Massachusetts Among Six States Operating Without a Budget in Place
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — Five days into the new fiscal year, Massachusetts has scant and dwindling company on the list of states yet to finalize a 2018 spending plan.
After Maine and New Jersey reached deals to end their government shutdowns, just six states remain in budgetary limbo: Massachusetts, Oregon, Wisconsin, Illinois, Rhode Island and Connecticut, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The sticking points differ among the six outliers, though little is known about the status of talks on Beacon Hill, where conference committees choose to meet privately and negotiators refuse to discuss their dealings. The six conferees did not have their next meeting scheduled as of Wednesday morning, and it's not known when they last held a meeting.
Democrats hold super majorities in the Massachusetts House and Senate, but have been unable to agree on a budget during talks that began Monday, June 5.
Forty-six states -- all but New York, Texas, Alabama and Michigan -- started their new fiscal years on Saturday, according to the NCSL. Wyoming, Kentucky and Virginia passed two-year budgets in 2016, and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder have budgets on their desks awaiting action.
As of Wednesday, just six states -- Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Illinois and Oregon -- had not reached agreements on their fiscal 2018 budgets, while governors in Michigan and Pennsylvania had not yet signed their spending plans into law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. [Map: Courtesy/NCSL][/caption]Government shutdowns in New Jersey and Maine ended Tuesday when Republican Govs. Chris Christie and Paul Lepage signed their states' respective fiscal 2018 budgets.
"I have signed a budget with no tax increase," LePage wrote on Twitter. "I thank the House Republicans for standing strong for the Maine people."
Christie, who generated headlines when he was photographed on a state beach while the shutdown left public beaches closed to New Jersey residents, posted that his final budget as governor delivered "2 full terms of unprecedented pension stability, fiscal responsibility & tax relief."
Massachusetts avoided a shutdown by passing a $5.15 billion interim budget funding state accounts through the end of July, and giving negotiators plenty of breathing room to come up with an annual spending plan. Gov. Charlie Baker filed the interim budget and signed it after the Legislature passed it June 26.
In Wisconsin, where GOP Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans have yet to reach accord, minority party Democrats in the state Assembly have a countdown clock on their website displaying the budget's lateness down to the second. Transportation has emerged as an obstacle, according to the Tax Foundation, which said Walker and lawmakers are reluctant to back gas tax increase.
Oregon's late budget is "close to completion" after lawmakers identified revenue increases, the foundation said.
The Illinois House on Wednesday was expected to vote on an override of Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of a deal to end a two-year budget standoff, but reportedly adjourned until Thursday because a quorum was not present for the session.
Baker and the Legislature this year based their fiscal 2018 budgets on a 3.9 percent increase in tax revenues, but collections through 11.5 months of fiscal 2017 are up by 1.4 percent. A revenue downgrade, and corresponding budget adjustments, are likely forcing some major decisions in negotiations.
Baker on Friday said he wasn't overly concerned that the new fiscal year here would begin the next day without a full budget in place.
"Some years the budget lands on June 22, some years it lands on July 22, some years it lands on Aug. 22. The commonwealth still manages to find a way to function," he said.
In 2016, Baker signed the annual state budget on July 8. In 2015, he signed it on July 17.
Baker is now the one Republican governor in New England not to sign a fiscal 2018 budget, and his Democrat peers in neighboring states -- Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo -- are also running their governments without full budgets in place.
Malloy on Friday signed an executive order funding his state while talks continue, saying in a statement that doing so was a "regrettable path, and one that I worked very hard to avoid."
"I do need the legislature to act as a partner in this effort," Malloy wrote. "In those same six years, this was the first time the General Assembly failed to pass a full budget out of committee, or failed to send a budget to my desk before the end of the fiscal year. I am not laying the blame for our current circumstances solely at their feet - but our constitutional process necessitates action on their part. I need them to send me a budget."
According to the Tax Foundation, an amended $9.2 billion budget passed the Rhode Island Senate on Friday, the last day of its regular legislative session, but was not voted on by the House. Speaker Nicholas Mattiello reportedly ended the session and sent House lawmakers home after learning the Senate planned changes to the budget.
Rhode Island lawmakers, however, did see a pay raise kick in when the new fiscal year began, despite their budget impasse.
Massachusetts legislators agreed at the start of the session on a bill increasing salaries of public officials, including themselves, but have taken up few other bills so far as they hold committee hearings and focus on the budget and an overhaul of the marijuana legalization ballot law.
Negotiations also remain underway on the marijuana bill, for which lawmakers missed their self-appointed deadline of June 30.
--By Katie Lannan, State House News Service