State Senate starts uncertain budgeting process

State House News Service
Published: 5/12/2017 10:28:51 PM

The stage was set this week for what could be an awkward two weeks as senators prepare for their annual budgeting exercise knowing whatever they approve appears unlikely to stand up to the stress test it will go through in negotiations with the House later this spring.

Beacon Hill’s top three elected leaders got it started by commiserating in House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office over the state of the state’s financial affairs.

“There were no answers today other than, I think, a shared commitment to find the right way forward,” Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said after the meeting of minds resulted in a number of theories being batted around as to why, in a period of economic growth, the state seems to lurch from budget crisis to budget crisis.

Baker said he’s working through a solution to the $462 million shortfall in revenues hoping against hope that May tax collections will alleviate some of the pressure on this year’s state budget.

But things could be worse. Again, just look down I-95 where Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy is confronting his own state’s revenue shortfall by emptying the Nutmeg State reserves and proposing to pull back on local aid payments. It hasn’t gotten that bad here ... yet.

But the hole already dug means that as things stand now tax revenue would have to grow by almost 5.8 percent next year to make the math on the House’s budget and the one filed by Baker add up. Given recent history, that would be like betting on Pablo Sandoval to steal 50 bases next year.

With the Senate prepared to released its budget plan next Tuesday and commence debate a week later Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said it’s full steam ahead, and any adjustments that need to be made can be made later in conference committee negotiations with the House.

House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey confirmed it’s “likely” that will happen.

Whether Senate leaders will propose new taxes in their budget to offset the slow revenue growth, consider tax changes through amendment or forego what would surely become a two-against-one fight with DeLeo and Baker is fueling some of the intrigue ahead of the budget release.

The branch unanimously supported the legislation that had been carefully crafted after its demise last session to win the backing of the business community, and Gov. Baker indicated that barring any major changes made by the Senate, which is usually a good possibility, he would sign it.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, meanwhile, told a group of education reformers not to hold their breath for majors reforms to the state’s testing regime, district accountability system or school funding formulas until after the 2018 elections.

Rosenberg, at a luncheon with Democrats for Education Reform, said it would be a “mistake” for Beacon Hill to wade into another controversial education debate this session after last year’s ballot fight over charters left some scarring.

Instead, Rosenberg wants everyone to united behind passing the so-called millionaires tax at the ballot box in 2018, without which the state pretty much lacks the cashflow to follow through on ideas like universal pre-kindergarten or a revamped Chapter 70 funding formula.

For the income surtax, officially known as the Fair Share Amendment, to even reach the ballot, though, lawmakers will have to take one more vote to advance it to the ballot.

With the support of both Rosenberg and DeLeo and not enough turnover in the body to suggest a different result from last year, getting the votes to make that happen should not be a problem. Rosenberg, however, was in no rush this week to check that off his list.

The Senate president presides over the Constitutional Convention, but when he convened the joint gathering of the House and Senate Wednesday for the first time this session, the lawmakers who did show up may have blinked and missed it.

The convention was immediately recessed until June 14.

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