Funding for urgent needs, essential services will be the 1st major measure Gov. Healey signs
Funding for urgent needs and essential services will be the first major measure Gov. Maura Healey signs.
The Legislature sent Healey a $1.1 billion proposal for her signature. The measure includes three months of enhanced nutrition assistance benefits for more than 634,000 households across the state, and remote government meetings, outdoor dining and other provisions. The bill sent to the governor came together after what looks like weeks of Legislative inaction. We learned that differing House and Senate bills were negotiated informally. Chris Lisinski from the State House News Service says this less formal method of agreement (foregoing a compromise committee) could be used more this session.
Chris Lisinski, SHNS: It's certainly a possibility that this is a harbinger of what's to come. This isn't the first time we've seen lawmakers take an informal route without appointing that conference committee to negotiate.
But even then, it's worth noting that appointing a conference committee isn't really all that much more formal. It often devolves into the two chairs, the House and Senate chair, trading proposals back and forth, and the other members basically just staying in the loop and going along with it.
So, this isn't really too much of a difference. You know, this is just another reflection, I think, of the top-down approach that we are seeing becoming ever more prevalent in both the House and Senate these days.
Carrie Healy, NEPM: So, to focus back on that bill, what are some of the details that came together in that compromise?
This is is $388 million in direct state spending, which is a pretty sizable increase over the original version that the governor proposed, something like $250 million. It's also got $740 million in borrowing to fund things like reauthorizing the MassWorks Grant Program that's out of money, steering more money to the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition Program. There's additional spending in here to extend childcare provider grants in addition to the emergency shelter, school meals and SNAP benefits spending that you mentioned at the top.
So, we also learned a little more about how this $1.1 billion bill would affect the state's revenue surplus picture. How did Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues sum that up?
He did some, in his words, simple back of the envelope calculations and said that through almost three quarters of the fiscal year, we're running about $1 billion in surplus tax revenues with roughly $400 million in direct spending in this bill. The rest of it is bond authorizations. That would leave something like $600 million in surplus, so far, with three plus more months left to go.
And last week we heard Governor Healey say in an interview that the Commonwealth's 181 rural communities have been left behind. And then she made the case for a rural affairs director. Chris, what responsibilities would that director have? And you know, briefly, thinking about it, how is that at all different from the representation that lawmakers themselves represent?
I think the Healey administration is envisioning this as sort of a singular figure within the executive branch, someone who can be in the governor's ear and in the ear of all the other executive offices and serve, as she's described it, as an ombudsman and a dedicated advocate. Someone in the room while the governor and her team are making decisions who can just speak up on behalf of rural communities, who often don't have a voice in the executive branch and whose representatives in the legislature, you know, speak with typically a singular voice, but might find themselves outnumbered by lawmakers from the eastern reaches of the state.