House Republicans blocked a controversial $3 billion supplemental budget that closes the books on fiscal year 2023 from advancing Thursday after Democrats said they reached a compromise that includes funding to respond to an influx of migrants in Massachusetts.
Republicans had warned for weeks that any deal on the budget bill could be met with opposition if it included migrant aid without major policy changes. At the end of a day-long session that included a push to move consideration of the bill into a formal session, Rep. Paul Frost, an Auburn Republican, effectively blocked its path forward for the day.
“This voluminous document, that spends nearly $3 billion of funding on a wide range of items, needs and deserves to be taken up in a formal session, where it can be carefully scrutinized, debate can occur, and members can be recorded through roll calls, none of which can occur in informal sessions that are reserved for non-controversial matters,” Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said in a statement just before Frost made his move.
Democrats, who have a supermajority in both chambers, scheduled informal sessions for Friday morning, when more back and forth could play out in the two chambers. House budget writer Rep. Aaron Michlewitz said Democrats will again try to push the budget forward during Friday’s session.
“Every day that goes by is another day that the shelter money doesn’t get fully fully funded, it’s another day that goes by that those contracts that have been ratified don’t get fully funded,” Michlewitz said.
Beacon Hill lawmakers broke for the holidays two weeks ago without an agreement on the nearly $3.1 billion supplemental budget, kicking negotiations into informal sessions where any one legislator has the power to block advancing policy.
After weeks of closed-door negotiations, Democratic negotiators filed a compromise that included $250 million in shelter aid, nearly $400 million for 95 union contracts, and $15 million in disaster relief for communities hard hit by extreme weather this year, according to a summary.
House and Senate Democrats want to require the Healey administration to use up to $50 million to set up a state-funded overflow site for families waiting to be placed in emergency shelters. The site must be set up by Dec. 31 and last through the end of fiscal year 2024, at most, the bill said.
The compromise bars the Healey administration from using any other portion of the $250 million until the site is “secured and operational,” a move advocates said represented stronger language than originally proposed.
House Speaker Ronald Mariano said it was “incredibly disappointing” that Republicans stalled the supplemental budget.
“This bill includes $3 billion worth of critical funding for state employee raises and for a number of other pressing issues. Despite that, House Republicans are willing to jeopardize the entire package over $250 million that will be used to provide shelter for all vulnerable families in Massachusetts,” Mariano said in a statement shortly after the House adjourned for the day.
Republicans have met the funds for a struggling shelter system housing local migrant and homeless families with skepticism and called for the union contract funding to be split off and passed separately from the main proposal.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones blasted Democrats Wednesday for not producing an on-time agreement on the supplemental budget, and warned of potential pushback from Republicans. He called on both branches to reconvene in a formal session to take up the bill.
“The fact that the speaker, Senate president and governor have been unable to reach consensus on the migrant issue shows that this is too contentious an issue to take up in an informal session,” he said in a statement.
Michlewitz said the legislation kept together union contract dollars and funding to respond to the influx of migrants in Massachusetts “because that was the way the bill was structured.”
“I think we felt it was important to have it in its entirety, come out the way it was,” he said.
A proposed overflow site was one major sticking point between the House and Senate heading into negotiations.
Senators wanted to give Gov. Maura Healey more flexibility to spend $250 million in state dollars while the House proposed more requirements like mandating an overflow site for families waiting for shelter placement.
Michlewitz said House Democrats felt it “was critical” to include the overflow site in the final compromise.
“It’s a conversation between the two branches and it took two weeks to get to a resolution, but we’re here,” he said.