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No Joke: Public Gets A Say This Week On The Massachusetts Budget

The Massachusetts Statehouse.
Jesse Costa
The Massachusetts Statehouse.

It's April Fool's and — no joke — the public may finally get a say on the Massachusetts budget this week. 

Matt Murphy from the State House News Service joins us to talk about it for our quick look at the week ahead in politics and government in Massachusetts.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: Aren't we now just weeks away from seeing a fiscal 2020 budget from the House Ways and Means Committee?

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: We are. I expect that we would get eyes on it probably middle of next week.

And it's sort of a highly-anticipated one, because it's the first budget that new House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz is putting together since he was named to that post.

But also because the Speaker [of the House Bob DeLeo] has kept the door slightly more ajar this year to new tax proposals. He hasn't slammed it shut, as he has in recent years. And people are wondering, especially after the death of the millionaire's tax last year — which had been counted on for new revenue — whether or not the Speaker will really embrace any new revenue streams, or put that decision off.

It felt like a kind of slow start to the legislative session. What's left to do before they get to this budget finish line in the House?

Last week there was sort of a flurry of activity in the Senate and the House. They were trying to finalize some legislation, I think, to notch a few wins before they turn their attention to the budget starting next week, because we're going to see the roll-out of the budget. Then it's school vacation week. Legislators will be reading it, filing amendments, and then the House will spend a full week debating it. So that will suck up much of the month of April.

There's a hearing Tuesday. Is that going to be the only time that the public will get to testify on the budget?

Yeah. This is the big public hearing for the governor's budget bill. The Ways and Means Committee has been going around the state, focused on invited testimony only. They bring in different agency heads, and secretaries, and other officials to talk about their budgets, and their budget requests as they put together their spending plan. And this is the chance for the public to weigh in.

Last week, the state Senate voted to lift the welfare family cap on benefits. And Westfield Republican Senator Don Humason was the lone dissenting voice. He also was among five Republicans who voted "present" as the Senate overwhelmingly voted to ban conversion therapy for minors. Are those Humason votes at all surprising, given that he's running for mayor of Westfield this year? Did you expect him to take more of a moderate path?

It's certainly interesting that he's running for mayor and taking these votes, at least on the conversion therapy ban bill vote. He was among five of the six Republicans in the Senate who voted "present." They were concerned just the way the bill was written.

The vote on the welfare cap — a little more interesting. That was almost unanimous, except Senator Humason voting no. And he, after the vote, requested permission to make a statement and explained that while he wants to help these families, he is hearing so often from people in his community that they are struggling to pay the bills, and they are putting off family decisions, or putting off having kids, because they're concerned about being able to afford them. And he doesn't think it's fair to ask them to pay for a benefit that perhaps these more middle-income families do not get themselves.

So that was his rationale for that vote. Whether or not it will play with the people of Westfield, I guess will remain to be seen.

It should be noted, though it was fairly close, Westfield did vote for President Trump in 2016.

That's interesting. So, you know, you may see a welfare vote like this, someone trying to hold the line on these benefits. It may actually work to his favor.

The state Senate says it has launched a sexual harassment survey for members and staff. Based off that, an outside contractor will offer recommendations. This is just one piece of a multi-part initiative in the Senate after allegations were made against former Senator Rosenberg's husband last session. Is the House taking steps as well? Similar steps?

The House has taken similar steps. They certainly passed a package of rules to address some of this stuff.

They are still working to hire an Equal Opportunity Employment Officer who would be the new point of contact for people with complaints, concerns about workplace issues, including sexual harassment.

But we have not yet seen the House embrace this idea of a workplace climate survey to kind of gauge the culture of the House, and see what people actually think is going on, anonymously. It has been proposed. It has not been adopted yet. But the Senate is moving forward with this, and it'll be really fascinating to see the results when they come back.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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