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Lawmakers race to complete work on budget, other major bills

Associated Press
Published: 7/10/2018 7:24:30 PM

BOSTON — Ten days into a new fiscal year, Massachusetts remained without a state budget Tuesday and lawmakers faced a mountain of other unfinished business just three weeks from the end of the legislative session.

While state government continued to operate under a stopgap budget, Massachusetts was the only U.S. state without a permanent spending plan in place, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.

The delay in finalizing the roughly $41 billion budget ironically comes as the state enjoys some of its rosiest financial news in years. Officials said revenues for the 2018 fiscal year that ended June 30 were on track to exceed projections by some $1.2 billion, and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has said a portion of the surplus could be used to supplement the fiscal 2019 budget.

House and Senate negotiators trying to resolve differences behind closed doors were mum on what the major sticking points were, but indications pointed to at least some of the key disputes focusing on policy changes — including immigration language — rather than spending priorities.

A Senate-approved budget amendment calls for sharp limits on cooperation between Massachusetts law enforcement agencies and federal immigration officials, and it would largely prohibit local police from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status.

There appears to be less appetite for the amendment in the House, and Baker has promised a veto if it reached his desk. He and other critics say it would go too far toward making Massachusetts a “sanctuary state” for immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

Several dozen pro-immigrant activists demonstrated loudly outside the House chamber Tuesday, hoping to pressure lawmakers into accepting the Senate immigration language.

“Our communities are living in fear and now is the time act,” said Eduardo Samaniego, one of the leaders of the protest.

Samaniego, of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center in Northampton, said advocates were “disappointed and disillusioned” with House lawmakers.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo expressed frustration over the inability of the House and Senate — both firmly controlled by Democrats — to finalize a spending plan and suggested Monday that lawmakers consider approving only the spending portion of the budget and consider the policy matters later.

“It’s imperative that we do a budget and we do it immediately,” he said.

Senate President Harriette Chandler said she shared DeLeo’s urgency in resolving the impasse but held out for a quick resolution of both spending and policy matters.

Dozens of other major bills were still awaiting final action by the Legislature with the July 31 deadline fast approaching. Among them were measures calling for new steps to deal with the opioid addiction crisis, regulating and taxing short-term rentals such as Airbnb, and protections for consumers from data breaches.

The House on Tuesday voted to include in a wide-ranging economic development bill a suspension of the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax on the weekend of Aug. 11-12. If the Senate goes along, it would be the first time since 2015 that shoppers and merchants have enjoyed a sales tax holiday.

“Believe me when I tell you, these two days make a huge difference to the mom and pop stores that I represent, the ones that are left,” said Republican Rep. Bradford Hill, of Ipswich, whose district is near the border of tax-free New Hampshire.

Legislation signed by Baker earlier this month would require an annual sales tax holiday beginning in 2019, but left open the question of whether one would be held this summer.

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