A first: Baker signs budget with no spending vetoes
Another first: Governor doesn’t balk at legislative earmarks
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER signed the $43.1 billion fiscal 2020 budget on Wednesday without vetoing any spending measures, which may be a first in modern Massachusetts history.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo and long-time budget analyst Michael Widmer said they couldn’t remember a governor ever approving a budget without a spending veto. Last year, Baker vetoed nearly $49 million in spending.
“This is absolutely unprecedented,” said Widmer, who headed the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation for 25 years and prior to that worked in state government. “I can’t recall any governor, Republican or Democrat, signing a budget without some spending vetoes.”
Baker, a Republican, said there was no need to cut the Democrat-controlled Legislature’s spending totals, given the fact that the state is flush with cash. Lawmakers, in fact, added $600 million to the final budget document.
In the past, Baker has vetoed earmarks inserted into the budget by lawmakers on behalf of their local communities. Lawmakers have regularly overridden those vetoes, but still, the governor’s vetoes were seen by many as a statement against the practice.
Not this year. Earmarks, many of them vetoed by Baker in the past (and later overridden by the Legislature), were sprinkled throughout the budget. A new $1.6 million line item full of earmarks for local fire departments included $250,000 for Worcester and $104,000 for Dover for fire safety equipment. It also included $25,000 for Brockton to update its fire station, $40,000 for station work in Palmer, $40,000 for a replacement floor at a fire station in Taunton, and $25,000 for a memorial monument in Westwood.
Baker didn’t balk at $50,000 for the Boston Pops Fireworks Festival and $50,000 for Fishing Academy Inc. — both appropriations he vetoed in the past. And on and on.
The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance issued a statement criticizing Baker for failing to exercise “his constitutional responsibility of vetoing legislative pork spending.” The conservative group noted that former governor Deval Patrick regularly vetoed earmarks inserted into the budget by lawmakers.The governor did seek amendments to a number of provisions, but he didn’t balk at the Legislature’s much higher spending level on Chapter 70 education aid or its milder approach to reining in pharmaceutical prices.
Given the state’s extra cash this year, Widmer speculated the governor may have decided it would be hard to argue that earmark vetoes were necessary because of scarce funds. Widmer also said Baker may have decided the largely symbolic earmark vetoes made little sense when the governor and lawmakers have been at odds over a legislative oversight hearing of the Registry of Motor Vehicles.