THE HOUSE AND Senate are circulating proposals for a compromise on an overdue spending bill, and the one idea that has had a public airing would leave out a $50 million infusion to the MBTA that both chambers have already agreed to.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who five months ago said the T was in “crisis,” recently indicated his willingness to set aside that supplemental transit funding and all other discretionary spending from the must-pass legislation. In addition to shoring up accounts that have fallen into deficiency, the competing spending bills passed by the House and Senate would also carve up the roughly $1 billion surplus, and finally close the books on fiscal 2019.
“The House is willing to pass a budget that would include no discretionary funding,” DeLeo wrote to Baker administration officials in a letter Monday that was reported on by the State House News Service. “We stand ready to include only the spending necessary to ensure that no account would end FY19 in deficiency and time sensitive policy sections.”
The House and Senate have been at loggerheads over the legislation, and as negotiations have extended beyond the last roll call of 2019, legislative leaders have squandered some of their control over any bill. The speaker’s letter was sent to administration officials, not Senate President Karen Spilka, who is his counterpart in crafting a bill to send to the governor’s desk. No Senate proposals have been made public the way DeLeo’s offer was, but Spilka said that she has also put something on the table.
“We are awaiting a response to compromise proposals we sent last week,” Spilka said in a statement. “I don’t believe that spending is the issue or that spending cuts are the answer, but we’re confident that we can resolve this.”
In his letter Monday, the speaker said additional discretionary spending could be revisited “later in the session,” while the “focus at this late date needs to be on paying the Commonwealth’s bills in order to close the books of FY19.”
The deal proposed in DeLeo’s letter would leave unresolved one of the biggest disagreements between the two branches – the House’s proposal to provide some new tax relief to corporations. Under the 2017 federal corporate tax cut law, Massachusetts companies would face a stricter cap on the amount of deductions they can claim on their debt service payments. The House provision would remove that federal cap, allowing some companies to deduct more from their tax liability. Proponents of the House provision contend that it would allow companies to avoid a tax hike while opponents describe it as a corporate tax break.
The deal the speaker described in his letter would also leave in limbo spending proposals on which the House and Senate both agree, including a bundle of cash for the state’s troubled transit agency. Both the House and the Senate agreed with Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal to pour $50 million into the MBTA to help it make capital repairs. The only real difference between the House and Senate versions is the Senate proposal calls for some additional reporting requirements about the impacts of the additional funding.
DeLeo did not stop for questions in a State House hallway on Tuesday. His stance on the spending bill seems at odds with the urgency he expressed about the MBTA earlier this year.
After the governor first suggested another $50 million for a “flex force” at the MBTA in June, DeLeo said the transit agency is in crisis, and he would support a “more immediate infusion of funds, but only in the context of the larger debate – the long term funding of a strategic investment plan for the MBTA.”
Two weeks ago, DeLeo announced that the larger House debate about raising revenue to invest in transportation improvements would be pushed back to next year.
The T has a roughly $2 billion annual budget, and it’s unclear exactly how the $50 million would be spent, but the overall intention would be to support the T’s construction and repair program. In general, the T would use the funding for 200-plus employees across a variety of departments to work on both operating and capital projects, according to a T spokesperson.