Overrides quickly punch hole in new state budget, analysis says
BOSTON >> Before abandoning Beacon Hill Sunday night for their districts, the Democrat-controlled Legislature restored about 90 percent of the funding that Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed in the new state budget, a decision that independent budget analysts say increases the likelihood of mid-year budget reductions.
In a series of override votes taken over three weekend days, the Legislature reversed $231.6 million in spending vetoes and let about $35.5 million in spending reductions stand, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. Lawmakers engaged in almost no debate on the overrides or the state's overall budget picture, marching through scores of override votes that took many hours to complete and became a major focus of the end of formal sessions.
In announcing his vetoes in July, Baker said the Legislature's $39.1 billion budget had underfunded accounts by about $250 million, money that he said the state will have to appropriate in the coming months. The vetoes, he said, would make room for that spending.
Instead, with the funding restorations, MTF estimates a $240 million gap in the one-month-old $39.259 billion budget, which itself calls for the administration to hold back on $200 million in spending in order to create "reversions."
"Only one month into the fiscal year, any estimates of a budget gap are very fluid and subject to change," MTF wrote in an analysis of budget vetoes Wednesday. "What is certain, however, is that another challenging fiscal year lies ahead and that extent of this year's spending overrides increases the likelihood of midyear budget cuts."
State spending will increase 2.42 percent, including spending approved through overrides, MTF said.
Among the spending cuts that the Legislature let stand was a $3 million reduction to the advertising account at the state Lottery, where profits last fiscal year were flat in the face of competition from online entities and a slot machine facility in Plainridge. Baker left the Lottery with $4.5 million for ads, saying that is the amount that's "necessary." Lottery officials over the years have argued that ad spending is critical to boosting profits and returning local aid to cities and towns, a priority for Baker.
Other Baker vetoes that legislators let stand were reductions in funding for county sheriffs, district attorneys, registries of deeds, information technology efforts, the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, the Illegal Tobacco Task Force, National Guard tuition and fee waivers, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, and the administrative account at the state Lottery, according to a preliminary list from the Executive Office of Administration and Finance.
Before embarking on overrides, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said the Legislature's budget was balanced — essentially disagreeing with Baker's claims about underfunded accounts — and suggested the Legislature could override all of the governor's vetoes and still have a balanced budget.
The Baker administration last month instituted a partial hiring freeze as part of budget-balancing efforts after state officials were caught off guard by investment-related tax collections that fell far short of their estimates, forcing the state to pull back on spending plans.
It's unclear what new budget strategies Baker's team might deploy since the Legislature has forced it to spend nearly $232 million that the administration essentially said is not affordable.
Asked about post-override budget management strategies, Executive Office of Administration and Finance spokesman Garrett Quinn said in a statement, "A&F will continue to monitor revenues and spending and actively manage the Commonwealth's finances in Fiscal Year 2017, using the tools available to us to ensure the budget is balanced."