Columnist Lindsay Sabadosa: Working to demystify how the state budget takes shape

  • The Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston. AP file photo

Published: 4/20/2019 12:15:57 AM
Modified: 4/20/2019 12:15:44 AM

On April 10, House members received something we’ve all been waiting for: the House Ways and Means budget.

I have long talked about how our budget should be a representation of our values, so getting my first budget is indeed an exciting moment. Over the last few months, I have sat in meeting after meeting with leaders of local agencies, all of whom have discussed their budgetary needs so they can, for example, work to make homelessness brief, rare, and non-recurring, provide job training and internship programs, and address the ever-growing food insecurity in our area.

I have attended the Fund Our Future hearing at the Statehouse as educators, superintendents, and principles talked about the importance of education funding, and local school committee meetings where educators discussed the need for fair pay.

I have participated in the regional transit authority hearings where people shared how cuts to service and increased fares have made getting to work and school harder, if not impossible.

Two things have become clear from these meetings. First, most people are confused about how the budget works. Second, we are dramatically underfunding our basic needs with our current austerity budgeting in Massachusetts. I have used these meetings to try to demystify how the budget process works and to talk about the need for revenue for our future.

It all starts with the governor’s budget, which is the starting point for the House. In March and April, all House members schedule meetings with the chair of Ways and Means to discuss our district priorities. We primarily talk about local issues, although there is the opportunity to share how statewide policy has a local impact.

In the meantime, members of the Ways and Means committee travel the state collecting testimony that is used in its decision-making process to set the budget. Caucuses, like the Progressive caucus and the Regional Transit Authority caucus, to which I belong, also poll their members to select subject-related priorities, submitting them to Ways and Means.

Nearly as soon as the House Ways and Means budget is released, the amendment process begins. Amendments are filed for local and statewide issues. Representatives have three days to file amendments with more time to cosponsor other legislators’ amendments afterward. I have worked to ensure that many members of the western Massachusetts delegation have signed on to my amendments, and I have tried to sign onto theirs. With 1,370 amendments filed, this process is slow, and we will continue to review amendments until the budget debate starts on the House floor on Monday. I will also have an opportunity to gather additional support for my amendments at special meetings next week when legislators cram into meeting rooms with the chairs of the Ways and Means committee to advocate for their amendments by subject.

Many amendments will be withdrawn, some will be accepted, and after three or four long days, the House will vote on a budget. Of course, this is not the end. The Senate goes through a similar process, and then the House and the Senate must agree on the final budget to send to the governor. The governor then has the opportunity to veto all or part of the budget.

In the end, what do I hope to accomplish? Of course, I am hopeful for all my amendments, all of which have a direct impact on our region, but I am also hopeful that we do something about revenue — or, at the very least, start a serious discussion about revenue. As such, I have co-sponsored Amendment 1357, filed by Rep. Connoley of Cambridge, which would raise taxes on long-term capital gains from 5 percent to 9 percent with special exemptions for low-income seniors and the disabled. This amendment would generate around $1.1 billion annually and, while we wait for the Fair Share Amendment to snake its way through the legislative process, it is part of the solution to fixing the fact that our state has been losing billions in revenue since changes to the tax code in 2002.

Will this amendment pass? It is an uphill battle in a state where there is little appetite to talk about taxes, but one that is deserving of the fight so that we do not have to make choices about whether opioid treatment or the homeless, schools or transportation, early childhood education or mental health care services are more deserving in our next budget cycle. It’s time for us to truly invest in our future and take care of the people who are suffering now.

Lindsay Sabadosa is a Northampton resident and the state representative for the 1st Hampshire District: Northampton, Southampton, Westhampton, Hatfield and Montgomery. Her column runs the third Friday of every month. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.


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