Key Policy Initiatives Hang in the Balance as State Moves Toward Budget

The Massachusetts budget headline is that it’s the only state in the country to not yet have a budget. But a deeper dive shows some key policy issues are in jeopardy as the legislative session nears its end. The driving force behind several of them, state Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), says he is still hopeful the important measures survive the budget process because letting them die “would be disastrous toward righting wrongs in the state.”

A crucial fix in the education funding formula important to so many children in the state, the “Cap on Kids” measure, and the “Safe Communities” initiatives are all on the brink of collapse. It would impact hundreds of thousands of children and others in the state. The view here is that letting the policy initiatives die would be legislative malpractice and those who let it happen should face accountability at the ballot box.

DiDomenico was able to get passed in the Senate a critical adjustment to how school funding is calculated in the state. It is in the Senate budget but remains bogged down in negotiations with the House. It’s pretty simple: Cities like Everett, Chelsea and Revere suffer because of the way the state calculates “disadvantaged” students. DiDomenico has a fix to help those (and others) cities. It’s pathetic that it might not survive the budget process.

The cap on kids was originally designed to stop or reduce child births from mothers on welfare. The 1995 law withholds denies a child $100 a month in benefits plus an annual $300 clothing allowance if the child was conceived while the family was receiving welfare. The problem is, it doesn’t work. Withholding that $100 is not a disincentive, it’s just cruel

DiDomenico courageously has made lifting the cap a priority. It may not go over big with Trumpers who think welfare moms sit around the house eating Fiddle Faddle waiting to have more kids. But facts are facts. The law has not worked and is simply heartless to the 9,000 kids currently denied benefits. They’re here and they’re not going anywhere.

The “Safe Communities” measure is also bogged down in the budget process. It is not a sanctuary state initiative. It simply limits local law enforcement from entering into certain agreements with ICE. It largely symbolic since police in cities and towns with large immigrant populations aren’t pulling over people and asking for documentation. But the fact that it likely won’t pass is a sad commentary on us as a state.

Why these important measures might die on the vine has to do with how the sausage is made. It’s inside baseball that involves the two chambers on Beacon Hill, negotiations between the two and a lack of political nerve.

DiDomenico would not criticize anyone involved in the process per se, but if you’re looking for a villain in all of this, it’s Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo. Earlier this week, DeLeo floated the idea of separating the policy issues in the budget from the finances involved. Again, it’s legislative minutia but it’s bad news for the policies involved.

“If [separating the policy from the finances] happens it will be disastrous and I will be very disappointed,” DiDomenico said. “If we don’t include the policy issues, they are dead,” he said.

Massachusetts Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo.

As a former senior staffer for the Senate Democrats in Connecticut, I have seen firsthand how frustrating the legislative process can be, especially for individual legislators, even for the ones doing the right thing like DiDomenico. They spend time putting together the legislation, more time building coalitions and even more time persuading, coaxing and maneuvering to get the legislation passed be it as a stand-along bill or in the budget. (It is a favorite tactic in Connecticut to put issues that failed the regular process into budget “implementer” bills—but that’s another story).

It may actually be too late but DeLeo needs to do the right thing and include the policy issues and get the budget done with them. Failing to do so is to fail the state’s children and families.

It’s unacceptable.