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'The breakthrough, as always, remains out of reach': Still no deal on funding for Mass. shelters

Massachusetts House Speaker Ronald Mariano, Gov. Maura Healey and state Senate President Karen Spilka take reporters' questions in the governor's lobby in early November of 2023.
Sam Doran
State House News Service
Massachusetts House Speaker Ronald Mariano, Gov. Maura Healey and state Senate President Karen Spilka take reporters' questions in the governor's lobby in early November of 2023.

It's at least another week of waiting for a deal to emerge from closed-door negotiations that will fund Massachusetts' overloaded emergency shelter system.

Last week concluded with a mostly empty state Capitol after lawmakers wound up business before Thanksgiving.

But Chris Lisinski of the State House News Service said he expects a deal sometime soon.

Chris Lisinksi, SHNS: I think we have to, just given how much pressure lawmakers are under. That's not to say expect one today or tomorrow, or even necessarily this week.

But every day that goes past, we're a day closer to January. And as soon as the calendar flips to what's termed the second annual session, the second year of the two-year term, any spending bills get completely wiped off of the books.

So lawmakers would have to start over at square one on this really high-profile important bill. That doesn't seem like a road they want to take. So we're expecting something to happen sometime soon, given the stakes. It's just that the breakthrough, as always, remains out of reach.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: As I understand it, the conference committee even took time out of their Thanksgiving week to work on this. What are some of the sticking points that lawmakers need to sort out?

The biggest sticking point that we know continues to be how the Legislature should respond to the state's emergency shelter crisis. Both the House and Senate want to fulfill Gov. Healey's request for another $250 million, but they have different visions on how that money should be used.

The House wants to dictate certain amounts to go to certain responses, including $50 million specifically to create overflow sites for families who are eligible for shelter but are stuck on a wait list with no spots available. The Senate does not want to attach any of those strings. They say [lawmakers] are not emergency-response experts. The administration has the expertise [so] let's give them the money and let them handle the response.

And at least so far, through more than a week of negotiations, the two branches seem unable to find a compromise on those two different visions.

Well, to get updates on some of this kind of negotiation, I used to be able to look for tweets from Senate President Karen Spilka, but that's all in the past. She says she's left X (formerly known as Twitter) after its owner, Elon Musk, supported an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. Are more lawmakers going to be leaving with her?

It's a little hard to say. I could see certainly some members of the Senate, some of Spilka’s top deputies or inner circle, following along with her. But at least so far, we haven't seen this as really setting off an avalanche or catching on around Beacon Hill on the connected universe too much.

So, we've now passed a big deadline for ballot question supporters to turn in tens of thousands of signatures, and at least a half dozen campaigns said they did. What's the latest on that?

That’s right. We've got at least half a dozen ballot questions, including some really high-profile policy changes, poised to continue forward into this process, and march onward toward the November 2024 ballot.

This includes a measure trying to decouple MCAS exams from graduation requirement for high school, a pair of proposals reshaping work conditions for Uber and Lyft drivers, and a measure from State Auditor Diana DiZoglio looking to empower her to audit the state Legislature, something that the Attorney General has concluded she does not have the authority to do under existing law.

And, right now, town clerks are verifying signatures?

That's right. Town clerks will need to verify the signatures, then send those on to Secretary of State William Galvin's office for additional certification next year.

Assuming that each of these measures gets enough signatures, the Legislature will get about four months to review every potential ballot question. They can take it up, they can offer a proposed substitute, or they can do nothing. And if they do nothing, there's one final round of signature-gathering before spots are locked in on the ballot.

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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