House votes to put fed funds through budget-like process
Gives Baker control of just $200m, not $2.8b
THE HOUSE VOTED overwhelmingly on Tuesday to put nearly all of the roughly $5 billion in unrestricted federal stimulus money through a budget-like process, giving Gov. Charlie Baker immediate control over just $200 million – far less than the $2.8 billion he had sought last week.
House officials said they wanted to make spending decisions using a very public process, and move away from giving the governor license to use the sweeping executive powers he exercised during the pandemic.
Baker said spending a good chunk of the money quickly was important to spurring the state’s economic recovery, but Rep. Dan Hunt, the chair of the House Committee on Federal Stimulus and Census Oversight, said there was no rush, that the money under federal guidelines could be portioned out over four years.
“It’s important to spend time to reflect on this once-in-a-generation funding,” he said.
The numbers are astounding. The state received $5.28 billion in unrestricted federal aid under the American Rescue Plan. The governor has already steered $109 million to Randolph, Methuen, Everett, and Chelsea to compensate for a flawed formula used to distribute earlier federal funds; another $75 million has been designated to stabilize a COVID-19 sick leave law; and $10 million has been allotted for a lottery game designed to incentivize people to get vaccinated.
The House on Tuesday voted 130-30 to reject the governor’s amendment seeking authority to spend $2.8 billion quickly and 160-0 to approve an amendment setting aside $200 million for Baker “to protect against emerging public health threats.”The bill now goes to the Senate, where leaders have indicated they are likely to follow the House’s lead. Hunt said the House would have multiple hearings on what to do with the federal funds over the course of the next several months.
House Speaker Ron Mariano issued a statement suggesting a governmental balance is being restored. “Massachusetts has an existing legislative process that includes the public, both legislative branches, and the executive branch, which has effectively allowed us to pass nation-leading bills regarding climate change, reproductive justice, and police reform. We look forward to embarking on a similar process as we appropriate American Rescue Plan funds,” he said.