House Progressives get some action on budget priorities

Progressive Mass. wants “bolder” requests from caucus

THE HOUSE’S 58-member Progressive Caucus scored some modest victories in its three priorities for the fiscal 2020 budget bill this week.

The House ramped up funding in the three spending areas prioritized by the liberal caucus to more than $26 million above what Gov. Charlie Baker included in his budget proposal. Those priorities, which the caucus set in March, call for increased funding for civil legal aid, early educators’ salaries, and parks and recreation.

Overall, the budget the House nearly unanimously approved Thursday night fell roughly $8 million short of the levels the House Progressives sought. There were no policy priorities for the caucus, only funding targets.

“The House budget is a reflection of the shared priorities of the members of the body,” said Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield Democrat who co-chairs the caucus. “I just think we did really well this year.”

Jonathan Cohn, who chairs the Issues Committee for Progressive Massachusetts, an outside advocacy group, said he wants the House Progressives to reach higher, and keep pushing for progressive increases in state revenue – which could come in the form of higher taxes.

“We always want the House Progressive Caucus to be bolder than they often are in their asks,” Cohn said. “I think that they’re all good causes to fight for, however a lot of budget asks end up feeling like tinkering since without adding to the size of the budget in a meaningful way it will just be very important but small programmatic increases.”

The House Progressives were purposefully limited in their collective goals, deciding to support three or four spending priorities to advocate for with one voice, according to Farley Bouvier, who says there has been heightened energy in the Progressive Caucus this session.

On the whole, the Ways and Means Committee’s $42.7 billion budget included $275 million more in education spending than the fiscal 2019 budget. Because of those investments, the House Progressives didn’t press the House on the caucus’s priorities for early educators’ salaries, according to Farley-Bouvier. The caucus proposed spending $24.5 million to increase the wages for early educators, and while the Ways and Means budget fell $4.5 million short of that target, no member of the House even filed an amendment to bring the spending up to the caucus’s goal.

“Because of all of what was done with the House Ways and Means budget for early ed, the early educators’ advocates were very pleased,” Farley-Bouvier said. “When you put the whole package together, it was good.”

Amy O’Leary, director of Strategies for Children’s Early Education for All campaign, echoed that general sentiment.

“We are grateful for the leadership of the House for continuing to prioritize early educators in the budget, and we look forward to continuing this trend in the Senate,” O’Leary said Friday.

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Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Legislative leaders have said they will begin deliberating about proposals to hike revenues later this session, and Cohn wants the Progressive Caucus to keep up the pressure on that front.

Speaking for herself, Farley-Bouvier said she is sure the House will get into revenue proposals this session.

“The speaker has made it very clear that we will be taking up revenue this session. I have no doubt that we’re going to do that,” Farley-Bouvier said.