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Massachusetts lawmakers still working on compromise for budget year that begins July 1

Massachusetts state Sen. Michael Rodrigues is among the committee of six legislators hammering out a compromise state budget.
State House News Service
Massachusetts state Sen. Michael Rodrigues is among the committee of six legislators hammering out a compromise state budget.

Massachusetts is among 46 states that begin a new fiscal year on July 1. Lawmakers on Beacon Hill are still working on a compromise budget.

The new fiscal year begins in less than three weeks. Negotiators are working on the state budget continuing talks aimed at a compromise budget using elements of the different spending plans passed by the Legislature.

One key difference is how much unrestricted local aid will be delivered to cities and towns. Matt Murphy of the State House News Service explains how the House, Senate and governor all arrived different amounts of funding.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: This is typically a straightforward process, at least it has been during the Baker years, because when Gov. Baker first ran for governor and won in 2014, he promised cities and towns that in his budget he would increase unrestricted local aid by the same rate of growth as state revenues.

And this is a figure that's determined every year by the Legislature and the administration. Together, either in December or January, they make their best projection for how much state tax collections will grow in the next fiscal year. This year that has been set at about 3.7%. And so the rate of growth in the governor's budget and the House budget is equal to that, about $31.5 million. I should note this does not count the billions of dollars the state spends on Chapter 70 local aid for public schools.

But this year, with the state flush with money, when the Senate took up its budget, it doubled that increase. It pushed it to about 5.4%, about $63 million more spread across 351 cities and towns. And that is now something that must be reconciled between the branches. That's not usually something subject to negotiations, given the volume of money, and may not be a hard thing to solve for lawmakers. But it is a new wrinkle in this year's deliberations.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Local road and bridge funding was approved by the state Senate last week. I think you could — I know I could — probably tell a pretty good story about a road pothole or the detour that took forever because a bridge was closed. This money is used by communities to maintain more than 30,000 miles of local roads and bridges. But even though it passed, it's not a done deal yet. How much is the Legislature looking to spend on local roads this year and when will towns get that money?

Yeah, they're close and you're absolutely right. There were some communities I've driven through this spring where the roads were just devoted with potholes, and so, you know cities and towns need this money. The Legislature is particularly late on this issue this year. The House first passed a bill with $350 million in it back in March. The Senate just took this up last week and passed it. So I would expect this could be finalized pretty quickly.

This is $200 million in the typical Chapter 90 road repair money that cities and towns count on. That figure has been almost etched in stone for years now at $200 million. But in recent years, the Legislature has been padding this bill with additional money, an extra $150 million spread across several local infrastructure programs to help with things like small bridges owned by communities and other types of infrastructure projects. So there's a good chunk of money here.

If the Legislature can get this done this week, get it signed, they would then need to pass a bill — a fairly standard, routine bill that usually has no objection — to authorize the borrowing. And then that money can begin to go out hopefully by mid-summer to cities and towns across the state.

And shifting gears here, now that state lawmakers passed a law granting undocumented immigrants the ability to get driver's licenses, what needs to happen in terms of regulations and getting systems up and running before the law is implemented?

You know, a couple of interesting things in play here. This bill does not begin until July 1, 2023. So, there is time here and the time will be needed by the RMV, the Registry of Motor Vehicles, to take a look at the new rules of the road — forgive the pun — to make sure that they can verify the types of documentation that would be allowed for immigrants who are unable to prove legal status.

There are several foreign passports and foreign documents that could be used by immigrants to show and prove their identity without proving their legal status in the country. So there will need to be training there. The registry will need to make sure it has the systems in place, to look at these documents and verify them.

And then there's the question of whether or not there will be a repeal effort. Republican Geoff Diehl, candidate for governor, saying he would back an effort to repeal this law at the ballot. There is a window here where people can gather signatures to try to seek a repeal. And, if anybody knows how to do it, it's Jeff Diehl. He's successfully done it before to repeal a law that indexed the gas tax to inflation. So, this is something to watch moving forward, especially given the long runway here until 2023 for this law to take effect.

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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