After just three formal sessions, the House passed their budget on Wednesday, which came across the finish line at $49.7 billion.
And the final product is….good. I mean, it’s really, really good!
Here’s the deal: Massachusetts is currently enjoying a sizable revenue surplus. In other words, we collected more taxes than we were prepared to spend in 2023. That revenue, plus a boatload of federal Covid-relief money, has placed Beacon Hill in a rare situation: they are swimming in cash. The question is what they should do with it.
In his budget proposal, Governor Baker wanted to use the surplus to cut taxes, disproportionately benefitting the ultra-wealthy. Instead of taking the bait, the House passed a budget that would put that money towards education, housing assistance, and supporting individuals affected by the criminal justice system.
All the advocates and community members who have been fighting to fund these critically underfunded services should be proud, and we should celebrate these victories!
But it wouldn’t be an Act on Mass analysis without talking process. Let’s dive in.
State House Scoop
Top-down & opaque: the budget process
The short and the long of it is that only a handful of extremely powerful people decide the $50 billion budget, namely the Speaker of the House and the Chair of Ways & Means. All the other reps are allowed to ask for their priorities to be included, but ultimately what is and what is not in the budget is decided by Mariano and Michlewicz. How and why they make their decisions is entirely out of public view. Heck, most rank-and-file legislators have no clue.
Reps can file amendments to the budget proposal, but the fate of these amendments, too, is decided by those same two men. Budget amendments (over 1,500 of them in this case) get combined into giant "consolidated amendments" divided by category. Decisions about what amendments make it into a consolidated amendment and which are left out and effectively killed, are also made in private closed-door meetings.
The floor debate for the budget acts less like a debate and more like a rubber stamp for policy predetermined by those in charge.
Luckily for the people of Massachusetts, we were granted much of what we’ve been asking for. But we can’t rely on a revenue surplus or federal funds to fully fund our state every year. Yes, this budget was great, but imagine the budget we could have if we (1) implemented progressive revenue and (2) opened up the budget process to input from the people that stand to benefit from it the most? What could a democratically-crafted, sustainable budget look like?
Budget floor debate
The House addressed over 1,500 amendments to the budget in just three days. (Or, to put it more accurately, leadership compressed 1,500 amendments into a handful of mega amendments and then passed each of those nearly unanimously.) Here’s how things shook out:
- Monday: The House passed the first consolidated amendment (aptly called “Amendment A”) which dealt with education and social services. Republicans fought for a slew of tax break amendments, including a freeze on the gas tax, raising the estate tax threshold, and lowering the capital gains tax, all of which were easily rejected by the Dems.
- Tuesday: Consolidated Amendments B, C & D were passed on Tuesday, dealing with elder affairs, public safety, and public health. Tuesday’s session also included a major policy victory: language to ban child marriage was added to the budget. Better late than never: this bill has passed the Senate and died in the House for the last four years. It will be the author of this newsletter’s absolute pleasure to remove this bill from Act on Mass’ oft-cited list of popular progressive bills that haven’t passed.
- Wednesday: On the last day of debate, the House took up and passed Amendments, you guessed it, E, F & G, which tackled topics including transportation, energy, housing, and labor. Rep. Tami Gouveia offered a further amendment which would have added funding towards retrofitting buildings with green technologies. This was rejected on a voice vote.
Senate passes sports betting bill with no recorded votes
After pointed criticisms from Speaker Mariano, the Senate finally voted on and passed a bill legalizing sports betting on Thursday. This has long been a priority of Mariano’s (if I were Speaker I’d probably prioritize medicare for all or lifting the ban on rent control, but that’s just me). The bill now heads into conference committee where the key differences between the House and the Senate versions will be ironed out, including whether betting on college sports would be allowed.
The Senate did not post online or make available by request the results of the Senate Ways & Means committee vote to advance this bill, despite the fact that their rules call for them to do so. Even more mysterious, the bill was passed on a voice vote, although a senator had initially requested a roll call.
BALLOT QUESTION WEEKEND OF ACTION - April 30th & May 1st
A massive thank you to all our volunteers who are out collecting signatures for our Transparency ballot question this weekend! If you’re at home reading this on Saturday, it’s not too late to join for Sunday! Sign up for a quick and fun 2-hour signature collecting shift in a district near you:
Can’t volunteer but want to support the campaign? Donate!
Today marks a crucial end-of-month deadline, and we’re still in the red when it comes to funding our ballot initiative. Clipboards, pens, photocopied signature papers and flyers aren’t cheap. (Ok, the pens are cheap, but the rest are expensive I promise). Help us reach our goal of getting the question on the ballot in 34 districts by chipping in today before the midnight deadline:
Thank you for making it all the way to the end of this meaty Scoop. For those of you in Arlington, I'll be gathering signatures outside Stop & Shop today and tomorrow. Come sign the petition as you grab your groceries for the week! There might even be an Act on Mass sticker in it for you.