Last Thursday, the MA House passed its FY2019 budget 150-4. The dissenting votes came from the most conservative quarters of the Republican caucus.
This degree of unanimity seems like the polar opposite of what we see at the national level. Why is that? How do we have such broad bipartisan consensus around the budget year after year?
Let’s turn to the recent analysis of the House Ways & Means budget from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. It begins, “The House Ways and Means (HWM) Committee’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 budget proposal largely aligns with the Governor’s proposal.”
In other words, this consensus is achieved by Democrats largely agreeing to the Republican governor’s budget. Oh.
Big Picture: Lack of Investment, Lack of Revenue
Where there are differences, they are certainly for the better.
Mimicking his Republican allies in Washington, Baker is still pushing an anti-health care agenda. His budget moved 140,000 low-income adults off MassHealth coverage, which would subject already struggling individuals to higher premiums and a loss of dental coverage and other vital benefits. Massachusetts would have the dubious honor of becoming the only state to repeal the Obama-era Medicaid expansion. The Legislature rejected this push last year, and the House rightfully chose not to include the Governor’s ask in the budget.
Mass Budget also outlines a few modest improvements the House made:
- Early Education and Care. The HWM budget provides $20.0 million for Center-Based Child Care Rate Increases to improve early education quality by increasing the rates paid by the state to child care providers. That funding should aid in increasing salary, benefits, and professional development for early educators. The HWM Committee also proposes $8.5 million for a new initiative focused on professional development for early educators facilitated by Massachusetts community colleges.
- K-12 Education. This budget provides $33.5 million more in Chapter 70 Aid (and related reserves) than the Governor proposed. In addition, it funds grant programs at $20.8 million more than the Governor recommended. This includes an added $9.5 million for charter school reimbursements and $8.9 million more for special education costs.
- Housing. This budget proposal would increase funding for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) to $100.0 million, which is $7.3 million more than FY 2018. MRVP provides housing vouchers to help low-income families, including those living in emergency assistance shelters, secure housing.
Given the crisis in housing affordability in Massachusetts, a $7.3 million bump in funding for housing vouchers doesn’t go very far. Consider this: a minimum wage worker would have to work 80 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom rental home at fair market rent.
The bumps in education spending don’t look that impressive when you dig deeper there either. As you might remember from the Question 2 debate two years ago, in Massachusetts, school funding follows the students, but since so many of the costs of education are fixed (think: the school building itself), the state offers a partial reimbursement to public school districts for lost funding when students leave to go to charter schools. Massachusetts, however, has not been meeting its statutory obligation here. According to the Mass Municipal Association, the shortfall is already $75 million and would grow significantly to between $85 million and $100 million under Baker’s budget. The House budget’s addition is only 10% of what’s needed. Baker’s budget underfunded special education reimbursements by $20 million; the House’s additional $8.9 million is less than half of what’s required.
And how does the House fund these modest improvements? By robbing Peter to pay Paul. Back to Mass Budget:
“Without any significant revenue sources beyond those in the Governor’s budget, the HWM budget funds these differences largely by underfunding various accounts – such as for the removal of snow and ice from state roads – that likely need to be funded eventually. This risks leading to challenges maintaining a balanced budget during the upcoming fiscal year.”
A common refrain from us here at Progressive Massachusetts is that if we want a Commonwealth where everyone can thrive–where we have quality public schools, public schools, health care for all, a clean environment, etc.–then we need more revenue (and more investment in our collective, long-term future). However, our Democratic Legislature, like our Republican Governor, has been hostile to raising revenue. We are an affluent state: third highest in per capita income and sixth highest in median household income. In other words, we aren’t lacking in revenue sources; we’re lacking in political will.
The expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in both the Governor’s budget and the House budget suffers from this same problem: if we are not meaningfully increasing revenue, then the EITC expansion will just be funded by cuts to other programs on which working people depend.
The Amendment Process: What Happened?
A week and a half ago, we drew attention to a list of amendments that would counteract this chronic underinvestment and improve the quality of life in the state by building on the recently passed criminal legal system reform, investing in public education, protecting our environment, and building strong communities for all.
More than 1,000 amendments were filed to the FY2019 budget. And, unfortunately, the House doesn’t make it easy to follow what happened to them all (in case you’re wondering, yes, it is on purpose).
Some amendments are withdrawn before debate begins, usually under pressure from House Leadership
The following amendments we highlighted were withdrawn:
- Amendment 781 (Khan), which would set out punishment for police officers who have sex with individuals in police custody
- Amendment 889 (Provost), which freezes the income tax at 5.1 percent. Automatic declines in the state income tax mean billions of dollars of lost revenue each year and less money to fund vital programs across the Commonwealth
- Amendment 925 (Walsh, Chris), which would allow local governments and regions of the state to, with local government and voter approval, levy taxes to fund transportation initiatives
Now, the House rarely votes on individual amendments. For the sake of time and opacity, House Leadership will gather together thematically similar amendments to produce a “consolidated” amendment. BUT that “consolidated” amendment often doesn’t include many of the requests from the included amendments. The “consolidated” amendments effectively dispense with the amendments in the guise of addressing them. And then they pass almost unanimously, with everything “controversial” having been removed.
Most of the amendments we supported saw just such a fate.
Subsumed and eliminated via “Consolidated Amendment A” (Education and Local Aid)
- Amendment 156 (Higgins), which would provide much-needed funding for public colleges and universities
- Amendment 246 (Garballey), which would revise our outdated education funding formula along the lines of the the Foundation Budget Review Commission recommendations
- Amendment 715 (Moran, Mike), which would ensure that immigrant students receive in-state tuition
- Amendment 924 (Higgins), which would create new consumer protections for student loan borrowers and allow state to crack down on unscrupulous lenders
- Amendment 950 (Koczera), which would increase funding for adult education and English classes (essential for new immigrants) by $1.9 million, to $34.5 million
- Amendment 952 (Ultrino) / 977 (Coppinger), which would increase charter school tuition reimbursements for sending public school districts from $90m to $170m so that our public schools have the funding they need
- Amendment 1343 (Decker), which would mandate at least 20 minutes of recess for elementary school students
Subsumed and eliminated via “Consolidated Amendment B” (Energy and Environmental Affairs)
- Amendment 640 (Ferrante), which increases funding for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program by $2m to $20m — Covertly dispensed with via Consolidated Amendment “B”
- Amendment 864 (Walsh, Chris), which increases the funding for the Department of Environmental Protection’s hazardous waste clean-up program by $2m — Covertly dispensed with via Consolidated Amendment “B”
- Amendment 906 (Rogers, David), which requires the state to issue a report on measures necessary–including new staffing, monitoring, permitting and other measures–to address water pollution and comply with the federal Clean Water Act — Covertly dispensed with via Consolidated Amendment “B”
- Amendment 1005 (Muratore), which would provide initial funding and regulatory authority for the state to implement decommissioning of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station Covertly dispensed with via Consolidated Amendment “B”
Subsumed and eliminated via “Consolidated Amendment E” (Public Safety and Judiciary)
- Amendment 54 (Livingstone), which would provide funding for the Resolve to Stop the Violence Program, a restorative justice program in the Department of Corrections with proven benefits for reducing recidivism
- Amendment 219 (Livingstone), which increases funding for community-based re-entry programs from $3 million to $5 million
Subsumed and eliminated via “Consolidated Amendment F” (Housing, Mental Health and Disability Services)
- Amendment 269 (Connolly), which would increase housing voucher rent caps to current fair market rents, get vouchers out faster, set aside a portion for extremely low-income households, and increase funding for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program overall — Consolidated F
- Amendment 801 (Khan), which increases the funding for Juvenile Court Clinics, which provide mental health evaluation, consultation, and liaison services for children and families in the juvenile court system, from $3.5m to almost $10m
Subsumed and eliminated via “Consolidated Amendment G” (Public Health)
- Amendment 867 (Garlick), which would boost funding for Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Prevention services by $3.5 million, to $37.6 million, to increase access to culturally and linguistically appropriate crisis intervention and safety planning, legal services, and advocacy — Consolidated G
One amendment did pass (👏👏👏), although the House modified it to begin in FY2020 and did not provide the necessary funding. It’s a victory, but as with most victories, the fight continues.
- Amendment 1361 (Decker), which would lift the “cap on kids.” The “cap on kids”/”family cap” denies welfare support to children conceived while the family receives assistance. 8,700 Massachusetts children are currently harmed by this policy that many other states have already repealed.
Funding increases for the Massachusetts Legal Services Corporation (Amendment 243-Balser) and Regional Transit Authorities (Amendment 743-Peake) did make it into the budget via other consolidated amendments, but in much reduced form. MLAC got $750,000 extra, rather than $2 million. And RTAs got $2 million in additional funding, rather than the requested $8 million. The extra money is important, but the Legislature’s refusal to offer robust funding speaks to systemic indifference.
They Don’t Pass The Good Ones. But, Thankfully, They Don’t Pass the Bad Ones Either.
Marc Lombardo’s xenophobic Amendment 113, which would have taken away money from cities that choose not to be accomplices to a mass deportation regime, was withdrawn. Geoff Brad Jones’s Amendment 508, which mirrored Baker’s unconstitutional proposal to overturn the Lunn decision, was subsumed into “Consolidated E” and eliminated. So were Amendments 515 (Jones) and 1174 (Markey), which would have expanded state wiretap powers to “listen in” on a wider range of personal communication
Jim Lyons’s Amendment 347, which sought to create even broader authority for police to detain immigrants along the lines of a bill filed by Governor Baker, failed 10 to 145 (RC 334). One Democrat–Jim Dwyer–joined 9 Republicans in voting for it. Geoff Diehl’s amendment, which was akin to Lombardo’s withdrawn amendment in its assault on cities that choose not to have local law enforcement be deputized to ICE, was sent to further study on a 136 to 19 vote (RC335). The study, of course, will never happen (which is the point). Colleen Garry and Jim Dwyer joined 17 Republicans in voting for it.
Rep. Howitt’s Amendment 979, which would have curtailed the right to free expression, namely the use of economic boycotts against foreign governments (Think: the boycott movement against apartheid South Africa), was subsumed into and eliminated by “Consolidated H” (Constitutional Officers, State Administration, and Transportation).
If you’re still with us: The Senate will be voting on its budget (and its own series of amendments) mid-May. The two bodies will then go to conference and hash out a final budget.