Almost eight weeks into the new fiscal year, the Massachusetts
Legislature appears hopelessly -- inexcusably -- deadlocked over the budgets passed by the
House in May and the Senate in June.
While both chambers call for spending about $20.8 billion, the
budgets differ sharply on several ideological issues.
President Thomas F. Birmingham advocates more spending on new or
expanded social programs and further increases in education aid. House Speaker Thomas M.
Finneran hopes to balance continued commitment to social programs and education with an
incremental rollback of the "temporary" 5.95 percent income tax rate.
Meanwhile, state government carries on with monthly extensions of
last year's budget. Soon, an unprecedented third extension will be needed to keep
operations afloat through September.
Although Finneran and Birmingham have made a show of scheduling
regular budget meetings, reports from the closed-door sessions give little reason for
Negotiations on key issues are under the iron control of the two
leaders, who have invested substantial political capital in their respective stands. The
political and personal aspects of the negotiations are important because of the
gubernatorial aspirations of both legislative leaders.
Despite attempts by both Finneran and Birmingham to create an image
of inter-chamber civility, their philosophical differences and conflicting political
ambitions have been sources of continuing friction.
Adding to the difficulty is the devolution of the Legislature into,
virtually, a one-party body. Absent an effective minority-party presence, inordinate power
is concentrated in the hands of the two leaders -- transforming a system of democratic
compromise into a mano-a-mano head-butting match.
The question, posed earlier this summer by Gov. Paul Cellucci, is
inescapable: If the two legislative leaders cannot agree on a sensible, fiscally
responsible state budget in timely fashion, how can either of them claim to be qualified
to move into the governors's office?
At this point, the most convincing demonstration of their statecraft
would be to end this embarrassing budget fiasco without further delay.
State House News Service
August 23, 1999
Cellucci Offers Third Budget
to Keep Government Functioning
Aug. 23, 1999 ... TH ... Gov. Paul Cellucci today filed a $2.5
billion interim spending plan to keep the government running despite one of the longest
budget impasses in recent state history.
Cellucci offered the interim budget upon returning from a Florida
vacation and learning that Democratic legislative leaders have still not agreed on a FY
2000 budget, which was due July 1.
House and Senate negotiators continue to disagree over education and
tax cut provisions, among others, of the state's anticipated $20.8 billion budget.
Interim budgets contain enough money to fund basic state services and
prevent state managers from hiring new employees or launching new programs.
"While (legislators) are trying to determine what the
legislative priorities for this budget are ... I think the government should keep
functioning," Cellucci said after filing the plan.
Cellucci rejected suggestions that he force the Legislature's hand by
not filing the interim plan and allowing state government to shut down.
Instead, the budget filed by Cellucci today aims to quiet the loudest
critics of the overdue budget: municipal officials who get most of their annual funds from
Beacon Hill. With public schools about to open, the budget contains $1.2 billion destined
for education and municipal spending.
Today, Cellucci's top fiscal lieutenant said legislative approval of
the $2.5 billion interim budget means the state will be spending at lower levels
recommended by Cellucci. That means that the budget impasse, in a sense, is working to
"There has been no disruption in state services. We are in fact
saving money because we are spending about what we spent the year before,"
Administration and Finance Secretary Andrew Natsios said. "And frankly, the closer we
come to the end of the legislative session, the more the governor's power increases. It
means he can veto anything he wants to and they will be unable to override the vetoes. If
they want to do that, that's fine with us. It's good policy and it's good politics to
Natsios could not say how much the taxpayers are saving due to the
prolonged budget talks.
And despite the advantages, Cellucci said the late budget is causing
problems. Negotiators are trying to decide whether to cut the 5.95 percent income tax
rate, extend the investment tax credit and eliminate the capital gains tax phase-out.
Uncertainty over the pocketbook issues is harming the state's business climate, he said.
"In terms of discipline on spending, this is actually a good
thing because we're spending basically at last year's levels."
Cellucci said. "But the fact is there's a number of other balls
in the air. I know what I want. They're the ones who can't decide what they want."
Cellucci said he was worried that lawmakers would take their
competing $20.8 billion budget plans and end up with a final budget that's even larger.
House Speaker Thomas Finneran (D-Mattapan) laughed off the criticism
before entering his weekly Monday meeting with Cellucci and Senate President Thomas
Birmingham. Finneran said the budget negotiations were too important to rush. Responding
to Cellucci's allegations, he laughed and said the governor might have
"sunstroke" from his vacation in Florida last week.
"The governor's observation, I think, is only attributable to
the sunstroke that occurs in Florida," said Finneran. "I'll talk to the governor
about protective sunscreen."
Finneran refused to discuss the progress of the negotiations, saying
only, "I can't comment on how close or how far we are. It's a very fluid