Some Budging on the Budget--But Austerity Still Reigns

Last Tuesday, after only two days of debate, the House approved its budget for FY 2018 on a nearly unanimous vote of House 159-1. Republican Jim Lyons of Andover was the sole dissenting vote.

If some of the House’s most conservative Republicans are willing to vote for a budget, you know it’s not particularly ambitious. State House News Service described it as “the latest in a string of austerity budgets,” and they were right. Even though an additional $77 million was added during the amendment process (bringing the budget to $40.8 billion), the budget still entrenches a pattern of underinvestment in public transit, public education, and the vital social services that are the foundation of a thriving and equitable economy.

Budget season in the House tends to follow a particular script. Amendments from progressive representatives proposing new revenue or creative new ideas will be withdrawn, often without floor debate. Amendments from Republicans will be debated on the floor and then “sent to further study,” i.e., tabled indefinitely. And the leadership will decide behind closed doors which line item increases will get into the final budget, bundling them into large, omnibus amendments. Votes, including that on the final budget, will mostly be either party-line or (nearly) unanimous (with occasional splits in the Republican caucus or defections from the likes of Colleen Garry of Dracut or James Dwyer of Weymouth on the Democratic side).

This dynamic was largely on display last week.

Unfortunately, the two revenue amendments from Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville) we had supported were withdrawn--although we commend Rep. Provost along with Reps. Ruth Balser (D-Newton), Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield), Cory Atkins (D-Concord), and Mike Connolly (D-Cambridge)for speaking on behalf of the income tax freeze amendment on the floor. It is rare to see progressive amendments actually see floor debate.

What happened to the others? On housing, Rep. Paul Donato (D-Medford)’s amendment to increase Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) by $20 million did not make it into the budget. Part of of Rep. Mike Connolly (D-Cambridge)’s MRVP amendment made it into the final budget (allowing the use of MRVP funds for a voucher management program), but the more important parts of the amendment (requiring the agency to issue new vouchers sooner in the fiscal year and increasing voucher rent caps to current fair market rent standards) were not.

Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley)’s amendment to increase the funding for the Early Rate Reserve to $20 million from $15 million made it into the final budget. Rep. Paul Brodeur (D-Melrose) had sought to bring the funding for YouthWorks to $13.5 million; it ended up at $10.75 million instead, counting earmarks.

Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton) had advocated for increasing the funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, which ensures that low-income residents of Massachusetts have access to legal information, advice, and representation, to $21 million from $19.5 million. The final House budget included $20 million--better but not good enough. Rep. Mary Keefe (D-Worcester)’s amendment to increase funding for crucial programs to combat recidivism and create opportunities from $250,000 to $2 million did not make it into the final budget at all.

Rep. David Rogers (D-Cambridge)’s amendment had sought to increase the operations budget for DEP from $24.4 million to $30 million. Just $500,000 extra made it into the final budget, hardly sufficient.

Rep. Carole Fiola (D-Fiola)’s amendment had sought to increase the family planning services line item to $5.8 million. It ended up at $5,678,797.

Now on to the Senate, where the fight continues….

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published this page in The Latest 2017-05-01 23:28:10 -0400
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