Who’s keeping whom in check on Beacon Hill?
Baker pressing Legislature to quickly release federal funds
MASSACHUSETTS, the old adage goes, elects Republican governors to keep the free-spending Democrats on Beacon Hill in check. But lately it seems like the roles are reversed.
Every chance Gov. Charlie Baker gets he pushes the Legislature to move faster to spend the $4.8 billion the federal government has given the state to deal with the fallout of COVID-19. He believes speed is of the essence to revive the economy and to set in motion transformative change. Top lawmakers are more cautious; they say such funding is extremely rare and they want to make the right choices.
On Monday, the state’s Big 3 (Baker, Senate President Karen Spilka, and House Speaker Ronald Mariano) met privately and then answered questions from reporters, many of which had to do with the timetable for the federal money.
Spilka and Mariano spoke in broad terms. They said their branches are holding their final hearing on what to do with the federal funds Tuesday and the goal is to have a spending plan in place for at least part of the money by November 17.
Mariano said there is no consensus yet on spending priorities or the spending timetable. The federal funds must be spent by 2026.
Baker warned against delaying too long, noting an appropriation of the money would only be the start of a long spending process. “It doesn’t happen overnight,” he said.
The governor said addressing the state’s climate infrastructure, building new housing, and helping first-time homebuyers will take time. “We have one of the largest, if not the largest, gaps between White-Black home ownership of any state in the country,” he said.
“I certainly get and understand the Legislature’s desire to deliberate on this, and I certainly learned a lot from the testimony that’s been offered, but at the same time I would say a lot of the folks who testified testified on behalf of a lot of the elements and stuff that we proposed back in May,” he said.
Spilka quickly moved to the microphone and said it was important to listen to the public. She also said the deliberations on Beacon Hill are taking place while lawmakers in Washington are trying to decide whether to pass an infrastructure bill.“Particularly things like culverts or other areas might be included in the infrastructure bill so there is a feeling that as we’re doing this it’s also giving the federal government time to finalize their bill so if we are getting money directly from the federal government on some of those areas we don’t duplicate the spending,” she said.
“I’ll end this little debate by saying I’m unbelievably excited that I heard one of the leaders of the Legislature use the word culvert,” Baker said.