Comptroller, Baker diverge on budget needs

Citing unprecedented situation, Maylor identifies fewer shortfalls

STATE COMPTROLLER ANDREW MAYLOR on Wednesday identified only six budget accounts from the last fiscal year where shortfalls exist, interpreting a legislative request for a barebones fiscal 2019 closeout bill far more narrowly than the Baker administration.

With the House and Senate at odds on a budget closeout bill for a fiscal year that ended five months ago, House Speaker Robert DeLeo asked for a breakdown of the accounts in deficit that need funding to balance out for the year. He has suggested other discretionary spending and policy matters could be handled by the Legislature at another time.

Baker on Monday released a letter prepared by his budget chief that listed 25 items in need of funding, four times the number identified by Maylor. Baker’s funding requirements totaled $528.4 million, while Maylor’s totaled $316.8 million. Nearly a dozen of Baker’s budget accounts didn’t end the year with a shortfall.

Baker seemed to acknowledge that Heffernan’s response was a bit broader than what DeLeo requested. “I think what we tried to do was respond to that at least in the spirit of that notion – which things fall into the category you would absolutely positively need to have,” Baker said.

Unless a closeout budget bill is passed by 3 p.m. on December 11, Maylor said his staff would transfer the entire $1 billion in revenue left over from fiscal 2019 to the state’s reserves. That would mean the six accounts identified by Maylor would end the year in deficit, even though the state is flush with cash and a balanced budget is required by state law.

“I must underscore that because closing the books without closeout appropriations legislation is unprecedented in the recent history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the full downstream consequences of leaving state accounts in deficiency are unclear,” Maylor wrote in his letter Wednesday.

Maylor’s response, which seems to hew more precisely to what DeLeo requested, sheds light on the areas that Baker sees as critical priorities for spending legislation, even if they don’t technically qualify as deficits from fiscal 2019.

Among the items identified as necessary by Baker that are not technically in deficit: $50 million for the MBTA to finance the accelerated repair work that is already underway; $2.5 million for regional school transportation; $16.3 million for treating men with substance-use disorder; and $8.7 million for the National Guard.

Meet the Author

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.

Because the spending bill will legally cease to exist at the end of December, and because lawmakers failed to reach agreement in time for the last formal session of the year, any one lawmaker in the House or Senate could block it from passage. The governor will also have line-item veto authority on the legislation, and the House and Senate will have no way to restore any funds that Baker vetoes – although they could put together a new spending bill next year.

One of the most high-profile differences between the House and Senate spending bills is a provision included in the House version that provides some tax relief for corporations, which Baker also supports.