DeLeo: Let’s take policy issues out of spending plan

Call comes as House to take up opioid, education budget legislation


WITH THE STATE’S ANNUAL BUDGET now nine days late, House Speaker Robert DeLeo floated the idea Monday of separating the policy proposals in the spending bill from the dollars and cents needed to fund the government in an effort to reach a compromise.

Massachusetts is the last state in the country without a annual budget in place for fiscal 2019, and it is the latest the Legislature has ever produced a final budget in DeLeo’s 10-year tenure as speaker.

A conference committee featuring four Democrats and two Republicans was charged June 4 with coming up with a consensus budget for the start of the fiscal year on July 1. There were no indications Monday that a compromise between House and Senate negotiators may be imminent.

“That’s one of the things that, quite frankly, I’m very concerned about,” DeLeo said.

DeLeo’s comments came after he met for more than an hour with Gov. Charlie Baker and Senate President Harriette Chandler. Asked what was causing the delay, DeLeo did not cite any specific roadblocks, but seemed to embrace an approach that Gov. Baker floated last week.

“One of the ideas which I had expressed today was the fact I’m looking possibly to dividing the budget, if you will, in terms of taking the so-called budget end of it, the policy end of it, dividing the two and trying to get the budget component of it done. I’m of the opinion that we owe it to our constituents. It’s getting later and later. It’s imperative that we do a budget and we do a budget immediately,” DeLeo said.

The Winthrop Democrat added, “We can always go back in the final weeks of session and talk about some of the policy matters as well.”

Formal legislative sessions end in three weeks on July 31. The competing House and Senate budget bills propose to spend roughly $41.5 billion over the next 12 months.

In addition to funding state agencies and programs, the budgets also includes numerous policy riders touching on everything from oversight of the State Police in the wake of an overtime abuse scandal to limits on local and state police interactions with federal immigration agents. The House has been particularly reticent to tackle the immigration issue this session, but DeLeo would not say whether the Senate’s budget amendment on Immigration and Customs Enforcement cooperation was the cause of the impasse between the branches.

DeLeo on Monday sketched out more of his chamber’s legislative plans, adding the latest version of Baker’s opioid bill and legislation “relative to the school budget situation” to the list. The House is planning to take up an economic development bill on Tuesday and debate the opioid and education legislation later in the week.

The opioid bill will not include language sought by Baker that would enable medical professionals to involuntarily hold patients whose substance use disorder is likely to cause serious harm, DeLeo said. “It’s his bill, I’m not saying it’s the exact same bill that’s going to come out, but many of his items I’m sure will be in that legislation,” DeLeo told reporters, later adding, “I said many. I didn’t say all.”

The path the House will take on education funding is not yet clear. DeLeo said the House plans to take up a “foundation budget review” bill. A 2015 report from the Foundation Budget Review Commission found the current school funding formula underestimates the cost of education by $1 billion to $2 billion per year, driven largely by health care and special education costs. The Senate in May unanimously passed a bill that would task lawmakers and the Office of Administration and Finance with annually determining their schedule for fulfilling the commission’s recommendations.

On the budget, the Senate, arguably, would have more to lose by the abandonment of all policy proposals after using the spending bill as a vehicle in May to advance some major initiatives. The House also tacked on policy riders, but to a lesser extent.

“What I’m saying is right now we do a budget. We do it as fast as we can. We try to come up with a figure that I think is a lot easier than trying to resolve policy matters,” the speaker said.

Senate President Harriette Chandler said she was “in agreement with the speaker” when asked about the speaker’s comments, but when asked to clarify whether she supported separating all policy from the broader spending bill she said she wasn’t convinced that would be necessary.

“I personally feel once we get started and get some movement I think we can probably get through more than just the revenue piece,” Chandler said.

A senior aide to Chandler after the press conference said the Worcester Democrat is in agreement with DeLeo that a deal needs to be struck soon, but does not support cleaving all policy from the budget.

Meet the Author

Matt Murphy

State House News Service
Meet the Author

Katie Lannan

State House News Service
Both DeLeo and Chandler said that talks between the branches over the budget had not broken down, but DeLeo, mentioning the state’s bond rating, stressed that a timely agreement was imperative. He said he hoped that if the House and Senate could agree to a bottom line spending number, the rest might fall into place.