DeLeo: There will be no budget filed Tuesday

Outlook doubtful heading into July 4 holiday

THERE WILL BE no budget agreement filed Tuesday, two days into fiscal 2020, but House and Senate negotiators haven’t reached an impasse and are trading proposals back and forth, according to House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

On his way into the State House with Rep. Paul Donato on Tuesday afternoon, DeLeo held out hope that a budget bill could reach the governor’s desk by the end of the week – even if that hypothetically means calling in lawmakers for a July 5 session on Friday.

“There’s always that possibility if we can get this accomplished, but as time goes on obviously that becomes more doubtful, but I’m willing to call it whenever as soon as we can get it done,” DeLeo said.

While he wouldn’t say what big disagreements remain between the House and Senate negotiators, DeLeo hinted that the two branches’ proposals for Medicaid pharmaceutical cost containment is the big issue still in play. The diverging approaches toward the price of drugs, a major driver of health care costs, was perhaps the most obvious disagreement between the House and Senate as the two branches entered closed-door negotiations on their roughly $43 billion budget bills.

“I think you can probably make a guess in terms of what the issues are,” DeLeo said. He said that while the disagreements between the House and Senate annual spending bills are fewer than in years past, they “probably are of greater magnitude.”

DeLeo was asked Monday if the pharmaceutical pricing issue was the stumbling block, and without specifically confirming whether that is the case, he said he didn’t think there was “much of a secret” about what the differences are between the House and Senate budgets.

The House’s Medicaid prescription drug pricing approach was favored by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, which represents the drug-makers and ripped the Senate’s proposal, saying it “would threaten our stature as the #1 life sciences cluster and harm the development of the next generation of breakthrough therapies.”

The Senate’s tougher approach towards regulating drug prices, meanwhile, won the support of a coalition that includes Health Care for All and the Massachusetts Medical Society.

DeLeo has been right so far about the pace of budget talks – predicting earlier that they would stretch into the 2020 fiscal year. On Tuesday afternoon, he said the six-member House-Senate conference committee would not file a compromise budget bill by the end of the day, but he left open the possibility that a broader agreement could be reached soon.

The talks – led by Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Michael Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Aaron Michlewitz, a Boston Democrat – have not yet reached a stalemate requiring the involvement of DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka, DeLeo said.

“This past weekend, the chairs of both the committees in the House and the Senate both were hard at work exchanging proposals. So that’s the good part. So it hasn’t reached any sort of an impasse,” DeLeo said. “They are slower than we would have hoped, but they are making progress, and they are working to come to a resolution, so that’s the good part.”

Both Spilka and DeLeo led Ways and Means committees before rising to the top position of their respective chamber, and this is the first annual budget for both Rodrigues and Michlewitz as Ways and Means chairmen.

The state has a temporary budget in place, so talks can continue without putting state services at risk.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday morning that of the 46 states that start their fiscal year on July 1, only Massachusetts and Ohio are without annual budgets. Last year, lawmakers didn’t send the governor a budget bill until July 18 – two and a half weeks after the start of the fiscal year.

When is the earliest DeLeo anticipates a budget being done?

“I would hope and pray that if not late this week, early next,” DeLeo said.

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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.

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a conservative group that keeps its funding secret, warned that late-filed budgets can limit public disclosure of what is in the bill.

“While legislative leaders defend their tardiness, MassFiscal would like to remind the public that a late budget usually results in a far less transparent process,” spokesperson Paul Craney said. “House and Senate legislative leaders will rush to pass this budget very quickly after its released. It’s a tactic leadership has been relying on to move their agenda and keep the public in the dark.”