STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 10, 2001 ... Another slew of policy
proposals on Monday joined dozens of initiatives that are being held hostage to the ongoing philosophical
differences between the Massachusetts House and Senate and their Democratic
The House and Senate passed a budget bill appropriating $165
million to pay overdue and unexpected bills from the fiscal year that ended June 30 while, more controversially, placing
$579 million into a transitional escrow account because the branches can't agree on what to
do with the fiscal 2001 surplus.
The action eliminates the near-term possibility of an
automatic one-time tax cut that would have kicked in later this week if the surplus revenues were not designated in some
fashion. The tax cut is triggered when the state has more money in its rainy day reserves than is
allowed under current state law.
Under the bill passed in a day, the $579 million will flow
into a pair of reserve funds on Nov. 30 if House and Senate leaders are unable to reach an agreement before then. The
surplus-spending bill now joins the overall, 10-week-late fiscal 2002 budget as the subject of
further talks among legislative leaders.
With fall fast approaching, Massachusetts is heading for a
repeat of the famous 1999 budget stalemate between the branches and their leaders, House Speaker Thomas Finneran
(D-Mattapan) and Senate President Thomas Birmingham (D-Chelsea). Two years
ago, the branches, facing the annual early summer budget deadline, didn't reach an agreement until
just before Thanksgiving.
Members of both branches vest an enormous amount of power in
their leaders. Finneran is a conservative Democrat who believes the Senate is too generous. Birmingham is aligned with
the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party and maintains his populist
spending plans are fiscally sound. He is also a likely candidate for governor next year. Both are lawyers and
former chief budget writers.
The House and Senate recently passed vastly different
surplus spending bills, with the House focusing on judicial salary hikes, road and bridge improvements, and building state
reserves. The Senate backed a major paid family leave proposal and both branches okayed boosting
the rainy day fund cap to stockpile reserves and prevent a tax cut triggered when the
fund balance exceeds 7.5 percent of budgeted revenues.
Entering a meeting with Birmingham and Acting Gov. Jane
Swift, Finneran said the status quo regarding the fiscal 2002 budget remains. "We're not near an announcement at all," said
Finneran, who met earlier in the day with Birmingham, House Ways and Means Chairman
John Rogers (D-Norwood) and Senate Ways and Means Chairman Mark Montigny
(D-New Bedford). Finneran repeatedly stressed the state's economic uncertainties.
Budget negotiators remain mum, declining to discuss even the
existence of meeting plans. "I really can't comment on the conference committee," said House Ways and Means
Committee spokesman Bill Rennie. "We'll continue to work with the Senate
toward hopefully finishing this as quickly as possible."
But Senate Minority Leader Brian Lees (R-East Longmeadow)
described conference committee meetings as occurring "not very often," and said that's one reason for the
lengthening stalemate. "Everything is predicated on meeting," Lees said.
"You can't solve a problem if you don't meet."
The House and Senate leaders are trying to craft a budget
accord during a severe economic slowdown. The budget plan requires a 4.5 percent increase in tax revenues, which were
down by 1 percent during the first two months of the fiscal year. Beyond the revenues, the
branches disagree over adequate funding levels for public employee pensions, prescription
drug programs and public campaign financing, as well as how much tobacco settlement
money to spend.
Rep. Bradley Jones, a North Reading Republican, said he's as
clueless about the budget as most citizens. "I would love to be privy to some of the conversations, let alone be able to
participate in some of the conversations," he said. "It's once again an example of the two
Toms not able to reach agreement in a timely fashion. We don't have an agreement on an '02
budget and we can't agree on a final '01 budget."
Acting Gov. Jane Swift called the transitional escrow
account proposal a "legislative slush fund" that keeps taxpayers in the dark about the disposition of their money.
It's "high on the list of veto bait," said one Swift aide. "It just reserves for them the right, without any checks
and balances, to spend it," Swift said. "That's an example of how when you can't come to an
agreement, you come up with zany ideas."
Jones said today's deal buys time. "We're essentially saying
we weren't able to work out an agreement on everything but we wanted to do something," he said. "It's kind of continuing the
debate for another day ... The taxpayers should be concerned about it. So much power is
concentrated in one person in each branch and there's really not a lot of party balance so
there's not a lot of power to force things. I don't know why these two guys can't reach an
agreement. It's disconcerting."
Republicans hold 23 seats in the 160-member House and six in
the 40-member Senate.
Finneran spokesman Charles Rasmussen said the bill effectively throws the $579 million
fiscal 2001 surplus into the larger talks over the $22.9 billion fiscal 2002 budget.
That will allow the branches to conduct analyses and "come up with a more rational document" given
fears over slipping tax collections.
From the State House News Service
HOUSE SESSION - MONDAY, SEPT. 10, 2001
CONVENES: The House convened at 11:11 am, Speaker Thomas
Finneran presiding. Chaplain Robert Quinn offered the prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance was recited....
INTERIM BUDGET: The House ordered to third reading and
engrossed H 4517 a Ways and Means report on Acting Gov. Swift's legislation making certain appropriations prior to
final action on the fiscal 2002 General Appropriation Act.
Speaker Finneran said enactment of the interim budget will be
required by midnight tonight. The chair anticipates that the Senate will remain in session to complete their work in a
timely fashion. We intend to recess and when we reassemble we will take up a proposed limited
final deficiency so the bills unpaid for fiscal 2001 could be paid in a timely fashion. As
part of that, a transitional escrow of the unspoken-for balance would be proposed to carry those
sums over. The chair and staff of Ways and Means are available for questions. It's a
bill-paying exercise that defers the most controversial questions.
RECESSES/RETURNS: The House recessed at 11:36 am with a time
for returning left up to Speaker Finneran. The House returned at 2:40 pm, Speaker Finneran presiding.
FISCAL 2001 DEFICIENCY BUDGET/FUND TRANSFER: The House ordered
to third reading and engrossed H 4532 a $744 million final fiscal 2001 report in part from the House
Ways and Means Committee with direct appropriations of $65.3 million and a
fund transfer of $579 million. Speaker Finneran said he continues to anticipate the return from the Senate
of the interim budget passed in the House this morning and the possible return of the final
RECESSES: The House recessed at 2:42 pm, with a time for
returning left up to Speaker Finneran.
MORE INTERIM BUDGET: The House returned at 4:40 pm, and enacted
H 4517, the interim budget. Speaker Finneran said the House would then recess to allow the House
Ways and Means Committee to review the Senate's changes to the deficiency budget.
MORE DEFICIENCY BUDGET: The House returned from recess at 6:32
pm, Speaker Finneran presiding. The House received word that the Senate had adopted the deficiency
budget with an amendment striking and replacing section 36. The House adopted a further
amendment striking and replacing section 36 regarding creation of a $579 million transitional
escrow fund. The bill, as further amended, was sent to the Senate for concurrence.
DEFICIENCY BUDGET RETURNS: The House returned from recess at
7:12 pm, Speaker Finneran presiding, and received word that the Senate had concurred with the
House's further amendment with a still-further amendment. The House concurred with the
Senate's still-further amendment.
Speaker Finneran said the papers are being sent to the
engrossment division in preparation for enactment. An emergency preamble will need to be adopted. The chair anticipates no
difficulty. The House recessed at 7:13 pm, subject to the call of the chair.
RETURNS: The House returned at 7:24 pm. On a standing vote of
20-0, the House adopted an emergency preamble to H 4532 deficiency budget. Five minutes later, the House
enacted the bill.
ADJOURNS: The House adjourned at 7:30 pm, to meet next at 11 am
Thursday in an informal session.
From the State House News Service
SENATE SESSION - MONDAY, SEPT. 10, 2001
CONVENES: The Senate convened at 11:05 am, Majority Leader
Linda Melconian of Springfield presiding.
INFORMAL: Sen. Melconian said today's session is an informal
session. Only non-controversial matters will be taken up, and there will be no roll calls or debate.
RECESS: Sen. Melconian said we are awaiting paperwork from the
House relative to the 1/26 budget and perhaps a final deficiency. At 11:10 am, the Senate recessed subject to the
call of the chair.
RETURNS: The Senate returned at 4 pm, Sen. Melconian presiding.
INTERIM BUDGET: The Senate ordered to third reading and
engrossed H 4517 fiscal 2002 interim budget.
DEFICIENCY BUDGET: Question came on ordering to third reading
H 4532 fiscal 2001 deficiency budget. Sen. Montigny's amendment, striking Section 36 and inserting new text,
was adopted. The bill, as amended, was ordered to third reading and engrossed.
RECESS: The Senate recessed at 4:09 pm, subject to the call of
MORE DEFICIENCY BUDGET: The Senate returned at 7 pm, Sen.
Melconian presiding. Question came on concurrence with a further House amendment striking and replacing
section 36 in H 4532 the deficiency budget. The Senate adopted a still further amendment
offered by Sen. Montigny....
MORE DEFICIENCY BUDGET: Following House concurrence with Senate
amendment, The Senate enacted the deficiency budget, which was sent to Acting Gov. Swift's desk.
ADJOURNS: The Senate adjourned at 7:31 pm, to meet next on
Tuesday at 11 am without a calendar.