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Boston Herald
Boston Herald
22 Jul 2023
Chris Van Buskirk

NextImg:Massachusetts lawmakers poised to enter last week of July without a deal on overdue FY24 state budget

No deal on a state budget Friday left lawmakers poised to enter the final full week of July without a yearly spending plan for the fiscal year that started 22 days ago and the public in the dark on when an accord could be reached.

Lawmakers adjourned Thursday morning sessions without producing a compromise fiscal 2024 budget and scheduled informal House and Senate sessions for Monday morning. Top Democrats did not indicate this week if a compromise was in reach even as they started to stare down the final few days before their traditional August recess.

The longer the state goes without a plan in place, the more it impacts the ability to implement new programs or expand existing ones, said Doug Howgate, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and former senior policy advisor to Senate President Karen Spilka.

“There’s a whole lot that goes into how critical or impactful the timing of the budget finalization is to the state’s finances and its credit rating,” said Howgate, also a former budget director for the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “You don’t want that deadline to keep creeping and creeping and creeping, because if something goes wrong, then all of a sudden, you could be in a time of significant delay.”

It is unlikely state government will shut down because a full budget has not been signed by the governor. Gov. Maura Healey signed a $6.6 billion interim budget that keeps services funded through July, and if the delay stretches deeper into next week, another one could be in the mix.

After an event in Easthampton on Thursday, Healey did not say if her office was prepping another interim budget.

“We’ll see what happens in the coming days,” she told reporters. “We’ll be prepared to do what we need to do. And again, I know the Legislature is busy at work.”

Gov. Maura Healey speaks to reporters in Easthampton on Thursday, July 19, 2023. The Healey administration announced the creation of a private relief fund for farmers dealing with the aftermath of floods and rains in Western Massachusetts.

Chris Van Buskirk/Boston Herald
Gov. Maura Healey speaks to reporters in Easthampton on Thursday, July 19, 2023. Healey would not say whether her office was preparing another interim budget in the absence of a spending plan for fiscal year 2024, which started on July 1. (Chris Van Buskirk/Boston Herald)

The timeline for a House-Senate deal is unclear, though late budgets are nothing new on Beacon Hill.

A spokesperson for Senate budget chief Sen. Michael Rodrigues declined to comment Friday on the status of budget negotiations and how many times conference committee members have met formally.

A spokesperson for House budget writer Rep. Aaron Michlewitz did not respond to a request for comment on Friday. Michlewitz said last week “it’s too early to tell” when a budget deal could be reached.

“It could be tomorrow, next week, could be the next day,” he said on July 13. “It’s too early to tell. It’s not done until it’s done.”

He declined to detail potential areas of disagreement between the House and Senate, telling reporters at the State House he does not “think it’s fair for us to talk about this out in a public setting like this” with negotiations taking place behind closed doors.

“The differences were outlined pretty clearly during both budget debates from the House and the Senate side,” he said. “I think we both have important priorities that we’re trying to work through and hopefully we’re gonna get there as soon as possible.”

Massachusetts is one of four states that have not enacted a state budget by the start of the new fiscal year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Oregon are also missing yearly spending plans. Michigan’s fiscal year 2024 budget is awaiting action from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, according to NCSL.

“Passing an annual operating budget on time would provide greater predictability, certainly, and stability to the numerous state agencies and programs reliant on the appropriations,” said Eileen McAnneny, a senior fellow in economic opportunity at the Pioneer Institute. “It would improve government operations to pass a timely budget. I also think passing a budget on time indicates that the Legislature takes its fiscal responsibilities very seriously and prioritizes them.”

The House and Senate have produced budget deals on or after July 1 for the last decade. The fiscal year 2023 budget was sent to the governor on July 18, 2022, and the fiscal 2022 budget on July 9, 2021.

The fiscal 2021 budget was severely delayed by COVID-19 pandemic uncertainties, hitting Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk on Dec. 4, 2020. Outside of the pandemic, the fiscal 2020 budget was sent to the governor’s desk on July 23, 2019.

Lawmakers turned in the fiscal 2013 budget before the deadline, sending it to the governor on June 28, 2012.

Beacon Hill observers said a budget deal could be delayed this year because of parallel negotiations on a tax relief package also locked in private talks led by Michlewitz and Rodrigues. Both the House and Senate took similar approaches to carving out room in their budget proposals for tax relief.

But Howgate said the fiscal 2024 budget does not stand out as “having more differences than your standard budget.”

“There’s always going to be lots of differences, always a lot of challenging policy decisions. I think it’d be one thing if this budget included the tax proposals within it, then you’d have some kind of that increased degree of difficulty,” he said.

The Senate passed its budget at the end of May, immediately putting themselves at odds with their House counterparts, who approved a plan that included online lottery sales and free meals at public schools.

A late budget is “not good,” said MassFiscal spokesman Paul Craney.

“There are projects in the works that require the state budget to be delivered on time that further get delayed or are not as beneficial. On the municipal level, obviously, it means local governments are at a standstill until the state can get its act together,” Craney said.

The entrance to the House on July 13, when representatives returned to the State House for their first formal session in 78 days. (Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald)

Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald
The entrance to the House on July 13, when representatives returned to the State House for their first formal session in 78 days. (Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald)