Wrong pot: What we know about Massachusetts' $2.5 billion payment snafu

View of the Massachusetts State House from the corner of Tremont and Park Streets. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
View of the Massachusetts State House from the corner of Tremont and Park Streets. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from WBUR's daily morning newsletter, WBUR Today. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, sign up here

The sun is back — and so is the smog. Look outside and you’ll notice smoke from wildfires in Quebec has returned today, making for a “weirdly red and hazy sunrise,” as WBUR’s chief early bird Dan Guzman observed.

The smoke has led to an air quality alert for Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, meaning people with asthma, older adults and children should avoid prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion.

So, let’s escape the haze and go inside the Golden Dome.

Big woops: Massachusetts officials disclosed last week that they accidentally used $2.5 billion in federal funds to cover jobless claims during pandemic — money that should have been paid by the state. Now, Gov. Maura Healey says they’re trying to work with the feds to find a resolution that “minimizes any impact to the commonwealth.” But what happens next remains pretty unclear.

  • How it happened: The mistake occurred during Gov. Charlie Baker’s tenure, but Healey says it was only discovered by a recent state audit. “For whatever reason, money was drawn from a federal pot instead of a state pot,” Healey said, noting there were multiple state and federal relief funds with different requirements that ended up getting merged. “Other states experienced similar complications and difficulties,” she added.
  • A look at the numbers: The amount is no rounding error; $2.5 billion is nearly 5% of Massachusetts’ annual budget — and more than twice the size of the recently proposed tax cut packages.
  • The fear: the state ends up being on the hook for all $2.5 billion. But state leaders say it’s too early to speculate about that — or what action might be needed. “We don’t even know how much we owe,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano. “We’ve got to begin with getting the bill — if there is a bill.”

Coming soon: Last time we had a $2.5 billion surprise this time of year, it derailed the state’s nearly finished tax cut plans. However, Senate President Karen Spilka told reporters yesterday that history won’t repeat itself this time. “We will do a tax relief package, and it will be out soon,” Spilka said of the Senate’s long-awaited proposal.

  • How soon? Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Michael Rodrigues told the State House News Service the bill will be unveiled “within the next two weeks.”
  • What to expect: There are hints that the Senate bill will share some similarities with the tax proposal the House passed in May. If there are any differences, the two sides have less than a month to work them out before the new fiscal year begins (though that isn't required).

Activist and former Harvard professor Cornel West announced yesterday that he will run for president next year as a third-party candidate, knocking both major parties in his announcement video.

Holograms won’t be the only thing on display at Boston’s planned Holocaust museum. The couple behind the museum unveiled renderings yesterday of the six-story Tremont Street building.

  • The design includes a window displaying an authentic railcar from Nazi extermination camps — viewable from Boston Common. Jody Kipnis, one of the museum’s founders, told WBUR’s Amy Sokolow the decision is part of their effort to tie the museum into the city. “Once we acquired the railcar, I knew right away it had to be seen from the Freedom Trail,” she said.
  • Looking ahead: The museum is scheduled to open in early 2026.

Out late tonight? Beware. The I-93 southbound tunnel through Boston will close to all traffic from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m. tomorrow for maintenance. The closure will begin before the Zakim Bridge at the Sullivan Square exit in Somerville and includes all tunnel on-ramps.

P.S.— Our June fundraising goal is for 700 WBUR fans to become monthly contributors this week. Why? Because your monthly contributions go a long way toward keeping our journalism strong — and free — for our entire community. If you value that mission (or this newsletter), please consider making a monthly pledge today!


Nik DeCosta-Klipa Newsletter Editor
Nik DeCosta-Klipa is the newsletter editor for WBUR.



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