is a real concern about that potentially having a chilling effect on people coming forward.

We saw the Ethics Committee launch its investigation into the conduct of former Senator Rosenberg’s husband, and whatever role the Senator may have played. Privacy was of utmost importance. And when they hired the law firm to conduct that review, they tried to ensure that people could feel free to come forward, or call a hotline, and share their stories in private.

If the courts were to force a disclosure of names, it potentially could have a chilling effect on people who do want to come forward, or have stories to tell, but don't want to be outed, or risk their careers, or a variety of reasons why they may prefer to remain private.

So I think all of that is in play. But there's also the public's right to know, and the courts take this very seriously. So I think people are just kind of waiting and watching.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.