Massachusetts Legislature Procrastinates Once Again

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There are less than seven weeks left to the Massachusetts Legislature’s formal sessions with much unfinished business to attend to.  Analogizing Massachusetts legislators to students, they are waiting until the night before a 10-page paper is due to begin the assignment that was given early in the semester. While some students can thrive under that type of pressure and hand in a top-rate assignment, for most students, procrastination does not lend itself to high-quality work.  That is likely to be the outcome for this legislative session given the sheer number of meaty bills that have passed both branches in different forms and still await resolution by conference committees before the July 31st deadline.

It would be one thing if the legislature was part time and got paid a token amount, but that is not the case.  To the contrary, Massachusetts is one of only 10 states with a full-time legislature, yet we are in the minority of states that have yet to pass a FY2025 budget. 

The legislature’s unfinished work falls to a small number of legislators who are assigned to the various conference committees that must resolve differences between each branch’s version of a bill.  The chairs of the Ways and Means Committees carry the heaviest load, sitting on several of them.  This doesn’t make much sense given that, among state’s with full-time legislatures, Massachusetts has the third highest number of legislators at 200, so there are plenty of elected officials to choose from when considering conferees.  It is like relying on one student to do a group assignment.

Taking the student analogy perhaps one step too far, this is not introductory course work that students can bluff their way through. The following bills by topic show the scope of pending legislation and the serious and wide-ranging topics it addresses. 

Economic Development H.4459
FY2025 Budget  H.2
Housing Bond H.4138
IT Bond H.4242
Gun Reform  H.4139 / S.2572
Hospital Oversight and Reforms  H.4643
Prescription Drug  Pricing  S. 2520
Early Education  S.2707
Rainy Day Interest Investment H.4446 / S.2554
Salary Transparency  H.4109/ S.2484
Time Off for Voting H.4217
Parentage Equality  H.4672

Among the legislation in conference is the economic development bill that will outline the state’s strategic vision for the next couple of years. This bill will also determine what policies and multi-billion-dollar investments are necessary to make Massachusetts competitive at a time of unparalleled economic change and growing competition among the states for businesses and people. 

Also in the mix is Governor’s Healy’s top legislative priority, her Housing Bond bill that makes the largest housing investments in the state’s history to address the crisis gripping the Commonwealth. The House and Senate have both put their respective stamps on it so the final version is still to be determined.  It is important that these investments be comprehensive, well-balanced and impactful to stem the outmigration of young residents to places with lower housing costs.  

Addressing the high cost of child care and health insurance, the other two top problems fueling outmigration, must also be resolved.  Both pose challenges.  The state is making sizable new investments in child care at a time of tax revenue uncertainty, so ensuring that the money is put to its best use is critical, as will be figuring out the funding stream to pay for it in future years.  The size of the healthcare sector in Massachusetts requires that the solutions being proposed are the right ones, because they will have an outsized impact on taxpayers, employees and employers in addition to patients and providers.  The same is true for the prescription drug pricing bill, given the growing amount of the health insurance premiums devoted to pharmaceuticals and the importance of the pharmaceutical and life science sectors to the state’s economy.  

Making sure that the Massachusetts state government can operate efficiently, securely and with good data requires investing in the state’s technology, yet another issue that must be addressed. There are also several legislative proposals dealing with social issues ranging from gun reform to salary transparency.  One pending bill that seems unnecessary requires employers to provide paid time off to vote at a time when voting has never been so convenient given mail-in, absentee and early voting options.  

Finally, the state must decide whether interest earned on the state’s Rainy Day Fund should be used for operating expenses or put back into the trust fund to grow its balance.  

That is a lot of work to save for the end of the session, particularly when the rest of the session’s workload has been light.  According to The Boston Globe, it’s the slowest start to a legislative session in at least 40 years. While the grade for this legislative session is still incomplete, it may be time to require the legislature to take a time management course so that next year they get better results by adopting a steadier pace and spreading the work out over the entire term.