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.
“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.
“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.“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.