House Unanimously Approves $39.5 Billion Budget

Massachusetts State House. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Massachusetts State House. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The Massachusetts House passed a $39.5 billion fiscal 2017 budget Wednesday afternoon, shipping its spending plan to the Senate which plans in May to debate its vision of what state spending should look like beginning July 1.

The budget was approved after two-plus days of deliberations marked by light and sporadic debates, with most of the decisions made in a House ante-room where lawmakers were instructed to go and talk to Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey about their thousands of amendments.

House members agreed to pack into the budget scores of earmark amendments designed to pay for local projects. If the Senate does not agree to those earmarks, they could still be included in the final budget if a six-member conference committees is amenable. Governors over the years have often frowned on earmarks, which limit the discretion of executive branch officials to make spending decisions.

Aside from what industry officials describe as a hospital tax, the budget does not include any new taxes or tax increases. The House rejected an amendment to raise the gas tax by 3 cents per gallon and avoided a vote on reducing the sales tax to 5 percent by voting to study that issue instead.

On Wednesday, the House added to the budget a measure sponsored by Republican leadership that would bring Massachusetts into compliance with the federal Real ID Act. Some Democrats objected saying they were caught off guard by the major policy decision.

The Real ID Act, a federal post-2001 anti-terrorism initiative, requires states to begin issuing secure and compliant forms of identification that for many residents will replace their current drivers' licenses.

Baker administration officials briefed legislative leaders on a bill the governor filed last October to bring Massachusetts into compliance, warning that without action this year residents might have to start carrying their passports to access federal buildings or travel through domestic airports by January.


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