DeLeo Calls for Interim August Budget as Beacon Hill Negotiates
BOSTON — With the annual state budget now 16 days late and negotiators acknowledging still-unresolved issues, House Speaker Robert DeLeo indicated concern Monday that a compromise might not be within reach this month and said the governor should file legislation that would ensure government continues to operate into August.
The speaker's statement on Monday came just hours after he publicly hinted that legislative leaders may have to consider "other options" for resolving a fiscal year 2020 budget if talks continue to drag later into July, a month in which state spending is covered by an interim $5 billion appropriation with no exact date for when funding will run dry.
"Based on the current status of the negotiations, the Speaker feels it would be prudent for the Governor to file a 1/12th budget for August to ensure the Commonwealth's fiscal obligations are met," DeLeo spokeswoman Catherine Williams told the News Service in a statement.
A six-member conference committee continues to negotiate differences in the House and Senate's $42.7 billion spending plans more than two weeks into the fiscal year, the ninth straight year with a budget arriving late. However, with conferees still declining to offer a timeline when they might reach a deal, DeLeo said Monday that a change in approach may be necessary.
"The longer it goes, other options are going to have to be considered the closer we get to the end of the month," DeLeo told reporters.
"But I think that as of right now, to their credit, the chairs and the conferees are working hard to have it accomplished by the end of the month. But it's something at this point, now that we're at mid-month, we have to keep a close eye on."
Amid last year's late budget talks, DeLeo proposed on July 9, 2018 that legislators could separate policy proposals included in the budget from bottom-line spending to help produce a compromise. Asked about such an idea Monday, he said that could be "one of the options," but he did not identify others.
Both legislative leaders and those involved in the private negotiations declined to explain what exactly is causing the delay. Senate President Karen Spilka, who met with DeLeo and Gov. Charlie Baker before the group addressed reporters Monday, said only that conferees are addressing "complicated policy issues and other issues."
"I know the chairs are working really hard," Spilka said.
"I know (Senate) Chair (Michael) Rodrigues has been working around the clock. My hope is that we do get it done. We need to do our job and get the budget done as soon as we can. I think all focus and all energies should be on getting the budget done so we can move forward on so many other issues before us."
Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, the committee's House chair, left the meeting with the governor and other legislative leaders around 3 p.m. and headed back to his office.
"You saw the differences between the two budgets," Michlewitz told the News Service.
"There are still some things we need to work out but we're working on it. We worked on it all weekend, discussing things back and forth. We're still talking and we're going to keep talking until this gets done and no rest until we're done."
While the branches passed budgets with similar bottom lines, they varied on whether to freeze UMass tuition and fees, how to enforce drug-pricing reforms, and whether to impose new taxes on opioid manufacturers and vaping products.
Massachusetts, which was the last state in the nation to enact an annual spending plan last year, is one of only two this year alongside Ohio that still has not sent a final budget to the governor. Five states, as of July 5, did not have budgets in place for fiscal years that began on July 1, including Oregon, North Carolina and New Hampshire.
As of Monday, 46 days had passed without a resolution since the budget was referred to conference — already the longest negotiation in at least a decade.
Rep. Todd Smola, one of two Republicans on the conference committee, said earlier on Monday that despite progress in the committee's talks he is worried that stopgap funding is dwindling and a traditional August recess approaches.
"While we have time, that time is coming close to running out," Smola said.
"There's no doubt about that. I think that is an issue for everybody involved. But we want to do it right, so it's a careful negotiation, and we're going to keep working at it."
Like Michlewitz, Smola demurred when asked which issues remained a sticking point for negotiators.
"There's a lot to this budget, and if people had delved into the outside sections and some of the policy issues and big changes we're dealing with in the House and Senate versions, they'd understand the fact that it takes a little bit longer to get through," Smola said.
Both branches held informal sessions Monday, and adjourned until Tuesday without receiving a report.
House Assistant Majority Leader Paul Donato told the News Service on Monday that Democratic leadership is "hopeful we're going to get something done by the end of this week." Asked if that prediction was accurate, Smola laughed and said he had "no idea."
"It's a fluid thing," he said.
"I think that we are reasonably close on most things, but there are some things that still need to be dealt with, and usually, it's not the easy things left on the table that need to be dealt with. It's the more complicated things. Those things are going to take more time."