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Massachusetts lawmakers are running out of time to put a state budget in place for July 1st

 
Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues addresses House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz and the conference committee in charge of negotiating the state budget.
File Photo
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State House News Service
Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues addresses House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz and the conference committee in charge of negotiating the state budget.

Massachusetts lawmakers are running out of time to put a state budget in place for July 1st.

Gov. Maura Healey's interim budgetto carry the state through July, should a compromise budget not emerge before July 1st, was filed last week. It contains provisions to allow the state to keep money flowing to cities, towns, regional school districts, independent agricultural and tech schools that "demonstrate an emergency cash shortfall." Just like the annual budget, it also needs votes from House and Senate lawmakers before it can be enacted. It's the last week in June. Chris Lisinski of the State House News Service updates us on the status of this temporary interim budget.

Chris Lisinski, SHNS: As we start off the week on Monday, that interim budget worth about $6.6 billion, is still pending before the House Ways and Means Committee. It could move pretty quickly from there and get to the floor for a vote in both branches to try and get this in place. Of course, this is happening while the final annual budget remains tied up behind closed doors in negotiations.

So, the governor filed that interim budget because House and Senate lawmakers are still trying to arrive at a compromise on the annual budget that you just mentioned. So, who are the legislators who are working on it? And what, if anything, is known at this point about its status?

Like it has been before, I believe, about five years now...the lead negotiators on the budget are the chairs of both Ways and Means committees in the House. That's Rep. Aaron Michlewitz of Boston and in the Senate, that's Senator Michael Rodriguez of Westport.

You know, we don't know a ton about where those talks are or how those talks are going. It really is a black box. Once they get into the conference committee process, until they reach a final deal or ready to announce it and bring it forward for a vote. We should note that it cannot be amended. So, all of the other lawmakers who have already gone on record for their preference, are basically given a final agreement that they're not part of crafting, and told, okay, you can either vote up or down on this, but nothing else.

And the pressure still seems to be on those negotiators. Just last week, more than 80 school superintendents signed on to a letterurging them to make the free school meals program, permanent. And before ducking behind closed doors, Chris, was there a widespread support for a longer-term funding mechanism coming from lawmakers?

There's widespread support for keeping this in place, at least for one more year. But there is spotty support for making it permanent in the annual budget, which is what dozens of school superintendents are asking for, as well as many other city and town leaders.

The House was the only entity out of the three that pursued its own budget plan to include money for universal school meals in perpetuity. The Senate and Governor Healey have both said they like the idea but think that that should be done for another one year extension in a standalone spending bill.

So, we'll see what happens. On an entirely different topic, legislation to add additional tiers of compliance requirements for businesses who use PFAS containing products are under consideration. The problem of “forever chemicals” has been on the Legislature's radar for years and has widely impacted many of the districts these lawmakers represent. So, Chris, why are legislators taking this up now?

I think that it's a few different reasons. There's obviously a lot of growing national attention about the impact that PFAS has in our everyday lives, just how widespread they are in all kinds of consumer products.

But also, you know, we're a little bit more than a year after a state task force wrapped up its work looking at the issue and recommending dozens of steps that policymakers should take to deal with it. Now that that roadmap has been laid out, it logically follows that this would be the time for lawmakers to ramp it up.

So, we shouldn't probably get too excited to think that lawmakers are likely to take up other persistent back burner items this session like this PFAS legislation.

No, the wheels of Beacon Hill turn quite slowly. I once heard an advocate say something to the effect of 'it takes 8 to 10 years to get something from first being filed as a bill to having real momentum.' So, I don't think this is too much of a precursor to things to come.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.

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