House and Senate lawmakers walked away from lightly attended sessions Wednesday without a deal on a supplemental budget that would close the books on the last fiscal year, and includes crucial funding for union contracts and emergency shelters.
Nearly two weeks after the Legislature finished formal law making for the year, Democratic leaders in both chambers have so far failed to find consensus on a $2.8 billion supplemental budget that includes $250 million for the besieged shelter system and nearly $400 million for public employee contracts.
Informal sessions Monday were held open for hours before legislators adjourned with no public deal and Wednesday sessions lasted only minutes in each branch.
Both the House and Senate are scheduled to meet again Thursday at 11 a.m. in informal sessions, where any one lawmaker has the power to block advancing bills.
A panel of six lawmakers is negotiating the supplemental budget, which includes money for more than 90 collective bargaining agreements and allows the state comptroller to close the books on fiscal year 2023.
But negotiators rarely talk about the status of discussions in public, often leaving residents and stakeholders in the dark until after a deal is reached or time runs out for consideration of the bill. The top House and Senate budget writers, Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Sen. Michael Rodrigues, both Democrats, are leading the talks.
A spokesperson for House Speaker Ronald Mariano said negotiators “continue to talk and exchange proposals.” A Rodrigues spokesperson declined to comment on the status of negotiations.
Senate President Karen Spilka said she is “optimistic” a deal could be reached this week but did not dive into specifics on what the public could expect.
“I’m hopeful that we can do the whole thing,” she said of differences between House and Senate versions of the bill.
Republicans have pushed Democrats to split off the funding from the main proposal, which includes the more controversial shelter aid.
The collective bargaining agreements contain pay raises for roughly 100,000 workers across the state, legislative Republicans have said. And the failure to act on the raises “would represent a severe injustice” to public sector workers, one Senate Democrat has said.
“This is a supplemental budget that should have been passed at least a month ago and maybe more so that we could close the books on fiscal year 2023,” Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr told reporters Wednesday. “That is the first consequence of not having a document passed at this point. Along with that consequence, there are many others. And it is not a positive situation. However, we are here not merely to be critics. We’re here to try to move us all toward a solution.”
The bill also includes millions in disaster relief funding for communities hard hit by natural disasters this year and allows the state comptroller to file a statutorily required end-of-fiscal-year report that was due at the end of October.
Legislative Republicans have threatened to block the proposal if it comes up during informal sessions with language around shelter funding they do not agree with.
“I hope people realize it’s critically important that we get this done as soon as possible and that it will move forward,” Spilka said of potential Republican resistance.
House lawmakers proposed placing rigid requirements on the Healey administration’s ability to spend $250 million in shelter funding, including specifically carving out $50 million for an overflow shelter site for families waiting for shelter placement. Senators argued Gov. Maura Healey should have more flexibility with the money.
Spilka did say which path negotiators may choose to go with.
“You’ll see that soon, hopefully,” she said.