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Sitting on pile of cash, Massachusetts lawmakers focus on budgeting

The Massachusetts House Chamber in November 2017.
Mass Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
/
Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/massdep
The Massachusetts House Chamber in November 2017.

The Massachusetts House this week will consider its $49.6 billion budget proposal and about 1,500 amendments. One notable difference between that proposal and the budget filed by the governor: taxes. House Republicans want some sort of tax relief to get baked into next year's budget.

Matt Murphy of the State House News Service explains the challenges facing the small group of House Republicans and what they're looking for.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Well, the challenges they face are the same ones that they, and Governor Baker, have encountered with Democratic leadership since the governor first proposed his tax proposal. The governor, as a companion to his budget, floated the idea of about $700 million in tax cuts to give some of that surplus revenue that you mentioned back to taxpayers. There are cuts for rent relief, and senior property tax relief. There are major changes proposed by the governor to the estate tax, as well as reducing short-term capital gains tax rates for investors, which Baker said will not impact just the wealthy but also middle class people who have money invested. But, the Legislature, so far, has not been on any of these. They are considering the governor's tax package separately from this budget.

We're also going to see the Republicans try, on the floor, to push for gas tax relief. We've seen this effort fail in both the House and Senate in recent weeks as gas prices have gone up, and we've seen efforts to try and suspend the state's 24-cent gas tax, at least through the summer or for a period of several months, to help drivers at the pump. But these efforts have gone nowhere, and it's hard to see them gaining any traction Monday morning when debate begins on revenue amendments to this budget proposal for FY23.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: And speaking of Republican governors, some say pardons undermine judges and juries. In Massachusetts, former Republican Governor Mitt Romney was known for never granting any clemencies. Just last week, Republican Governor Charlie Baker's second commutation was approved by the parole board. Could we see more acts of clemency from the governor before he leaves office?

It's certainly a possibility. This is now the time of the last year of a second term governor who's not running for reelection.

But you're right — these have sort of faded in popularity. They used to be quite common. Governors used to grant many of these, but it became a politically much more challenging and tricky proposition for governors as the political climate changed. Certainly you remember what Governor Dukakis went through during his presidential campaign with the issue of pardons and clemency and letting people out of prison early.

So this has become a little bit dicey for politicians. But Baker has already stepped forward on the recommendation of the parole board and commuted two first degree murder sentences to second degree murder, for the first time in decades. Those two men have since been granted parole. So I think it's entirely possible that we will see other actions taken by the governor before he leaves office.

Massachusetts lawmakers are, of course, in the second year of their two-year session. Whatever they're going to get done is going to be finished on July 31. Last week we had a quiet school vacation week at the Statehouse. So what are some of the measures lawmakers are likely to focus on other than the budget for the last three months?

The budget is a big one to get done, but the governor has also put forward a hefty agenda. We've seen him file health care bills, the tax package, of course, while we wait to see if Democrats latch on to any of these ideas. There are proposals that the governor has put forward that they are likely to do, if not the exact version, like economic development. It's a biannual thing that we see the Legislature take up. The governor proposed his bill last week. This is something that's likely going to get done. The governor is also proposed a major transportation borrowing bill for long-term spending on infrastructure. What it looks like could change a lot, but this is also something we're likely to see the Legislature do.

They have to negotiate things like voting law changes, and climate policy. The Senate passed a major comprehensive bill; the House, a more narrow, focused one. We know House Speaker Ron Mariano has said he will take up and even go further on the Senate mental health bill. And the Senate is interested in doing something on child care and helping reduce the cost of early education. For families, the House does a little bit in its budget proposal that will be debated this week, but we're waiting to see what the Senate has in store there. So plenty on tap, not to mention the fact that the Senate will be taking up a sports betting legalization bill this Thursday.

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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