Massachusetts Lawmakers Break, With Budget And Voting Issues Unresolved
Massachusetts lawmakers have called it quits ahead of the holiday weekend without passing a full-year budget or election reforms.
Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to take look at what lawmakers accomplished — and what they didn't.
Carrie Healy, NEPM: While the pressure is off with an interim budget in place, how important is that final document to towns and schools, organizations banking on state money?
Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Yeah, it's very important. Like you said, the pressure is not as high as it might be, had the Legislature not passed the interim budget that will keep government funded at least through the end of July while these negotiations continue.
But last year, with unique circumstances, the Legislature waded deep into the fiscal year. It was December by the time the governor signed a full-year budget. That was because of the pandemic. But with things back to normal, the Legislature will still be under pressure to get a full-year budget in place so that agencies and programs know how much money they're going to have to spend.
There's plenty of need out there as a result of the pandemic. A lot of people [needing to] access services, parks in need of work because of use during the pandemic, and so people are going to be looking to see how much money they can count on for the full year and to start putting that money to work at
At the end of June, there were some laws that lawmakers failed to pass. I'm thinking here specifically of some election proposals. What ramifications will that have for communities this summer and into the fall?
Well, there are a few immediate ramifications and potentially bigger ones later on, if this drags on. Like you said, the annual budget deadline is not the only one they missed.
There are provisions in a separate spending bill [in a conference committee] on Beacon Hill that would have addressed mail-in voting reforms as well as early voting. The House had proposed to make mail-in voting a permanent part of the election landscape and to also expand early voting for all state biennial elections to occur before primaries and general elections. The Senate did not include it in their version of the bill. The Senate had previously approved a measure that would have just extended these voting provisions until December, while they consider a more thoughtful, thorough overhaul of election laws. And this is where we stand right now.
But what that means is, some of the municipalities that have summer elections — for instance, a recall election in Fairhaven, a special election in Somerset to fill a Board of Selectmen seat — these elections, where local officials had been counting on mail-in voting, are now having to scramble and tell voters that that will not be an option. And if legislators can't get together on what to do next, potentially, mail-in voting for bigger elections like the Boston mayoral race could be in jeopardy.
Now, one thing lawmakers did do this week, they overrode a veto of a portion of a bill to fund the new Holyoke Soldiers Home. Both chambers rejected Governor Baker's veto of the project labor agreement designed to make sure the $400 million facility is built with union labor. Baker says this could threaten the entire project. Matt, is this bluster or a real problem?
Well, we will see soon enough. Certainly, there are people on both sides of this issue that can point to projects that have used PLAs that have had different outcomes. Democrats, Rep. Danielle Gregoire, in particular, a Marlboro Democrat who led this effort to override the governor's veto in the House, pointing to projects like Gillette Stadium, the Boston Harbor dredging, the Taunton courthouse — all projects built with project labor agreements built on time, on budget. It worked, she said.
But the governor is concerned. He's concerned both that this will lead to the cost of the project exceeding the $400 million authorized to build the new Soldiers' Home, which he says could cause the Veterans Administration to put its federal reimbursement funds elsewhere to other projects around the country rather than fund this Massachusetts project.
He's also concerned about the impact this will have on minority- and women-owned businesses bidding on contracts. These are companies that tend not to be union-affiliated. But we have seen in the past that these companies can get these contracts, so it will remains to be seen whether or not some of the protections put in place by the House and Senate — including a committee to monitor diversity on this particular Holyoke project — can ensure that Black-, brown-, women-owned and veteran-owned businesses can get a piece of this pie.