Speaker says new stopgap state budget may be necessary
BOSTON (AP) — A top Democrat in the Legislature asked Republican Gov. Charlie Baker to file another stopgap budget as talks aimed at producing a permanent state spending plan for the fiscal year that began on July 1 dragged on Tuesday without resolution.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo believes it would be “prudent” for the governor to submit an interim budget that would, if needed, keep state government afloat through the end of August, Catherine Williams, a spokeswoman for DeLeo, said in an email. A $5 billion spending authorization currently in place expires July 31.
The request by DeLeo was based on the “current status of negotiations,” over the $42.7 billion annual spending plan, Williams said, possibly indicating that legislative leaders were less than optimistic about differences between the House and Senate being settled quickly.
Baker did not protest when lawmakers blew past the original July 1 deadline, and signed the one-month stopgap budget to allow more time for negotiations to proceed. But he did not immediately appear ready on Tuesday to heed the speaker’s advice and submit another one-month fix.
“The governor looks forward to the Legislature reaching consensus soon,” Sarah Finlaw, a spokeswoman for Baker, said in a brief statement.
Baker is not directly involved in the budget negotiations, which are being conducted behind closed doors by six members of a House-Senate conference committee.
A second interim budget, while allowing state services to continue without interruption, could also relieve some pressure on the Democratic-controlled Legislature to approve a final plan before lawmakers take a planned recess in August.
House and Senate leaders have not identified specifically the key sticking points that have resulted in Massachusetts being one of the last U.S. states to have a budget in place in for the July 1 fiscal year.
Differences in spending levels for public schools and for nursing homes, tuition increases at the University of Massachusetts, curbs on prices for drugs purchased by the state’s Medicaid program and a proposed excise tax on e-cigarettes and vaping supplies were among areas of disagreement between the two chambers.
On Monday, DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka both said they remained hopeful a deal could be struck by the end of this month, but offered no assurances.
“These are complicated policy issues and other issues they are working on,” said Spilka, referencing the conference committee led by Sen. Michael Rodrigues, of Westport, and Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, of Boston.
Absent another stopgap spending plan, DeLeo said the Legislature could also explore the option of approving only the spending portion of the budget while laying aside any policy changes for now.
Ohio is the only other state where lawmakers have yet to send a final budget to the governor’s desk. A 17-day interim spending plan is set to expire in Ohio on Wednesday.