On Friday July 1st, the Senate accepted the report issued by the Budget Conference Committee, and approved the final version of the $30.6 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2012, with Senator Hedlund the sole Republican “no” vote. The Senate budget process seemed mired from the start of debate on May 25th, with only 25 out of the 599 amendments receiving debate in the Senate and a total of only 21 roll call votes during the two days of debate.
While the budget did feature Republican included reforms such as the potential restoration of the local aid cut through the use of end of the year revision payments returning to cities and towns, much needed reforms such as 40B and immigration were overlooked. “The most troubling aspect of this state budget is the heavy reliance on one-time revenue sources, over $185 million of which comes straight from the rainy day fund,” Senator Hedlund said. “We have to be concerned about that.”
Aside from the use of the rainy day fund, there is a likely chance that the House and Senate will need to pass additional spending bills including a potential $1 billion supplemental budget, as was the case in FY 2011. Chairman of Ways and Means Stephen Brewer was candid in his comments to Senators on the floor Senate during debate on the acceptance of the Conference Committee report, that a Supplemental Budget would likely be required, lending further support to Senator Hedlund’s “no” vote.
The most disappointing aspect of the Fiscal Year 2012 budget process was the conspicuous absence of debate. The heavy caucusing by the Majority Party in the days preceding the start of the process appeared to have stifled some of the more outspoken members, including those in the Majority Party. Senate Budget proposals put forth by the Republican Party which would have saved the state millions were largely rejected on voice votes.
Included in the Conference Committee Report was a watered down version of the redrafted amendment dealing with illegal immigration which was unanimously adopted in the Senate version of the Budget. The original amendment pushed by Senator Hedlund and the Minority Party and originally included at the end of the lengthy Senate budget process deals with employers who hire illegal immigrants, many of the removed provisions increased existing penalties relative to the forging of documents for employment purposes. Also removed was a provision requiring a check on immigration status before the receipt of some public assistance. “If there were to be one aspect of the budget to applaud it would have been the inclusion of this illegal immigration amendment. Unfortunately the legislature missed another opportunity to protect the legal citizens of the Commonwealth,” Senator Hedlund said. “At a time when the economy is struggling it is unimaginable that citizens of this country who are here legally could be displaced in line by someone here illegally,” concluded Hedlund.
Another Hedlund amendment, which received initial Senate support but was rejected by the Conference Committee, related to 40B developers and excess profits. The amendment would have allowed the Inspector General to hire a third party to conduct an audit of all affordable housing projects that submitted cost certifications after January 1, 2004. The amendment passed almost unanimously in the Senate, with only one vote against.
“Four years ago, the Inspector General audited the cost certifications of ten 40B developers and found that six of them owed more than $7 million to cities and towns,” said Senator Hedlund. “During the audits, the IG found numerous instances of contractors inflating construction costs, one even charged new carpet for his vacation home to the affordable housing project. The IG has estimated that a more comprehensive series of audits could recover tens of millions of additional dollars, highlighting the importance of this amendment,” explained Hedlund. “Unfortunately, at a time when our cities and towns are struggling with rising municipal cots, apparently we are being told there is no room in the Fiscal 2012 Budget for cost recovery measures estimated in the millions, that is appalling,” a frustrated Hedlund concluded.
With conference committee negotiations completed, Governor Patrick is expected to sign the final version of the budget early next week.