Massachusetts Legislative Session Has Ended, But The Work Continues

Aug 6, 2018

The Massachusetts legislature has called it quits for the year -- kind of.

But what happened in the wee hours of Wednesday, August 1? Matt Murphy of the State House News Service gives us the lowdown on how things unfolded.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: If you look at this session holistically, it was not a complete disaster. The headlines coming out Tuesday might have suggested that. It got off on a bit of a bumpy foot for the legislature, when the first thing that they did was get pay raises for themselves, as well as constitutional officers and judges.

But overall, they did get quite a bit done. There are new gun control laws, a higher minimum wage, paid family leave. They have a new opioid abuse prevention bill that got done last week. There are environmental bond bills, housing bond bills, money that is going to be spent for years to come on some of these key priorities.

The big headlines coming out of the end of formal sessions was the failure to get a compromise on a major health care system restructuring and education funding reform bill.

So those are two measures that didn't make it past the finish line in time. Are there any others?

The governor was pushing very hard for the past several weeks to get a housing bill done. There's broad consensus, I think, statewide that housing construction has dropped off in Massachusetts, and that it's really necessary to address.

There is a consensus that more housing needs to be built, but doing zoning reform has always been very difficult on Beacon Hill, and that did not get done.

Health care is not going away, particularly if a ballot question that would mandate new nurse staffing ratios gets passed in November. That will add even more cost onto the community hospitals that are struggling financially, that some of this legislation that failed was aimed at solving.

The education question is certainly coming back, and I think if you could just recall back to the Supreme Court decision that knocked the so-called millionaires tax off [the ballot], I think regardless of whether the governor is reelected in November, or a Democrat takes over, taxes and new revenue will be on the front burner next January.

Shira Schoenberg at The Republican reported last week that Governor Baker said if he's re-elected, he'll try to put more money into schools. From the report:

On education funding, Baker said his administration has put significant new money into public schools, but "there's more work to do there." Baker said if he is re-elected, he will file a budget next January that puts more money into the schools that were the subject of concern during the debate.

Can we expect other promises like this as November nears?

I think so. And I think you have to wonder what the governor exactly meant by that. Every year when he files a budget, there is more money going to public education. Every year, the amount of dollars set aside for Chapter 70 funding for public schools goes up, which allows them every year to say that we have set a record level of Chapter 70 aid for local schools. 

The legislation that kind of fell apart here in the final days was looking at a significantly greater infusion of cash into the public school system, and I'm not sure that is what the governor talked about. 

I think you'll hear, during these weeks of campaigning to come, the Democrats talking about the need for raising taxes, and generating new state revenues, so that even more money can be poured into education, transportation, environmental programs and the like. So, the governor -- certainly not lying or misleading. I mean, he will present a budget that would increase funding for education. The question is by how much.

Has there been any concern raised about the lack of tax revenue from the sale of recreational marijuana --especially with lawmakers over-spending what the governor wanted?

Yeah, I think there is some concern. And it's only going to grow, the the longer it takes to get the retail marijuana shops up and running.

The budget only built about $60 million in revenue from marijuana sales into the spending plan for FY '19, and the experts think that this is only a portion of what they would get in a full year when this industry is up and running.

So I think they think there is some time to meet that benchmark, even though there are no stores open.

But the longer we go without licenses, the longer it's going to be before those doors can open up to start selling. And that could become a problem, even if it's not a huge amount of dollars that they're counting on.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.