House budget leaves big education, tax decisions until later

School aid bolstered but apportionment still to be decided

THE BUDGET BILL that will be up for debate on the House floor later this month takes care of some big areas of need but leaves some of the most controversial questions unanswered.

The $42.7 billion spending bill that was unanimously endorsed by the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday would leave it to lawmakers to fill in the details on reforms to the school funding formula, and it postpones until later this year looming debates about taxes and sports betting.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo expects real progress on those fronts, but not through the annual spending bill. The fiscal 2020 budget will be the first for House Ways and Means chairman Aaron Michlewitz, a Boston Democrat.

The budget bill includes a $16.5 million pot of money for educating low-income students, with the details about who exactly receives that funding to be worked out later. The legislation specifies that the funds must be distributed by Sept. 1.

Broadly speaking, the House Ways and Means budget picks up the education funding theme of Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget proposal, and puts more money behind it. Education line items in the committee’s budget bill total $54.2 million more than the governor proposed, and they are $275 million more than what was in the fiscal 2019 state budget.

“This budget makes a very, very strong commitment to education,” said Education Committee Chairwoman Alice Peisch.

The Education Committee will take the lead on crafting changes to the formula that determines how the state spends the billions of dollars sent to local schools each year.

“There is a real feeling of necessity to address the education foundation budget, and because of that I feel fairly confident that we will get something done,” said Speaker Robert DeLeo, who said he hopes a compromise is reached this year. Many communities are threatening to sue the state if the Legislature fails to act.

The House Ways and Means budget bill also avoids any fundamental tax changes. The governor’s proposed increase in taxes on electronic cigarettes and on real estate sales were left out of the bill, and there aren’t any other major changes to broad-based taxes in the document, but House leaders intend to address that issue over the next several months.

“There’s still further discussion that’s going to be had relative to other revenues,” DeLeo told reporters.

While it leaves out the bulk of the governor’s tax proposals, the budget bill retains one that would raise around $40 million by taxing online retailers who make sales of more than $100,000 in Massachusetts even if they lack a physical footprint in the state.

The budget bill includes an expectation of $43.7 billion in revenue, and House leaders said it includes $42.7 billion in spending. House members will have opportunities to add their own personal spending priorities and make other changes to the document when it is up for debate starting April 22.

As House leaders plan to take legislative action legalizing sports wagering later this year, an order adopted by the House on Wednesday said amendments concerning online wagering or sports betting will be excluded from the budget debate.

“I don’t think it’s as easy as some people suspect it may be,” DeLeo said of sports betting. “I’ve already found some different viewpoints on how we should proceed with it.”

The House spending total is just $1.8 million shy of the governor’s budget proposal, and it is 3 percent more than the fiscal 2019 state budget.

To showcase highlights of the budget bill for the news media, Michlewitz and DeLeo spoke to reporters from numerous news outlets in one big 45-minute briefing Wednesday morning before the committee voted on the legislation.

More than a week out from the start of the multi-day floor deliberations on the budget bill, Michlewitz indicated there may be changes to how he handles things procedurally.

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.

“We’re looking at what’s previously done and maybe just seeing what we can add to it as well,” Michlewitz said. The Boston Democrat also apologized to reporters for what he said was a miscommunication with a court officer that inadvertently caused the news media to be barred from the room where the Ways and Means committee voted on the budget bill midday Wednesday.

“There was no intention to close the door on the press,” Michlewitz said.