More than a week into the new fiscal year, Massachusetts is operating without an approved budget for FY 2014. At the root of this is a leadership disagreement on transportation finances that is directly linked to the revenue needed for the new fiscal year’s budget. Simply put, Governor Patrick doesn’t think that the calculations included in a transportation finance bill drafted by the House and Senate add up. A big chunk of the FY14 budget is contingent on revenue generated from new taxes in the transportation finance bill.
The FY14 budget relies on a hefty amount of money from the transportation finance bill. Our primary concern is that essential funding for the Massachusetts justice system not be negatively impacted. In addition to funding for the various parts of the justice system, a pay raise for judges has been included in the budget for the first time since 2006. We would hate to see our hard work on the judicial pay raise fall apart because of unresolved issues related to transportation finance. The judicial pay raise totals $30,000 for the Massachusetts Judiciary and is supposed to be granted incrementally beginning January 1, 2014.
As last month was winding down, a one-month $4 billion “temporary budget” was approved by the Legislature and signed by Governor Patrick to keep the state running through the end of July. This was done to give two different conference committees more time to reach consensus. One conference committee was working on a transportation tax bill, while the other conference committee was working on a final version of the FY14 budget.
The transportation finance conference committee presented to the Legislature a bill that included $800 million in new transportation revenues for infrastructure improvements and public transit. The bill had a 3-cent gas tax increase, a $1 per pack increase for cigarettes, and a tax for businesses on software design services.
After being approved by the House and Senate, the transportation finance bill was sent to Governor Patrick for his review and signature. Governor Patrick strongly disagreed with the Legislature on the amount of revenue the transportation finance bill will generate and almost immediately sent it back with an amendment. The amendment includes an automatic increase in the gas tax if the Mass Turnpike tolls between Newton and New York are eliminated as scheduled in 2017.
With one day to go until the Governor has to act on the FY14 budget, Legislative leaders are standing by their transportation finance proposal. Both Senate President Murray and Speaker DeLeo have indicated that the votes on the Governor’s amendment will take place next week. Governor Patrick can sign the budget, but he can also veto or amend sections. As it stands, Governor Patrick says he’s never signed a budget that wasn’t balanced, so the next few days should be a cliffhanger.
– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association