Even the casual observer has probably heard that Massachusetts is the only state without a signed annual budget. The start of July signals the beginning of a new fiscal year for all but four state governments. But now, more than halfway through the month, Massachusetts is operating on a stopgap budget to ensure that state government continues to function and provide services.
However, this practice cannot go on indefinitely and the Commonwealth is well into the new fiscal year. So where’s the fire?
Due to the nature of budget negotiations, which take place in closed-door meetings, it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of the prolonged delay. The budget holdup is yet another example of the need for more transparency on Beacon Hill. The need doesn’t apply only to financial matters; public officials also have a responsibility to keep the public informed in the workings of the democratic process.
A probable reason for the stalling is the manner in which “outside sections” get incorporated into the budget process. Outside sections are policy proposals made by either the state House or Senate that are submitted as part of the annual budget. Contentious policy considerations that circumvent the typical legislative process can prevent a budget from being passed. According to a Mass Live article, House Speaker Robert DeLeo has suggested separating the financial and policy proposals to focus on the financial aspect for the time being and sort out policy once the budget is finalized. If acted upon, this would mark a significant departure for the state budget process, which has historically attached policy proposals to the annual budget.
If budget discussions are indeed at an impasse because of outside sections, the practice should be changed. To do so would allow legislators the freedom to focus solely on revenue and expenses in the short term.
States such as Maine do not have policy riders in their annual budgets and legislators were able to come to agreement on the numbers before the start of the new fiscal year.
It’s high time Massachusetts does the same thing.
Helen Chin is a rising senior at Lehigh University majoring in political science. Down the road, Helen hopes to go into consulting.