House OKs budget with 7 mega-amendments

Most of legislative work took place out of public view

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

HOUSE LAWMAKERS unanimously passed a $47.716 billion budget in the early morning hours Thursday after adding tens of millions of dollars in spending over three days, largely to support investments that representatives said would guide the state in forging a pathway out of the COVID-19 crisis.

“As we cautiously recover from this pandemic and look toward the future, we must continue to build back a new normal which is more resilient and equitable for everyone,” House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz said as he introduced the spending bill Monday.

Most of the 1,157 amendments filed ahead of floor deliberations were dispensed with through a consolidated amendment process, where House leaders group individual amendments together by category and present the ones chosen to be included for one single vote. Another 96 were withdrawn by their sponsors.

Almost all seven consolidated amendments passed unanimously, with the exception of Somerville Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven’s Tuesday vote against the one dealing with public safety and the judiciary.

In all, the seven mega-amendments added almost $59.8 million in spending to what began as a $47.65 billion bill. They ranged in size from $4.87 billion for constitutional officers, state administration and transportation to $11.9 million for labor and economic development.

The labor and economic development consolidated amendment was the last of the seven to come before the House, approved just after 11:30 p.m. Wednesday. Lawmakers who spoke on the topic said both the amendment and the budget as a whole contained investments critical to the state’s post-pandemic recovery, particularly highlighting $5 million in tourism funds and a $10 million offshore wind training trust fund.

Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development Committee Chair Rep. Carole Fiola said a Monday vote to remove the sunset from the state’s film production tax credit, making that incentive permanent, would also buoy the tourism and hospitality sectors that have been hard hit by the pandemic and corresponding state restrictions.

Housing Committee Chair Rep. James Arciero highlighted the budget’s $56.4 million for the homeless individuals shelter system, which he said has been permanently changed by COVID-19. Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Chair Rep. Carolyn Dykema said the budget provides $50 million for state parks, which experienced heightened demand as people across Massachusetts engaged with nature “as an antidote for pandemic life.”

Rep. Jeffrey Roy, the House chair of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, said a $7.3 million energy and environment amendment included language that “clarifies” the Legislature’s intent in a major climate policy law Gov. Charlie Baker signed earlier this year. Roy, a Franklin Democrat, said the new language makes clear that lawmakers intended to call for procurement of 5,600 megawatts of offshore wind power and not less than that amount.

Speeches to introduce the consolidated amendments, made both over phone by members participating in sessions remotely and by some in chamber, and the roll call votes to adopt those packages, accounted for the bulk of the activity on the House floor, punctuating lengthy recesses. Monday votes on the film tax credit and on increasing the cap for a conservation land tax credit to $5 million also prompted speeches in support.

Otherwise, much of the work, like the private Zoom calls where representatives tout their spending priorities in hopes of winning inclusion in a consolidated amendment, took place out of public view.

After adopting three amendments on a voice vote — one from Rep. Jon Santiago regarding parking meter authorization on public ways, a Rep. James Murphy amendment involving credit for reinsurance, and Rep. Marjorie Decker’s proposal to revive a special commission on school-based health centers — the House broke for a recess at 11:40 p.m. Wednesday.

A final amendment, which contained $7.1 million in extra spending but was described as technical in nature, surfaced after 2:15 a.m. and was quickly adopted before the final vote, with no discussion. That amendment included several earmarks for local projects, including $25,000 for the Lowell Festival Foundation, $300,000 for the North End Waterfront neighborhood health center, and $100,000 for student supports at Quincy College.