Continuing an annual tradition: The late state budget

It may be an unusual year, but one annual Beacon Hill tradition is continuing: getting the state budget done late.

July 1 marks the start of the 2022 fiscal year, but a final budget bill is nowhere in sight.

Last year, amid COVID-19-related economic uncertainty, lawmakers intentionally delayed passing a budget for months as they waited to see what would happen with the economy and with congressional stimulus bills. This year, however, lawmakers pursued a more normal path. The House and Senate have both passed their versions of the budget, and the two bills are sitting with a six-member conference committee.

On Monday, lawmakers passed a temporary budget to keep government funded for a month while they continue to haggle over details of the annual budget. Gov. Charlie Baker quickly signed it. According to the State House News Service, Sen. Cindy Friedman, vice chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, called passage of the interim budget “standard procedure.”

It’s not clear what the holdup is. The two bodies have a small number of real policy differences, such as different versions of a film tax credit extension. But overall, state revenues are coming in much higher than expected, meaning lawmakers have lots of money to spend. An analysis by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, released Monday, found that the spending plans of the two branches are relatively similar — of a $48 billion budget, $47.4 billion in spending is common to both versions, with each body having around $300 million in unique spending.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation analysis suggests that the biggest issue may be figuring out how to deal with the extra money. The budget is based on certain revenue assumptions, many of which have since changed. The business-backed foundation estimates that lawmakers will have at least $3.8 billion more to spend than was assumed in January.

Both the House and Senate counted on taking money from the rainy day fund, so some extra money could go toward restoring that. It could let budget-writers fund both House and Senate earmarks and spending priorities. MTF recommends setting aside money to use alongside an influx of federal funds, which are expected to be allocated through a separate budget process. (After a brief dispute with lawmakers, Baker signed a bill Monday giving the Legislature authority to determine how to spend that money through the normal legislative process, while laying out, again, his own proposal for how to spend more than half of it.)

But beyond any significant policy debates, lawmakers may simply be continuing their now-regular tradition of using time as a negotiating tactic and failing to come to an agreement until absolutely necessary. In 2018, Baker signed the budget July 26, making Massachusetts the last state in the country to have a budget. In 2019, Baker signed the budget July 31. In October 2019, the state comptroller was warning lawmakers that the state would lose money if they waited too long to pass a supplemental budget to close out the books on the last fiscal year.

According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, as of June 23, 32 states had already enacted their fiscal 2022 budgets, while another four states had budgets on their governors’ desks. Five states either had two-year budgets in place or have fiscal years that start this fall.

Only one state – New York – failed to have a budget in place by the start of its fiscal year (which was April 1). In two days, Massachusetts will join that club.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

FROM COMMONWEALTH

New Brayton Point twist: At a debate for an open Somerset Select Board seat, one of the candidates thrust the state into the middle of a bitter fight over Brayton Point between town residents opposed to a scrap metal operation there and the company that owns the 308-acre property, which is viewed as an ideal location for offshore wind development. It’s a bizarre situation with many twists and turns.

— Kathy Souza, who is running for Select Board against Michelle Terra, said state officials have confirmed the Department of Conservation and Recreation owns the deep-water pier and some surrounding acreage at Brayton Point. She says the existing lease that Commercial Development Inc. acquired when it bought the land allows use of the pier only for the operation of a power plant, which Commercial Development tore down after it bought the property. Souza says the state should step in, put an end to the scrap metal operation, and take responsibility for the property.

— Rep. Patricia Haddad, who represents Somerset in the Legislature and moderated the debate, said afterwards that she has confirmed that Souza is correct about the state’s ownership of the pier. State officials have refused to discuss the issue for months with CommonWealth.

— Souza is the leader of a citizens group called Save Our Bay Brayton Point, which was formed in response to the noise, dust, and truck traffic caused by the scrap metal operation. Commercial Development is battling the town in court over use restrictions on Brayton Point and also suing Souza.

— How bad is the fight over Brayton Point? The last two elections for Select Board in Somerset centered on Brayton Point, and the third member of the board resigned after the last election, saying she couldn’t stand all the negativity in town. Her departure set the stage for the special election July 12 between Souza and Terra. Read more.

Commission throws in the towel: After 16 months of work developing a new, more expansive system for reporting child abuse, a special commission is backing off and saying it will make no recommendations to the Legislature. The commission is scheduled to release a report today, but it appears the plug was pulled on a new mandated reporting system because of concerns raised by people of color that the new system would not do a better job of protecting children and instead would amplify bias and racism in the way allegations are reported and investigated. Read more.

Mass.-N.H. tax dispute: The US Supreme Court declined to take up New Hampshire’s challenge of a Massachusetts regulation requiring out-of-state residents working remotely during the pandemic to pay Massachusetts income tax. The only recourse for New Hampshire residents now is to file individual claims in Massachusetts. The regulation expires in September; after that, people working remotely in New Hampshire for out-of-state companies will not have to pay income taxes to other states. Read more.

Prison mental health: Seven months after the Department of Justice issued a scathing report about the treatment of inmates with mental illness in Massachusetts prisons, advocates for prisoners and people with mental illness are urging the Legislature to pass legislation overhauling the way mental health treatment is provided to incarcerated people. Read more.

OPINION

Menstrual legislation: Caroline Williams, Charlotte Powley, and Rep. Jeff Roy make the case for legislation requiring schools to supply tampons and pads for women. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Lawmakers move to tweak the 2016 ballot question requiring larger cages for egg-laying hens. (Eagle-Tribune)

The Biden administration continues to tap Massachusetts for talent. Assistant Secretary for MassHealth Dan Tsai leaves to take a post in the Biden administration. (MassLive) Rep. Maria Robinson of Framingham is reportedly the frontrunner for a commissioner’s job at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. (Utility Dive)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Biogen aggressively worked back channels in the FDA to bring the agency around and secure approval of its controversial drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease. (STAT

New COVID cases continue to plummet in Massachusetts, which now ranks 49th in the country for COVID spread. (USA Today)

Meet Alina Chan, a scientist working at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, who breathed new life into the idea that COVID-19 came from a lab. (MIT Technology Review)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum explains what she thinks those spewing hard-right screeds against critical race theory and the more strident exponents of the suddenly popular lens for understanding race issue have in common

ELECTIONS

Michelle Wu and Kim Janey are leading the pack in the Boston mayor’s race, according to a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll, with support from 23.4 percent and 21.6 percent of likely voters, respectively. Annissa Essaibi George had 14.4 percent and Andrea Campbell was at 10.8 percent, with the rest of the field polling in single digits. (Boston Globe

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Cambridge-based entrepreneurs say lifting the federal ban on recreational marijuana could mitigate risks for businesses, but Democratic and Republican lawmakers are caught up on details. Both sides of the aisle are increasingly in favor of legalization, but Republicans want a bare-bones policy, while Democrats are calling for stipulations to address past injustices caused by the ban. (WBUR

Business leaders are prodding the state to offer incentives to urge people to return to work. (Salem News)

EDUCATION

An interim Fall River superintendent of schools will fill in for Matt Malone when he steps back from his duties on July 1. A unanimous school committee vote decided the matter, following a 10-month controversy over allegations that Malone bullied and harassed district employees. (Herald News)

Globe columnist Marcela Garcia says the Boston School Committee should hold off on deciding whether to extend Superintendent Brenda Cassellius’s contract until after the mayoral election this November. CommonWealth reported on Sunday that the mayoral candidates are split on the issue of whether the School Committee should vote to extend the contract at its meeting on Wednesday. 

A panel is moving toward agreement on new policies governing exam school admissions in Boston that would reduce the role of a standardized test and increase the impact of middle school grades. (Boston Globe

ARTS/CULTURE

A new report recommends spending $600 million to aid the arts and culture sector in Massachusetts. (State House News Service)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA says it will add nearly five miles of bus lanes in Boston, Somerville, Revere, Brookline, Malden, and Lynn. (Boston Herald

July 4 travel is expected to hit near-record levels. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Worcester Regional Transit Authority will begin running late-night bus service. (Telegram & Gazette)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Investigators are trying to figure out how a white Winthrop resident who gunned down to Black residents became radicalized by racist and antisemitic writings. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

Dan Kennedy, in a column about the Massachusetts Republican Party, defends reporters (like Emma Platoff at the Boston Globe) who register as Democrats. (Media Nation)