As candidates start to shift into campaign mode for 2022, House Speaker Ronald Mariano said Monday that he intends to stick around for another term in one of the most powerful posts in state government.
"I have every intention of doing that, yeah," Mariano told the News Service, regarding his plans to campaign for another term in the House next November, then another term as speaker in January 2023.
"Took me 30 years to get here. So why would I want to sit here and not do it? It's been fun, it's been a challenge. And lookit, I know how lucky I am to be here. And my biggest problem is spending money," the 30-year representative from Quincy said Monday.
That's a reference to the billions in surplus state tax revenues and federal aid money that lawmakers are overseeing and meting out.
Mariano gestured to his office walls, adorned with dozens of portraits of House speakers from generations past.
"Take a look around," he said. "None of these guys spent that much money. Maybe if you add up, take these walls over here and add up all the money they ever spent as speakers, they never spent as much as the Senate president and I have spent in this ARPA budget. So it is something to think about, it's a pretty interesting little dynamic."
The so-called ARPA bill, which would appropriate much of the fiscal 2021 surplus and the state's American Rescue Plan Act allocation, formally entered conference committee talks Monday.
Mariano tempered expectations of a final deal reaching Gov. Charlie Baker's desk by the end of Wednesday, the last day of formal sessions until January, though said it remains the goal.
"We hope to get some paper on ARPA to the governor's desk on Wednesday, but it's going to be a long and involved process of negotiations between the House and the Senate," he said, adding that more protracted negotiations are "possible."
"But the hope is to get it done Wednesday," Mariano said. "That's the goal ... The goal is, you've got our chairman of Ways and Means and the Senate chairman of Ways and Means and their staff, who are working since — all weekend, since even during Veterans Day."
Mariano said that while topics in the bill were pre-agreed, differences exist between the two versions (H 4234 / S 2580) on spending amounts and "it won't be a lot of negotiating back and forth over what's going to be covered in the bill, it will be more about the amounts."
The Senate last Wednesday added 430 amendments earmarking funds, primarily for local COVID response and recovery projects, and 19 new policy sections, according to a Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation analysis.
MTF described the Senate's earmarked spending as "comparable to the House in number and cost" but reported that "unlike the House which created several earmark accounts organized by policy area, the Senate put 411 of the earmarks in one major account, while adding four earmarks to other items."
Both bills limit the use of federal fiscal recovery funds to about $2.5 billion, effectively capping spending at $4 billion when the fiscal 2021 surplus is included, MTF said. Combining spending proposed in both bills would lead to a bottom line of $4.3 to $4.5 billion, MTF said, and limiting spending to the $4 billion indicated by Senate spending caps would require "significant cuts" to proposed House and Senate spending.
Massachusetts received its $5.3 billion ARPA haul from the federal government in May, and Baker, urging a quick spending process, filed a proposal in June for disbursing funds. Legislative leaders announced a series of hearings to solicit public input and spanned those hearings across the calendar into early October.
By opting for a lengthier timeline and then offering proposals just before the recess, legislative leaders set the conference committee up for a time crunch.
"You know, usually when you have a big spending bill like this, like the budget, you have that vacation week in between," Mariano said, referring to the April school vacation week that typically follows House debate of the general appropriations bill.
"They don't have that. So the time is condensed to go through all the amendments. We did have an awful lot of amendments. ... So there's a lot of paper to go through. And we are short a week that we traditionally had to do that work in," the speaker said.
As the next 36 hours tick away toward the seven-week recess, the House plans to take up the Senate's genocide education bill Tuesday, and a health care bill Wednesday aimed at impacts of major hospital expansions on smaller community hospitals. The speaker's office said the goal is also to wrap up Congressional and Governor's Council redistricting maps this week.
The Senate in early October approved a permanent extension of pandemic-era voting reforms, including mail-in balloting, but the speaker said no House action is planned for this week.
"That's something that can wait 'til well into next year before it has any impact," Mariano said. "So we'll find a vehicle. And we've already voted on it, people know where they are on this, so now it's a question logistically how to get it into the Senate."
Voters first sent Mariano to the House in a 1991 special election. Now 75 years old, the speaker has a Halloween birthday and would be 76 next Election Day. It would be his 16th full term in the House.
Heart trouble in June led to installation of a pacemaker. He said Monday that he's now feeling "great."
Last December, he described serving as speaker as a great way to "wrap up" his 30-year Beacon Hill career, though he declined to specify how many years he wanted to hold the post. His predecessor, Robert DeLeo, held the gavel for a record-setting 12 years.
"I guarantee it won't be 12," Mariano said at the time.
His speakership thus far has entirely overlapped with the COVID-19 pandemic. Mariano said that has come with unique challenges including virtual hearings, and he misses the give-and-take of in-person meetings.
"So it is different, it's different. But," he said, gesturing again to the office wall and the shades of speakers past, "I'm sure it was different for all of these guys when they took over. It's a unique job. There's no job description. You come in and try and do the best you can."
Two years ago, in October 2019, former House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he planned to run again. The Winthrop Democrat was reelected, but like many legislators over the years, he resigned mid-term, leaving office to take a job at Northeastern University and creating the opportunity for Mariano, his deputy, to become speaker.