Budget uncertainty

There is one certainty with the fiscal 2018 budget: For the first time ever, Massachusetts will have a spending plan exceeding $40 billion to run state government.

After that, there are lots of questions about where all the money will come from to pay the bills. The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved its budget proposal on Tuesday, putting the last leg on the stool to try to fashion a final budget within the next six-plus weeks.

The biggest problem facing lawmakers is what the intake will look like. In January, Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Stan Rosenberg agreed to set revenue projections for 2018 based on a 3.9 percent increase and base their budgets on that. But since then, the anemic collections have fallen behind estimates by nearly $500 million and the ground is shaking.

Rosenberg has expressed his support for new taxes but it’s a nonstarter with Baker and DeLeo. Except all three budgets have adopted some levels of expanded taxes and new fees, often read by those being dunned as, well, taxes.

All three budgets have included expanding the rooms tax to those who rent through sites such as Airbnb and HomeAway. The 5.7 percent levy would not only bring in an estimated $18 million for state coffers, but the budget would allow cities and towns to tack on an additional 6 percent local option tax.

The Senate budget also adopts Baker’s concept, if not the complete proposal, to hit larger employers who don’t offer adequate health coverage with a new $2,000-per-employee fee that would raise as much as $300 million toward health care costs before being phased out in two years.The Senate scales that back by telling Baker he can go one of two ways: Either levy the fee on businesses with 25 or more employees or extend an already existing fee and spread it out among all companies, a proposal that business leaders are more open to. Imagine that — the Senate has a plan that is more attractive to corporations than Baker’s.

The Senate also makes a money grab that is unlikely to stand once the negotiations between the House and Senate begin.The Senate budget takes $15 million out of the state’s fund for the dormant and dying horse racing industry. But given DeLeo’s fealty to and passion for the industry, it’s hard to see that surviving.

There was a time that the state budget process would command the attention of media outlets from the unveiling of the governor’s budget in March to the House version and then the Senate. Those days are long gone, between a vastly reduced State House press corps and domination of news from elsewhere (read: Trump presidency). But the process now playing out is of deep concern because of the soft revenue collections so far this year, making early projections that the budgets are based on inoperable.

–JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

A Herald editorial says Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal to tax properties rented out for more than 150 days a year is more reasonable than the Senate budget proposal to add an occupancy tax to rentals of any length.

A Lowell Sun editorial urges stronger efforts to rein in state spending, citing as one example the state’s sheriffs, who have seen their budgets rise even as the number of inmates they oversee has declined.

A Globe editorial urges Beacon Hill leaders to kill an amendment tucked into the House budget that would let ambulance companies set higher rates for out-of-network trips.

Public health officials urge a legislative committee to advance a bill that would raise the legal age to buy tobacco to 21. (Boston Herald)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A Fall River city councilor is proposing to radically alter the city’s form of government by changing the charter from a strong mayor to a strong council and adding a city manager. (Herald News)

Development pressures are turning Somerville into a battleground over how to keep the compact city from going full Brooklyn. (Boston Globe)

MassMoCA is expanding, and also trying to leverage its popularity to give a lift to North Adams through an initiative called the North Adams Exchange. (Berkshire Eagle)

North Andover town meeting members rejected zoning changes needed for a medical marijuana facility, which had won approval from the Board of Selectmen on a 3-2 vote. (Eagle-Tribune)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump asked then-FBI director James Comey to end his investigation of Trump’s fired national security advisor Michael Flynn. (New York Times) The Trump administration is reeling in the wake of the report, with questions about obstruction of justice and impeachment being freely floated by Democrats, and some congressional Republicans starting to distance themselves from the wobbly White House. (Boston Globe)

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway angrily denied claims by the “Morning Joe” hosts on MSNBC that, while serving as Trump’s campaign manager, she said off camera she was in it “just for the money.” (New York Times)

Israel is reportedly the source of the classified intelligence information Trump shared with Russian officials. (New York Times) Evan Horowitz explains how Trump’s “loose lips” could damage US intelligence gathering. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

Bob Massie kicks off his Democratic bid for governor with a vow to pursue an aggressive progressive agenda against Gov. Charlie Baker, who, it is presumed, will seek reelection next year. (Boston Globe) Newton Mayor Setti Warren looks likely to join the Democratic race on Saturday. (Politico)

Former TV anchor Joe Shortsleeve, who planned to jump into the Democratic primary for an open Norfolk County state Senate seat, now says he’ll bypass the special election primary to run as an independent candidate in the final. Shortsleeve’s earlier admission that he voted for Donald Trump, he said, would make his candidacy a tough sell in a Democratic primary. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Applying for worker’s compensation, a construction employee in the country illegally is taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.  The employee’s attorney fears ICE is now targeting undocumented workers who assert their rights. (WBUR)

A new report from the US Census Bureau shows retail sales for the first quarter of 2017 had their worst showing since 2009 but online sales increased by more than 4 percent and are taking a toll on brick and mortar stores. (U.S. News & World Report)

Larry Lucchino says he has one more baseball stadium project left in him as he tries to work a deal to build a new home for the Pawtucket Red Sox. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

The superintendent shortage in Massachusetts is reaching crisis levels. (WBUR) It would appear little has changed since CommonWealth described the problem as a game of musical chairs a year ago.

The Boston Teachers Union has asked a state mediator to step in, saying contract talks with the city are at an impasse after 16 months. (Boston Globe)

Gov. Charlie Baker visits Springfield and applauds empowerment zone efforts in its schools. (MassLive)

James Jones of Skanska and Valerie Roberson of Roxbury Community College say smart buildings need smart workers as they announce plans for a degree program for smart-building technicians. (CommonWealth)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Some forms of heroin are becoming too potent and more resistant to the overdose-reversing drug Narcan with responders having to use three or four kits to revive a victim. (Herald News)

CASINOS/LOTTERY

A federal judge granted the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe a stay in its appeal of his ruling striking down the federal government’s awarding of land in trust in Taunton its effort to build a casino. The tribe’s lawyers said the Bureau of Indian Affairs is expected to make another decision on the land on another track outside of court in June. (Cape Cod Times)

A poll commissioned by a coalition of businesses that rely on lottery sales shows that an overwhelming majority of Massachusetts residents oppose the idea of online lottery sales. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A former Whitman police officer who had been fired for a variety of causes, including falsifying payrolls and insubordination, pleaded guilty in federal court to defrauding disabled veterans from their benefits and falsifying tax returns. (The Enterprise)

A Rockland couple was indicted on charges of embezzling $2.7 million from Bank of America by making donations of bank money to legitimate charities then routing it through fake accounts and nonprofits they set up. (Patriot Ledger)

In case you haven’t heard, a Newton woman arrested on OUI charges was driving her Mercedes with a lizard tucked in her bra, according to Taunton police. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

A deal to sell the Boston Globe’s headquarters in Dorchester has fallen through, but the paper says its editorial operations will still move next month to a downtown office tower, as planned. (Boston Globe)

The owner of the Chicago Tribune seeks to acquire the company that owns its rival, the Sun-Times.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    According to the MassLive article, Springfield’s public schools “were improving before the Empowerment Zone.” How much of Springfield’s public school funding is being drained by charter schools this school year? Almost $36 million. Aren’t there more charter school grades being added over the next few years that will be draining even more funding from Springfield’s public schools? What are the results of Springfield’s Empowerment Zone? According to a November 2, 2016 article in New England Public Radio, “The test results for the first full year…came in last month. Duggan (School) showed solid improvement. The other schools are more of a mixed bag, with some scores up and some down.” All Governor Baker is doing is cheerleading an experiment showing “mixed” results and urging it be applied all across the state when the Foundation Budget…the mechanism distributing aid to local public schools…is broken and underfunded. CommonWealth owes its readers informed reporting on public school funding in Massachusetts not The Download’s highlighting of revenue neutral non solutions and charter schools nonsense.