The clock is ticking for Massachusetts lawmakers to pass another supplemental budget bill
The clock is ticking for Massachusetts lawmakers to pass another supplemental budget bill. It's been a couple of weeks since Gov. Charlie Baker filed a supplemental budget request to fund emergency shelters for migrant and refugee families and also support communities hosting migrant and refugee school-age children.
This latest supplemental budget bill comes in at $139 million. Baker already got a large $3.8 billion budget bill passed by lawmakers in early November. Matt Murphy of the State House News Service said it is not unexpected for a second budget item to come before lawmakers as the informal session winds down.
Matt Murphy, State House News Service: It's not completely unusual given the fact that Governor Baker is transitioning himself out of office and is trying to put on the table anything that he sees as an urgent priority and something he would like to get done before he leaves office. But I stress the word 'like.'
I think the governor and his team are realistic. They know that the Legislature could very easily let this bill carry over into the new session. Let Governor-elect Healey take a look at things like this and see if she agrees with the proposal or wants to do more. And it's something that they could take up early in the new session if necessary. One thing with the immigration funding bill, the economic development bill that the governor did sign this year, included a $20 Million reserve for some of these same priorities, which will get them started. This bill would fund the remainder of the fiscal year, what the governor anticipates the need will be through all of fiscal 2023. So, there is a cushion there. I think the governor just wants to get this on the record and while he would love to see it passed, he knows that it's going to go through some vetting by the Legislature.
Carrie Healy, NEPM: Now, is it even possible for lawmakers to pass this bill in what may be two or so remaining weeks that they sit? I'm assuming they take the week off between Christmas and New Year's?
Yeah, it's certainly possible. I mean, they've had some time with it. Now, unlike the other spending bill that the governor filed and that very large one that got done, that absolutely had to get done. That was needed to close the books on the fiscal year that ended July 1. They needed to spend some of the surplus before the end of the year. That would just get transferred to reserves. So, that was a must do. This is more of a want. If legislative leaders saw the need or wanted to push forward with this immediately, they certainly could. They may pare it down to things that they know could get passed and earn broad support. But you're right, the clock is ticking. We haven't seen a lot of urgency there. And at this point, it may be surprising to see them try to bring it forward.
Applications for casinos that are hoping to add in-person sports betting to their lineup are now in. A public hearing is expected to be held later this morning for those wanting to weigh in before the Gaming Commission makes its decision. Matt, the casinos want sports betting. State officials seem to be in support of this as well. Do you anticipate any major opposition or concerns coming from the public during this hearing?
With this group, in this hearing, at this time, I think the expectation is, no. This was really a carve out. This is the first class of licenses for the in-person sports betting, where you would go, there would be a sportsbook set up: TVs, you could look at the odds and place your bets in-person and in the law that the legislature passed and the governor signed, this was specifically carved out for the state's casinos, track and the slots parlor. And these are the three applicants who have submitted bids.
They're obviously going through the process here. But these licenses were created for the gambling establishments in Massachusetts already, and they obviously have an interest in pursuing sports betting. And and so I don't anticipate a lot of pushback here. We may see more interesting feedback when it comes to the next class of licenses for a larger group of people seeking mobile sports betting licenses to develop these platforms that you could bet from while you're sitting on the couch watching at home.
And finally, we're closing in on the final agreed upon minimum wage increase in Massachusetts, which will bring the lowest paid workers to $15 an hour. When it hits $15 other states around us, like Maine and Vermont, tie their minimum wages to the Consumer Price Index. So, what's the future of the Massachusetts minimum wage when we hit $15? Is there talk about increasing it further?
At this point, I have not heard very much chatter about what the next step is. The minimum wage traditionally in Massachusetts, any time there's been a push to raise the wage floor, it has been a multiyear process that takes time. These proposals tend to get filed many years before they finally get considered. We saw the legislature take this multi-year effort to get it up to $15, kind of phasing it in. That was one way they won support for it. And I think you're right, perhaps indexing or something like that could be the future. And we could see bills filed in this next session just as placeholders to kind of get the conversation going. But I don't see anything imminent on the horizon to go back to the minimum wage very quickly.