A LOOK BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE BUDGET “DEBATE”

By Bob Katzen

Most of the decisions on which representatives’ amendments are included or not included in the budget are made “behind closed doors.” Or in the COVID-19 era, “behind closed Zoom meetings.” Of the 1,157 budget amendments proposed, most of them were bundled into consolidated “mega” amendments.

This year there were seven mega amendments and all but one, which had just one vote against it, were approved unanimously. There is no real “debate” on the House floor. Everyone who spoke on any of the consolidated amendments spoke in favor of them.

The system works as follows: Individual representatives file amendments on various topics. All members then pitch their amendments to Democratic leaders who draft consolidated amendments that include some of the individual representatives’ amendments while excluding others.

The categories of consolidated amendments include some 16 subjects including programs relating to public safety, judiciary energy, environmental affairs, housing, labor and economic development.

Supporters of the system say that any representative who sponsored an excluded amendment can bring it to the floor and ask for an up or down vote on the amendment itself. They say this system has worked well for many years.

Opponents say that rarely, if ever, does a member bring his or her amendment to the floor for an up-or-down vote because that is not the way the game is played. It is an “expected tradition” that you accept the fate of your amendment as determined by Democratic leaders.

Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven (D-Somerville) was the only member who voted against one of the consolidated amendments. “It is worth noting that [my] ‘no’ vote is the only non-unanimous vote taken for the entire House budget, showing how little transparency, public debate and public accountability there is in the House budget process,” she said.

HOUSE APPROVES $47.7 BILLION FISCAL 2022 BUDGET (H 4000)
House 160-0, approved and sent to the Senate a $47.7 billion fiscal 2022 state budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2021. The House, over three days, added $59.8 million to the bill. The House version now goes to the Senate which will approve a different version. A House-Senate conference committee will eventually craft a plan that will be presented to the House and Senate for consideration and sent to the governor.

“This budget meets the needs of our residents who have endured an unprecedented level of health and economic challenges over the past year,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy). “The House continues to support the services and programs that have proven to be essential for so many, while making targeted investments to grow the Massachusetts economy.”

Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester), vice chair of the House Ways & Means Committee said, “The economic development measures and strong social service supports position Massachusetts to recover from the pandemic and continue growing.”

“Budgets are more than line items and spreadsheets” said Rep. Jack Lewis (D-Framingham), co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus which hailed the budget. “Budgets are promises to support all the residents of the commonwealth and invest in our shared future. This House budget embodies the deepest commitments of our commonwealth by raising the Conservation Land Tax Credit, increasing support for families living in deep poverty and expanding funding to civil legal aid, emergency housing assistance and public education.”

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