With bipartisan support and after adding $74 million in spending initiatives over two-plus days, the Senate unanimously approved a $32.4 billion fiscal 2013 budget Friday before breaking for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
The deliberations were marked by debate focused mostly on policy plans rather spending. On Friday morning alone, the Senate added budget riders imposing checks on executive compensation at mutual holding companies, requiring employers to comply with new verification checks on workers' legal status, and enabling state residents to take advantage of discounts and coupons offered by drug companies.
After the vote, Senate President Therese Murray and Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sen. Stephen Brewer suggested that senators are frustrated that policy proposals are hung up in joint committee controlled by House members.
While policy riders are on the upswing following several years when budget chieftains sought to limit spending bills to appropriations, Brewer noted that there are still not as many outside sections in the state budget as there were in the 1990s or earlier last decade.
Asked about the source of funds for the budget add-ons, Brewer, who during debate fended off many spending amendments as unaffordable, cited unspecified federal reimbursements and updated forecasts from the Department of Revenue and declined to say how much more money may be available. House leaders in April also cited revenue updates to support adding millions of dollars in spending amendments.
Before the final vote, senators cited as among their priorities investments in local aid, a commitment to keep Taunton Hospital open at a limited capacity, and a $290 million draw from the state's stabilization fund, which senators said was a smaller draw than proposed by the House and Gov. Deval Patrick.
A six-member conference committee will soon be appointed to try to reach agreement on a final budget by the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.
While negotiators will need to settle differences on some spending levels, it appears finding common ground on myriad policy differences represents one of the biggest challenges to overcome. With about two months left for formal sessions, budget negotiators may be influenced by the advancement, or lack of movement, on bills in the House and Senate while their talks are ongoing or subsequently.
This year’s session is shaping up as another one in which agreements on major bills will be left to the dying days of formal sessions in late July, a choice that in the past has led to great confusion over the specifics of bills and opportunities for legislative leaders to make deals on bills that are unrelated.
Bills dealing with health care cost containment, economic development, crime and sentencing policies, renewable energy and electricity prices, transportation financing, and government administration all have a chance of passage this year.
This article was originally published on May 25, 2012.
This program aired on May 25, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.