politics

The clock is ticking to pass a budget in Massachusetts

The House approved a roughly $58 billion budget in April and the Senate approved its own rewrite in May. The bills are similar in many ways but negotiators have not been able to reconcile differences between the two packages

The Massachusetts State House
NBC10 Boston

Massachusetts is on the verge of beginning the 14th straight fiscal year with an overdue state budget, and a Republican lawmaker seasoned in Beacon Hill's ways is worried the cycle of procrastination will lead to poor policymaking.

Rep. Todd Smola, one of the two Republicans assigned to negotiations about the fiscal 2025 budget, said his colleagues in the minority party are "very concerned" that a delay on the spending plan will suck up bandwidth for the myriad topics still in the to-do pile ahead of the July 31 end of formal business for the two-year session.

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"You see all these very big-ticket, important issues and they're stacking up. The window is shortening," the Warren Republican said Wednesday. "The Fourth of July is next week, so we'll see if we're going to be in here for a formal session next week. That remains to be seen. So I would say it's a cause of great concern, at least from the minority caucus's perspective."

"I'm not so sure we do our best work when we let all these important issues stack up on top of one another and we're chasing a deadline," he added. "We've seen what that's done in the past."

The House approved a roughly $58 billion budget in April and the Senate approved its own rewrite in May. The bills are similar in many ways but negotiators have not been able to reconcile differences between the two packages. Fiscal year 2025 begins on Monday.

With no commentary and on an unrecorded voice vote, the House on Wednesday approved a bill that Gov. Maura Healey filed last week to keep state government funded through about July 31.

Healey asked lawmakers to vote on that interim budget by Monday, June 24, but the soonest it will get back to her desk is Thursday, when the Senate could take it up and the House is also in session.

Asked Wednesday if the start-of-fiscal-year deadline is important given how regularly state budget negotiators have blown past it, Healey replied, "Oh, absolutely."

"I know that people are hard at work," she said. "We've seen a lot of movement the last couple of weeks. The Legislature is hard at work on a number of pieces of legislation, including the budget, so I hope we see something soon."

The last time a Massachusetts governor signed an annual budget into law before the July 1 start of each fiscal year was on June 30, 2010.

S&P Global Ratings said Tuesday that of the nine U.S. states whose fiscal years end June 30, lawmakers in seven including Massachusetts are still negotiating over budgets.

House Speaker Ron Mariano on Wednesday attributed the budget delays year after year to the nature of negotiations between the two branches, both of which have Democrat supermajorities but take different approaches to policy and spending.

"It's a negotiation. No one wants to give up their position until they're faced with the inevitable result that they're not going to prevail," he said. "So you hang in there and you make your arguments repeatedly. Having done tons of conference committees, you hate to surrender, and that's just the nature of the negotiations."

House budget chief Aaron Michlewitz said the "objective is to try to get it done on July 1," but that he is "not too concerned about the impacts" if the fiscal year begins without a finalized annual budget in place.

"This isn't Washington. We don't have government shutdowns," he said. "Things continue to operate, especially once you do the one-twelfth [interim budget] that allows that."

Michlewitz said he discussed a temporary spending plan with administration officials, but that there was not a "specific ask" made by lawmakers.

"We all want to get it done by July 1, but we also have important initiatives on both sides that we care about and that our members care about and that they voted for, and we want to make sure that we can see those to fruition as best as possible," he said. "Doing the one-twelfth allows us that flexibility in case we don't get it done by Monday, but we're going to try our hardest to get it done by Monday. If we don't, we're going to try to get it done by Tuesday and then Wednesday and Thursday until we get it done."

Copyright State House News Service
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