GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Wednesday said fiscal 2022, which begins in July next year, represents the biggest challenge facing state budget officials as they deal with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Baker said the state will shortly be able to close the books on fiscal 2020, which ended in June, and approve a budget for fiscal 2021, where the revenue shortfall has been projected to range between $4 billion to $5 billion compared to the previous year. “The FY21 budget I think we will be able to work our way through,” he said, apparently referring to making spending cuts and tapping the $3.5 billion in the state’s rainy day fund.
But Baker said the real challenge will be fiscal 2022, when the economy will still be recovering and the state will no longer have access to all the budget-balancing tools it has as its disposal, particularly the rainy day fund. Baker said additional federal aid will be critical in fiscal 2022.
At a press conference in Lowell, Baker also indicated he intends to let the state’s eviction moratorium lapse at the end of October and put off a decision on new Supreme Judicial Court justices for several weeks. He also defended his decision to endorse Republican Sen. Susan Collins for reelection and said he expected the board of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home to fire Bennett Walsh from the superintendent’s post at its next meeting. A court ruled on Monday that the Baker administration improperly fired Walsh on June 24 and voided his removal.
Baker’s budget analysis was a bit of a surprise, given all the talk so far has been on how to pass a balanced budget for fiscal 2021. Sen. Michael Rodrigues, the Senate budget chief, said last week that he was forecasting that revenues would be down $5 billion in fiscal 2021 compared to fiscal 2020. Other sources say budget analysts are leaning toward a shortfall of between $4 billion and $4.5 billion.
The governor was critical of Congress for fixating on the vacancy created on the US Supreme Court by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and failing to pass a new coronavirus stimulus package. He said the House and Senate are close on many issues, including aid for elementary, secondary, and higher education. He said the two branches should pass those portions of a coronavirus relief packages that they can agree on now.
Baker criticized Democrats and Republicans for flip-flopping from their positions four years ago when then-President Obama was trying to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court as he was preparing to leave office. At the time, Democrats said the Senate should take up his candidate for the vacancy on the court while Republicans, who prevailed, said the Senate should wait until after the election. Now, Baker pointed out, both parties are taking the complete opposite position.
“It’s 100 percent the ends justify the means – classic Washington behavior, and it’s a big part of why most people in this country think Washington is a problem,” Baker said. “Nobody looks good with respect to how they’ve chosen to position themselves….What I’d really like to see them focus on is the pandemic.”
Baker said his support for Sen. Collins of Maine was based on her help on a wide variety of issues over the years and not on which political party would control the Senate.
“My calculus was based on the fact that Collins has been a tremendous senator for Maine and the region,” he said.
Baker also said he is not inclined to once again extend the state’s eviction and foreclosure moratorium, which is due to expire on October 17. He said his administration had been working with the late Supreme Judicial Court chief justice Ralph Gants on how to prepare for the end of the moratorium and the prospect of a lot of evictions. Baker said the work is continuing, and he thinks the courts can handle the press of evictions in a way that protects tenants in danger of losing their housing.apartments.
But Baker indicated the moratorium has to end. “The longer this thing goes on the deeper the hole gets, not just for tenants but also for landlords, especially small landlords who have in many cases already run out of rope.”
Baker also said he is slowing down the appointment process for two vacancies on the Supreme Judicial Court, one because of the upcoming retirement of Justice Barbara Lenk and the other because of the recent death of chief justice Gants. Baker said he wants to provide more time for applicants to apply.
Regarding the court decision on Walsh’s improper firing Baker said he expected the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home board to remove the superintendent. “We would expect the board, based on the Pearlstein report, which made pretty clear that there were serious mistakes made over the course of February and March, that they would act to remove Bennett Walsh permanently,” he said of the superintendent he appointed originally.