Baker signs overdue state budget, puts veto pen aside
BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday signed an overdue $43.3 billion state budget into law, hours before a stopgap spending plan for state government was about to expire.
In a surprising move, Baker, a Republican, did not exercise his line-item veto power to trim any spending from the budget, even though the Democratic-controlled Legislature added some $600 million to the bottom line during protracted negotiations over the spending plan.
“There are no money vetoes in here,” the governor said. “Basically, we came to the conclusion that this budget is balanced now.”
Baker noted that more than half of the $600 million added to the budget before it reached his desk is earmarked for the state’s so-called rainy-day fund, meaning it will not be spent on state programs.
It marked the first time since Baker took office in 2015 that he had not used his line-item veto power on the annual budget; many past vetoes were later overridden by the Legislature. It is, in fact, highly unusual for any Massachusetts governor — Republican or Democrat — not to issue any budget vetoes.
While Democratic leaders are likely to be pleased to not have to drum up override votes as they head into a planned August recess, the governor’s decision not to veto any spending from the budget drew a sharp rebuke Wednesday from the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a conservative group that is critical of earmarks included in state budgets for pet projects in lawmakers’ districts.
“It’s a failure in our democratic process when the branch of government charged with reining in spending does not exercise its duty to use the line item veto,” the group said in a statement.
Baker did request that lawmakers revise some language in a handful of policy items and add language clarifying that a sales tax holiday scheduled for Aug. 17-18 would not apply to restaurant meals.
Lawmakers had delivered the budget to Baker on July 22, three weeks after the start of the state’s new fiscal year. The state government had been operating under temporary spending authority that was set to expire Wednesday.
The Legislature was the last among U.S. states with a July 1 fiscal year to deliver a budget to the governor’s desk, though two states, New Hampshire and North Carolina, still lack permanent budgets. The governors of those states, who do not have line-item veto power, vetoed spending plans in their entirety.
The new Massachusetts budget does not raise taxes while increasing overall spending by 3.3% over the most recent fiscal year. It projects state tax collections to rise 1.4% above preliminary revenue estimates from last year that showed the state finishing with an apparent $1.1 billion surplus.
Baker and state Secretary of Administration and Finance Michael Heffernan both urged caution on revenues, noting that much of last year’s surplus resulted from sharp spikes in capital gains and corporate taxes that may not repeat themselves this year.
The budget increases annual state spending on public schools by $268.4 million, to a record $5.2 billion. But while the additional money was intended to begin implementation of a new formula for funding public schools, the Legislature has yet to approve changes to the formula, which critics say shortchanges children from low-income school districts and those with special needs.
Baker expressed confidence that lawmakers would reach consensus on a revised formula by the end of the current two-year session that began in January.