Week Ending April 22, 2011
Competing Proposal for Municipal Health Reform Released
In the FY2012 budget proposal released by the House Ways and Means Committee last week, municipalities were given more control to design health insurance plans, including setting co-payments and deductibles, outside of collective bargaining. Public employee unions made clear their opposition to this change and suggested a competing proposal in a budget amendment filed late Friday. The amendment, backed by 50 legislators, including 6 committee chairs, was sponsored by Rep. Marty Walsh (D-Dorchester), a union member and current President of the Boston Building Trades. His proposal would restore various collective bargaining powers to municipal unions and grant them a 45 day period to negotiate over health benefits and the use of arbitration if they fail to come to an agreement. This issue has dominated the political landscape this week and is expected to dominate the House budget debate when it begins next week.
Poll Shows Anxiety over Jobs
A poll released this week showed that more than 85% of Massachusetts residents are worried about jobs, with 33% worried that they or someone in their family would lose a job within three months. The poll was conducted by UMass-Dartmouth’s Department of Public Policy of 1,207 Massachusetts residents in February and March and has a margin of error of 2.8 points. The poll also showed that 80% of residents are concerned or very concerned about the cost of health care and the cost of higher education. Less than half of the poll’s respondents said they were focused on taxes in the state.
Speaker DeLeo Sets Out Timeline for Newly Released Court Management Bill
Speaker DeLeo released a plan this week that would reorganize the Massachusetts Trial Court, creating a new Office of Court Management. The bill would put the Probation Department under the Judiciary and establish an objective entrance exam for probation officer applicants. A report released late last year detailed systemic abuse and corruption within the Massachusetts Probation Department and included allegations that patronage influenced the hiring of probation officers. DeLeo’s proposal is in conflict with Governor Patrick, who has repeatedly pressed for merging the probation department into an agency within the executive branch, arguing that housing the probation and parole boards under one roof would provide prisoners re-entering society with a smoother transition. Speaker DeLeo said that probation reform is one of his top priorities and the court management bill would be sent to the Senate by mid-May.
Smaller Number of Budget Amendments Filed
Following the release by the House Ways and Means Committee last week of its $30.45 billion FY2012 budget, legislators filed a total of 758 amendments to the budget by the 5pm deadline last Friday. The number of amendments is down significantly over the past three years. According to leadership in the House, the total number of amendment filed are down because many lawmakers recognize that because of the tight fiscal restraints, there is less money in the budget, and also 25% of House members are freshman and new to the budget process. In 2009 and 2010, House members filed 869 and 978 amendments respectively. The highest number of budget amendments (1,512) was filed in 2008, prior to the nationwide recession. The House is set to begin debate of the budget and amendments next week.
Tax Collection Figures Released
On Thursday, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue released the tax collection figures for the first half of April. The state collected an additional $107 million during the period compared to one year earlier. According to Navjeet Bal, the state revenue commissioner, total state tax collections through the first nine months of the year have exceeded budget expectations by $850 million. Although tax receipts continue to beat projections, supplemental budget spending has already surpassed $850 million, mainly to pay for spiking costs in the state Medicaid program.
Legislative Action Light this week
With few members on hand because of school vacation, legislative action remained light. The House is set to begin debate on the budget bill and the 758 amendments filed to it next week.
John Nunnari, Assoc AIA
Executive Director, AIA MA
MA Chapter of American Institute of Architects
The Architects Building
52 Broad Street, Boston MA 02109-4301