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Freshman Rep. Has To Wait A Week Before Getting Graded On Mass. House Budget

Massachusetts House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz, at left, briefs reporters on his committee's proposed fiscal 2020 budget. With him is House Speaker Robert DeLeo.
Sam Doran
State House News Service
Massachusetts House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz, at left, briefs reporters on his committee's proposed fiscal 2020 budget. With him is House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

The Massachusetts House released its version of the state budget. It calls for no major tax increases. 

It's now a nearly $43 billion plan, and it's the first budget released by state Representative Aaron Michlewitz.

For our quick look at the week ahead in politics and government in Massachusetts, we're joined by Matt Murphy of the State House News Service.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: What's the early reaction to the plan?

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: It's Michlewitz's first budget as chairman of Ways and Means, but he worked closely with House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

As we saw last week, the Speaker is sort of hitting the pause button on the revenue debate, wanting to postpone that until later this year. So this budget looks an awful lot like Governor Charlie Baker's budget, minus some of the tax proposals that the governor put in, if you can believe that.

There is also additional education aid. The House leadership decided to pump up education spending as they look ahead to a debate over revamping the state funding formula for local schools. They're putting the money first. They're going to figure out how to dispense it to the districts later.

But that is to come — like a lot of things in this budget.

The reaction so far: Strong from fiscal conservatives, including Republicans, because there's not a lot of new revenue or tax money in this budget.

Some of the more progressive groups and budget nonprofits who watch this sort of thing, and were hoping to see major new investments in transportation and education and other areas, are left a little disappointed. They say they're going to continue to advocate. But we'll see.

Senate leaders are also indicating that they may not have the appetite for a revenue debate right now, and are also looking to postpone that until later on this year, or even next year.

The Foundation Budget Review Commission, which looks at educational spending, recommended more funding. The Mass. Teachers Association has called the House Budget "woefully inadequate." Is that just a sentiment that's always expressed when a budget is released?

Well, I mean, certainly, they were hoping to see much more. There's some legislation out there, including a bill called the Promise Act, filed by Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz and Rep. Aaron Vega, that would pump considerably more money into the education system. A lot of this is dependent on how they decide to revamp the formula, which is something that the education committee continues to work on.

The Speaker would not put a timeline on when he thinks that might come up for a vote or debate — perhaps later this year. But that would push it into the fall, and really not have an impact until the next fiscal year's budget.

So they did raise education funding more than they usually would in a year-to-year budget. But it's certainly not the billion-dollar investment that some, like the MTA, were hoping for.

The room was cleared — no reporters, no public — for that final vote for the House budget proposal. How was that allowed?

Yes, we were told this was a mix-up between the committee itself, and the court officers who work for the House, who locked the doors, and told us that the committee had to vote to open it up to the public and the press.

That of course is not true. These things are typically open until, or unless, they're voted to be closed.

But there was a bit of a mix-up and a miscommunication. Sometimes the court officers think they're doing what they're supposed to be, and they're actually preventing what the public should be able to see, and access.

But we're told the vote was unanimous, as it usually is.

Starting next week, there'll be a full public airing of this bill, and this legislation, on the floor of the House.

Last week, the Boston Globe published a couple of stories addressing an understaffed and underfunded state DCF. It's 2019. Does newspaper reporting like that actually influence where legislators propose spending money?

For sure, it can. And in the case of DCF — for years, we've seen efforts to increase their funding, to hire new social workers and caseworkers to better equip them with new cell phones and equipment to track their cases.

This budget proposal proposes $37.4 million more for DCF than was spent last year, and that includes increases for foster care and group care, social workers and family supports.

We've also seen how other headlines have generated action in this budget. There's been a lot of reporting of late on the dire situation that many nursing homes and elder care facilities in Massachusetts face. The Speaker says he's proposing $30 million in additional funding to increase payments to nursing homes, and also creating a commission to look at the long-term viability of these facilities, and how the state cares for its aging seniors.

So reporting can impact these decisions. And we'll see where some of these debates move forward.

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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