Once Again, Mass. Among Last States Without a Budget

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State budget negotiators were continuing closed-door talks Tuesday as Massachusetts again earned the dubious distinction of being among the few U.S. states without a permanent spending plan in place for the new fiscal year.

July 1 came and went without the Democratic-controlled Legislature reaching an agreement on a $42.7 billion budget. A six-member panel led by Sen. Michael Rodrigues, of Westport, and Aaron Michlewitz, of Boston, are trying to resolve disagreements over the House and Senate versions of the plan.

State government is operating on a stopgap budget that expires at the end of July. No sense of urgency was evident in Statehouse corridors and legislative leaders suggested it was unlikely any compromise would be presented to lawmakers for a final vote before the Independence Day holiday.

The scenario is a familiar one on Beacon Hill, where it's been nearly a decade since the last time a governor signed the annual budget into law before the start of the new fiscal year.

A year ago, Massachusetts was the last U.S. state without a permanent spending plan by the time one finally reached the desk of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and was signed by him on July 26.

Of the 46 states where new fiscal years began Monday, Massachusetts and Ohio were the only ones where lawmakers had yet to approve final budgets, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.

New Hampshire and North Carolina were also operating on interim budgets after the governors of those states vetoed plans sent to them by lawmakers. Governors in a handful of other states, including Rhode Island, are still reviewing budgets that were approved by lawmakers.

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo told reporters Monday that budget negotiators from both chambers were working "in good faith" to resolve complex spending and policy differences.

"I don't know if the number of issues are as great as they have been in years past, but I would say they are more involved issues than in years past," said the Winthrop Democrat. He would not, however, identify specific issues that might be slowing progress by negotiators.

The House and Senate took different approaches toward reining in prices the state's Medicaid program pays for some of the most expensive prescription drugs, with representatives of the state's biopharmaceutical industry preferring adoption of the House language.

The Senate proposed new taxes on opioid manufacturers and on e-cigarettes and vaping supplies, but neither tax was added to the House plan. State funding for public schools and a Senate plan to freeze tuition in the University of Massachusetts system were among other possible sticking points.

Baker said missing the July 1 budget deadline was not of major concern to him so long as the extra wait resulted in a better final product.

Paul Craney, a spokesman for the conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said in a statement Tuesday that later budgets generally result in a less transparent approval process.

"House and Senate legislative leaders will rush to pass this budget very quickly after it's released," said Craney. "It's a tactic leadership has been relying on to move their agenda and keep the public in the dark."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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