The first House budget of Speaker Ron Mariano’s tenure passed the chamber with little publicly visible resistance.
Lawmakers voted unanimously in favor of the $47.716 billion budget, which House leaders said avoided both service cuts and tax increases, in the early morning hours Thursday.
House leaders streamlined the process by grouping the 1,157 amendments filed into seven “consolidated amendments.” Six consolidated amendments passed unanimously, and democratic socialist state Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven, D-Somerville, cast the lone vote against the consolidated amendment on public safety and the judiciary.
In the words of State House News Service’s Katie Lannan, “Much of the work, like the private Zoom calls where representatives tout their spending priorities in hopes of winning inclusion in a consolidated amendment, took place out of public view.”
The display of public consensus, as well as keeping debate largely behind closed doors, follows a pattern set by Mariano’s predecessor, the recently retired Speaker Robert DeLeo.
In his 12 years leading the House before departing in December, DeLeo developed a reputation as a consensus builder. But critics, including some Republicans and left-leaning Democrats, described that leadership style as tight-fisted, tight-lipped and slow-moving. Moreover, observers charged that the concentration of power among DeLeo’s small circle of moderate leaders was unamenable to dissenting voices.
All four Berkshire County representatives, however, expressed support for DeLeo’s leadership, which they said fostered an environment of cooperation and geniality.
Few House Democrats broke line with DeLeo, and if the early days of the Mariano speakership provide any indication, the legislative consensus taking shape under the new speaker appears to be more of the same.
To be fair, whatever the impact of DeLeo’s leadership, it cannot fully explain why one of the nation’s largest Democratic supermajorities has been slow to take up legislation endorsed by the state party, including single-payer health care. Scholars such as Lily Geismer have shown how Massachusetts’ brand of “suburban liberalism” has over several decades shifted the Democratic Party away from its once-working-class base and toward white-collar professionals.
Heading into the budget debate, K-12 school funding appeared to be one of the most prominent areas in which some lawmakers sought greater investment. Despite pressure from educators, union leaders and parents, the House spurned calls to further boost funding for districts.
Keeping with an agreement between House and Senate leaders, the House proposed a $219.6 million increase in Chapter 70 aid, more than the $197.7 million increase Gov. Charlie Baker had recommended. The increase serves to make up ground on the implementation of a 2019 law intended to pump $1.5 billion into schools by 2027.
Yet, the House used enrollment numbers from October 2020, when pandemic impacts had contributed to a net loss of more than 37,000 students from the previous year. Critics of the House plan expect many of the students who left to be back in school by the fall, and they say that using 2020 numbers prevents districts from receiving an additional $130 million that they would have gotten using 2019 enrollment numbers.
Instead, the House opted to create a $40 million reserve fund “to stabilize school districts adversely impacted by pandemic-related enrollment changes.” Critics have expressed concern over how those funds will be distributed, and they say it still falls $90 million short.
A coalition advocating for increased funding has shifted its focus to the Senate. That effort includes the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center and the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance — the statewide teachers union, a leading think tank that promotes left-leaning legislation and an amalgam of public education supporters, respectively.
In the House, a group of lawmakers from the Progressive Caucus and the Gateway Cities Caucus pushed leadership on the funding issue, said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, who co-chairs the Progressive Caucus.
Farley-Bouvier said she still sees a way for the House to alter education funding through a supplemental budget.
“We believe the $40 million in the reserve fund is too low, but there’s a good chance that we can boost that number when we work on the distribution of the federal funds,” she said. “But two, we think it’s critically important that those funds are distributed through the Chapter 70 formula rather than DESE [the Department of Early and Secondary Education] having discretion through those funds.”
For the budget as a whole, however, Farley-Bouvier and the Progressive Caucus offered praise.
“We greatly appreciate the partnership that Speaker Mariano and [House Ways and Means] Chair [Aaron] Michlewitz have built with the Progressive Caucus,” Farley-Bouvier said in a statement released Thursday after the budget passed. “It was clear that listening to the entire membership, including our caucus, was central to [fiscal year 2022 budget] process. The resulting budget is a reflection of our perspectives and our collective values.”
MassBudget, which said the House budget “does not reflect the level of need communities are continuing to face,” has called for any supplemental budget process to include “a statewide public engagement process” to solicit feedback from communities. Supplemental budgets tend to involve less public engagement than the annual budget, it said in a post written by its staff.
While lawmakers have called for a supplemental budget to distribute federal aid, the Baker administration has not committed to filing one.