ML Strategies Newsletter: March 2012
As the budget process heats up on Beacon Hill, ML Strategies
will issue periodic updates regarding the process and politics that will
shape this yearís budget. We begin by providing an overview of the budget
timeline and a brief analysis on the budget process.
Governorís Budget Proposal
The first official step in the budget process is the release
of the Governorís budget, which he must propose within three weeks after
the Legislature convenes. Governor Patrick filed his FY2013 budget with the
House of Representatives on January 25, 2012.
The Governorís $32.3 billion budget proposal is a 2.98%
increase over the current year and calls for new tax revenues from several
sources. Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez defended the
$260 million in tax revenue increases in a House Ways & Means hearing
on February 17, saying they were necessary to reduce the current $1.3
billion gap between revenue and spending. The proposal requests a $0.50
hike on the cigarette excise and corresponding tax increases on other
tobacco products, a $25,000 annual tax on roll-your-own tobacco machines,
the end of a sales tax waiver on candy and soda, and an expansion of the
bottle bill to include bottled water, juices, coffee, and sports drinks. In
years past, the Legislature has rejected Patrickís call for taxing candy
and soda and expanding the bottle bill.
The Governorís push for increased revenues along with
targeted spending cuts is fueled by the anticipation of another lean year
in tax revenues. The administration projects FY2013 tax collections to
increase by $940 million ó or 4.5% over FY2012 ó which is still below
pre-recession levels and is $94 million lower than FY2012 projections.
Nonetheless, the Governor will likely see resistance to tax increases in
the House and Senate where the leadership has already signaled opposition.
House Budget Proposal
After the Governorís proposal is submitted, it is referred to
the House Committee on Ways & Means. Throughout February and March, the
Joint Committee on Ways & Means holds public hearings and interviews
cabinet and agency officials on the proposed budget.
The Governorís tax increase proposals have received little
support in the House with Speaker Robert DeLeo leading the charge against
new taxes and fees. DeLeo has stated repeatedly that consistency and
predictability in the tax code are the most important factors for
businesses in Massachusetts. He and other members of the House believe that
any changes in revenue policy should be part of a broader tax package
vetted by the Legislature. However, some House members have called for a
tax overhaul that targets reducing tax credits for corporations. In the
February 17 hearing, House Ways & Means Chair Brian Dempsey expressed his
concern about the expected $94 million shortfall in tax collections and an
increase in immigrant health care and student transportation costs. Aid
levels from Washington are another variable further affecting the state
revenue base. We expect that the House will debate its version of the
FY2013 budget the week of April 23.
Senate Budget Proposal
Once the House has passed its version of the budget, it is
referred to the Senate. The Senate Ways & Means Committee reviews the
House bill and develops its own recommendations. Although Sen. Stephen
Brewer, the Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, has expressed
concern about lagging tax collections this year, he is likely to follow the
lead of Senate President Therese Murray who announced her opposition to the
Governorís proposed increased taxes and fees. We expect that the Senate
will debate its version of the budget the week of May 21.
Conference Committee Budget
The differences between the House and Senate versions will be
negotiated and resolved by a six-member conference committee. The House and
Senate appoint three members each, typically the respective chairs of Ways
& Means, as well as the ranking majority and minority members of each
committee. Each branch will then vote to accept or reject the report of the
conference committee. Once accepted in each branch by at least a two-thirds
vote of approval, the bill is sent to the Governor.
The Governor has 10 days to review and approve the bill, or
make vetoes or reductions. The Governor has line-item veto power within
individual appropriations, which means that he may strike portions of
language within specific items, in addition to reducing or eliminating
funding. Outside sections appear at the end of the document. They are
policy initiatives that have a fiscal impact. With respect to the outside
sections, the Governor may approve, strike the section in its entirety, or
return the section with an amendment. The goal is to complete this process
by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
The House and Senate may vote to override the Governorís
vetoes. Overrides require a two-thirds majority in each chamber. All
overrides must be completed by the conclusion of the formal sessions on
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