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State House Roundup: The Making Of Vienna Sausage

Sep 20, 2017 06:36AM ● Published by State House News

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The 62 overrides processed in the House chamber covered statewide programs and accounts, and Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez said another batch, addressing local needs and services, will be forthcoming.

Republicans said the Senate should in fact be in no rush to follow the House's lead. With state leaders mired in a years-long inability to accurately project tax revenues and then keep spending within actual receipts, GOP representatives said both branches should wait at least another month, preferably two, to see if the overrides are affordable.

For their part, the Baker administration said there was "no basis" to restore spending now, given revenue performance so far.

But Sanchez, speaking for the Democrats, said a conservative approach was already baked into the budget that landed on Baker's desk in July - that $400 million had been removed from the bottom line before Baker saw it. The spending restorations are sustainable, he assured.

By way more than the necessary two thirds, Sanchez and his boss Speaker DeLeo had the votes.

For much of Wednesday, House members sat chattering and nattering and fiddling with their devices, punctuated by the sonorous reading of one veto after another from the podium. Which items would come up and receive a "yes" vote had been decided in secret over the past eight weeks, so there was no debate. One by one, with nary a decrease in din, representatives added money back to the Commonwealth's fiscal 2018 bottom line - the scoreboard glowing green on its leftward Democratic side, and more or solid red on the Republican.

And while wiseguys needed both eyebrows this week - one to raise over Rosenberg's trip, and the other over the prudence of budget regrowth - the people actually affected by the line items - people hoping to keep their apartments or their jobs - likely breathed a sigh of relief. Or half a sigh, anyhow, if that's possible. And by the way? If those real people avoid the hit, they won't begrudge Rosenberg some late-summer Transatlantic meandering.

While the $275 million in budget restorations was subject to interpretation, other numbers this week were more unambiguously positive.

The state was pleased learn this week that it's once again below average. In unemployment, that is. The Mass. rate dropped to to 4.2 percent in August, the Commerce Dept. reported, down from 4.3 percent and below the 4.4 national rate. Employment in the Bay State has been so robust in recent years that when the rate equaled the national figure for July, that datum merited headlines. The state's added 57,400 jobs in the past 12 months.

The poverty rate dropped here too, said the U.S. Census Bureau, down to 10.4 percent in 2016, from 11.5 in 2015. Personal income rose, by just over $4,600 a year. And the pay-equity gap narrowed, per a different set of new federal data, from embarrassing to slightly less embarrassing: women were paid 84.3 cents for their work for every dollar collected by men in 2016, up from 81.6 cents in 2015.STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 15, 2017...The Legislature continued the budget process for Fiscal year Two Thousand Infinity this week - well, half the Legislature.

Recap and analysis of the week in state governmentA budget document unveiled when President Trump's approval rating exceeded his disapproval sauntered through its eighth month, still not truly final, as the House replaced $275 million of the $360 million in vetoes Gov. Baker made in July. The next step in the saga must be taken by the Senate.

BIG MARIJUANA: A van parked on Beacon Street advertised wholesale marijuana candy available by the pound. The Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition hosted their 28th "Freedom Rally" on Boston Common Friday, an annual pot gathering that this year celebrated the drug's legalization. [Photo: Craig Sandler/SHNS]
BIG MARIJUANA: A van parked on Beacon Street advertised wholesale marijuana candy available by the pound. The Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition hosted their 28th "Freedom Rally" on Boston Common Friday, an annual pot gathering that this year celebrated the drug's legalization. [Photo: Craig Sandler/SHNS]

The hangup for now is that there's a rhythm to legislation and, as fortune would have it, that rhythm is the same as a Viennese waltz: ONE-two-three, one-two-three ... And the third step of the override process was paused for the moment, as senators awaited the return of their leader from Austria and the Czech Republic.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg was in Europe - a development that first surfaced publicly when his staff said he wouldn't be at the weekly leadership meeting Monday with Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and would phone in for the session. He did.

The president, normally quite eager to share the details of his public schedule, made no mentions of his planned sojourn in the weeks and months leading up to his departure. His travels through Vienna, Graz and Prague were underwritten by the United Nations Association of Austria, the City of Graz and the Senate Presidents Forum, which collects money from corporations like Coca-Cola, Pzifer and Reynolds tobacco and passes it on to presidents in the form of grants for such policy and cultural forays. Thomas Finneran, late of the Massachusetts House speakership, is on staff as moderator of Forum discussions - a role he filled during the Central Europe sessions, said Rosenberg's spokesman.

And so the Senate, eager as it may be to restore spending after senators decried vetoes as severe and unnecessary, extended its six-week summer formal-session hiatus. The vetoes may be taken up the last week of the month, after the Autumnal equinox.

On the down side, advocates for the state's nursing home industry warned that their facilities are so underfunded by MassHealth, the state's public-health care system, that three quarters of the homes have a combined 4.4 percent negative margin. Two-thirds of residents are funded by MassHealth, which pays an average $37 a day less per person than quality care costs. "This rapid decline has pushed many high-quality nursing homes to the verge of bankruptcy and possible closure," said Matt Salmon, the CEO of Salmon Health and Retirement and vice chairman of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association board.

The financial situation at the Cannabis Control Commission is far less dire, but still must be addressed with Big Marijuana already very much a presence in the Bay State. At its inaugural working meeting Tuesday, the new regulatory body discussed its budgetary needs, which have yet to be addressed. The board has $500,000 cash to work with from the Cannabis Cost Reserve, and a $2 million budget allotment in Fiscal 20-Infinity (i.e., 2018), but Treasurer Deborah Goldberg estimates it actually needs $10 million a year to oversee the new industry. A deficiency Fiscal 20-Infinity (i.e., 2017) budget may address that gap, or it may not. Members named their chairman, Steven Hoffman, their interim executive director, while they look for a permanent chief administrator.

One of the few significant numbers of the week that wasn't preceded by a dollar sign were 240 and 220 - the scores necessary to pass the 10th grade English/math and science MCAS exams respectively.

During an enormously busy hearing week - one that put the lie, incidentally, to the notion that an empty legislative chamber doesn't mean legislators are not hard at work - one of the most heavily attended and charged with rhetoric was on bills ending high-stakes academic testing. Business leaders said students who can't pass such tests can't hope to be good employees, but the obsession with MCAS turns schools into "warehouses for testing" and teachers into "proctors," opponents said.


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