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House Moves to Stifle Budget Debate

Hopes that the Massachusetts Legislature might show leadership in dealing with the state’s budget crisis dimmed last week when the House voted 106 to 38 to adopt restrictive new rules for the budget debate. The new rules (H.R. 3730) seriously limit the opportunities for legislators to propose new revenues to save specific threatened programs. They require that any member of the House proposing an increase in funding for a specific program or service must also propose an equal decrease in some other area of the budget. For example, if a legislator wanted to increase funding for health care by $200,000 they might have to simultaneously propose a $200,000 decrease in education or social services. In practice, this new rule will make it virtually impossible for House members to win any increases that go beyond the budget proposed by the Ways and Means Committee.

The House Ways and Means Committee is firmly under the control of Speaker Thomas Finneran who has spent the past few months disparaging the idea that revenues should be raised to avoid slashing cuts in the FY04 budget. The House leadership position was reinforced last month when a Finneran lieutenant, Rep John Rogers the Chair of Ways and Means, sent a letter to his colleagues that failed to mention revenues but instead urged them to focus on cutting $2 billion from the state budget.

The rules change also provides a convenient tool for splitting the progressive coalition that has been threatening to put up a united front against the looming cuts. A constituency asking for adequate funding for their program is forced to suggest that someone else’s program be slashed.

As one representative noted ” This is all part of the battle plan, if you will, being laid out.”

As amendments were being debated, Rep. Ruth Balser spoke against the measure claiming that it ” will rob six million state residents of their right to have a full budget debate.”

Rep. Doug Petersen wondered why it was necessary to take even more power away from the rank and file members of the House. “The package of amendments sends a message that Ways and Means Committee doesn’t have enough power. (But) they always win. Why load them up with more authority?”

Four amendments to delete sections of the bill failed by substantial margins and the final measure eventually passed by a 106-38 vote. In the final vote, 16 Democrats and 22 Republicans voted against the measure. (Note: The Republicans are thought to have voted against the measure primarily because it gave more power to Speaker Finneran.)

Progressive groups had hoped that the budget debate would force legislators to consider the stark alternatives before them and to listen to the pleas of their constituents for new priorities. Under the traditional House rules, a legislator could introduce an amendment repealing one of the numerous tax loopholes for well-connected corporate interests and specify that the resulting revenues would be used to restore health care for people who recently lost their Medicaid coverage. But under the new rules, legislators do not have to worry about facing such clear choices. The tax loopholes for well-connected interests can be protected without taking responsibility for any particular budget cut.

After learning of the rules change, the Massachusetts Audubon Society expressed concern that the budget debate could lead to the ” clear-cutting of funds for environmental programs.”

Jill Stein, founder of Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities commented that “Changing the rules of the debate will not stop the emerging coalition that is rising up to hold this legislative body accountable for acting responsibly. We will stand united for a just budget that does not require senior citizens and educators and environmentalists to fight each other for crumbs while friends of the legislators continue to enjoy billions of dollars in tax loopholes.”

Stein urged voters to thank the 19 or so representatives who consistently voted for an open debate. And she urged people to turn out for a planned April 30 State House rally (“Mobilization for a Fair Commonwealth”) in which a broad coalition of public interest groups will demand a fair and just solution to the budget crisis.

To see the full text of HR3730  Click Here


There were four votes on amendments that would have deleted various sections of the new rules. Then there was a final vote to pass the bill.

Below are two of the key votes. The first column is a vote on a key amendment offered by Rep. Doug Petersen that would have deleted part of the rules change. The second column is the vote on the entire package.

A “+” is a vote to reject the new debate-stiffling rules. A “-” is a vote to support the changes, in effect silencing crucial public debate. An “x” indicates that the member did not cast a vote.

Vote on Petersen AmendmentVote on Final PassageREPRESENTATIVE
Asselin, Christopher P.
Atkins, Cory
Atsalis, Demetrius J.
Ayers, Bruce J.
++Balser, Ruth B.
Binienda, John J.
+Blumer, Deborah D.
xxBosley, Daniel E.
Bradley, Garrett J.
Broadhurst, Arthur J.
+Brown, Scott P.
Buoniconti, Stephen J.
Cabral, Antonio F. D.
Callahan, Jennifer M.
Canavan, Christine E.
Candaras, Gale D.
Carron, Mark J.
Casey, Paul C.
Ciampa, Vincent P.
Connolly, Edward G.
xxCoppola, Michael J.
Correia, Robert
Costello, Michael A.
Coughlin, Robert K.
Creedon, Geraldine
DeLeo, Robert A.
+deMacedo, Viriato Manuel
++Demakis, Paul C.
Dempsey, Brian S.
+DiMasi, Salvatore F.
xxDonato, Paul J.
xxDonelan, Christopher J.
+Donovan, Carol A.
++Eldridge, James B.
+Evangilidis, Lewis B.
Fagan, James H.
++Fallon, Christopher G.
Falzone, Mark V.
Fennell, Robert F.
Festa, Michael E.
Finegold, Barry R.
xFinneran, Thomas M.
Flynn, David L.
xxFox, Gloria L.
Fresolo, John P.
+Frost, Paul K.
Galvin, William C.
Garry, Colleen M.
+George, Thomas N.
+Gifford, Susan W.
Gobi, Anne
Goguen, Emile J.
xxGolden, Brian Paul
Golden, Thomas A., Jr.
+Gomes, Shirley
Grant, Mary E.
Greene, William G., Jr.
Haddad, Patricia A
Hall, Geoffrey D.
+Hargraves, Robert S.
Harkins, Lida E.
+Hill, Bradford R.
+Hillman, Reed V.
Honan, Kevin G.
Howland, Mark A.
+Humason, Jr. Donald F.
Hynes, Frank M.
++Jehlen, Patricia D.
x+Jones, Bradley H., Jr.
Kafka, Louis L.
Kane, Michael F.
xxKaprielian, Rachel
++Kaufman, Jay R.
Keenan, Daniel F.
+Kelly, Shaun P.
Kennedy, Thomas P.
xxKhan, Kay
Knuuttila, Brian
Koczera, Robert M.
Koutoujian, Peter J.
Kujawski, Paul
Kulik, Stephen
Lantigua, William
Larkin, Peter J.
Leary, James Brendan
LeDuc, Stephen P.
+Lepper, John A.
Linsky, David P.
xxL’Italien, Barbara A.
+Loscocco, Paul J.P.
Malia, Elizabeth A.
Mariano, Ronald
++Marzilli, J. James, Jr.
xxMiceli, James R.
++Murphy, Charles A.
Murphy, James M.
Murphy, Kevin J.
Nangle, David M.
Naughton, Harold P., Jr.
Nyman, Robert J.
O&#039Brien, Thomas J.
O&#039Flaherty, Eugene L.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Owens-Hicks, Shirley</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>+</td><td>-</td><td>Parente, Marie J.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Patrick, Matthew</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>+</td><td>+</td><td>Paulsen, Anne M.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>x</td><td>x</td><td>Pedone, Vincent A.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Peisch, Alice H.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>+</td><td>Perry, Jeffrey D.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>+</td><td>+</td><td>Petersen, Douglas W.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>+</td><td>Peterson, George N., Jr.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Petrolati, Thomas M.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Petruccelli, Anthony</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Pignatelli, Smitty</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>+</td><td>Poirier, Elizabeth</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>+</td><td>Polito, Karyn E.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>+</td><td>Pope, Susan W.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Quinn, John F.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Reinstein, Kathi-Anne</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Rivera, Cheryl A.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Rodrigues, Michael J.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>+</td><td>Rogeness, Mary S.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Rogers, John H.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Ruane, J. Michael</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Rush, Michael F.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>+</td><td>+</td><td>Rushing, Byron</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Sanchez, Jeffrey</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Scaccia, Angelo M.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>x</td><td>x</td><td>Simmons, Mary Jane</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>+</td><td>+</td><td>Smizik, Frank Israel</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Speliotis, Theodore C.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Spellane, Robert</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Spiliotis, Joyce A.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Spilka, Karen</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>St. Fleur, Marie P.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Stanley, Harriett L.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>x</td><td>x</td><td>Stanley, Thomas M.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>+</td><td>+</td><td>Story, Ellen</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Straus, William M.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>+</td><td>-</td><td>Sullivan, David B.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Swan, Benjamin</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>x</td><td>Teahan, Kathleen M.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Timilty, Walter F.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Tobin, A. Stephen</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Toomey, Timothy J., Jr.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Torrisi, David M.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>+</td><td>-</td><td>Travis, Philip</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>+</td><td>-</td><td>Turkington, Eric</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Vallee, James E.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>x</td><td>x</td><td>Verga, Anthony J.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Wagner, Joseph F.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Wallace, Brian P.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Walrath, Patricia A.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>+</td><td>Walsh, Martin J.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>-</td><td>Walsh, Steven M.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>-</td><td>+</td><td>Webster, Daniel K.</td></tr> <tr align=center><td>x</td><td>-</td><td>Wolf, Alice K.</td></tr> </table> </p></td> <td width=”15%”>  </td></tr></table> </td> </tr> </table> <!– <p class=”normc”><center><a href=”subject.php?id=12″> Read related items.</a></center></p> –> <!– Stop Content Here –> <br> <table width=”100%” cellspacing=”0″ cellpadding =”0″ border=”0″> <tr> <td bgcolor=”#003399″> <center><a href=priv.php><font color=”white” style=’text-decoration : none’>Privacy Policy</font></a></center> </td> </tr> </table> <center><form action=”vol.php” method=”POST”><i>Want to receive the MCHC newsletter?  </i><input type=”text” size=”16″ name=”email” value=”email address”>   <input type=”submit” value=”Go”></form></center> </body> </html&gt!