LAWMAKERS ARE MAKING quick work of an interim budget filed by Gov. Charlie Baker that will fund state government through the end of July.
Baker filed the $5.25 billion budget on Friday, 11 days before the June 30 end of the fiscal year.
The House Ways and Means Committee voted to release the budget with no changes Monday morning, and the House and Senate quickly approved it. The State House News Service reported that the bill still needs a final enactment vote in the Senate to return it to Baker’s desk for his signature.
The bill is a so-called “one-twelfth” budget, meant to keep government running for a month while lawmakers hammer out the annual spending plan. These budgets are common even in normal years when a final agreement gets held up in House-Senate negotiations. What is unusual this year is that due to the economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus, the House has not even released its version of the state budget, which typically comes out in April.
Some lawmakers have floated the idea of a budget that is agreed on by the House, Senate, and administration before it is released, potentially covering only part of the fiscal year.
Baker’s bill is short and simply authorizes the spending of $5.25 billion to keep government running consistent with last year’s budget bill. It lets municipalities in need of emergency cash get an advance on local aid payments from the state treasurer. It also extends some capital accounts, in which the money would otherwise expire at the end of the fiscal year.
Several independent experts said they were unable to tell from the bill what the $5.25 billion level of spending was based on and how much the governor took into account expected revenue shortfalls in coming up with that amount. A spokesman for the Executive Office for Administration and Finance referred questions back to Baker’s filing letter and budget bill, which does not provide details on how that amount was reached.
Cities and towns that are preparing their own municipal budgets also still do not know how much money they can expect next year in local aid from the state, both for education and general government spending. The Division of Local Services on Monday told municipalities that as long as a final budget is not passed, it would calculate local aid payments for July and August based on the amount each municipality received in the current fiscal year. That means the payments to school districts will not reflect extra money owed to districts due to the passage of the Student Opportunity Act, last year’s overhaul of the education funding formula.
The State House News Service reported that the House on Monday also passed a $200 million bill to fund local road repairs, setting up a potential conflict with the Senate, which voted for a $300 million version of the bill. The two bodies disagree on whether the money is there to pay for the larger amount without approving new revenue sources.