The coronavirus pandemic has capsized the state’s financial picture. But officials’ search for clarity in the face of this new enemy will have to wait after state government was stymied by one of its most enduring foes: technology.
State officials on Tuesday hastily postponed an economic round table on tax revenue expectations after they were unable to get a live stream of the meeting to work.
Legislative leaders and Governor Charlie Baker’s budget office had invited 10 economists, budget gurus, and other experts to participate in a meeting in a fourth-floor room at the State House where a $2 million-plus renovation was completed less than six years ago.
But some people were expected to participate remotely, and officials — wary of encouraging a crowd amid social distancing guidelines — sought to limit who could physically attend, making livestreaming a key aspect of the discussion.
Roughly 30 minutes after the round table was scheduled to begin, however, officials were unable to get the live stream on the Legislature’s website to operate. They plan to reschedule the hearing for April 14.
“Unfortunately, due to some unexpected technical issues with the live streaming interface on the Massachusetts Legislature website, we will need to postpone today’s economic roundtable,” Senator Michael J. Rodrigues, the Senate’s budget chairman, said in a statement.
Pushing the round table to next week, he said, will "ensure that the interface is fixed and that we are able to broadcast a live feed for the general public and everyone interested to tune in and listen to this important testimony.”
Representative Aaron Michlewitz, the House’s budget chairman, wrote on Twitter that officials “felt it was important for public to see this in real time.”
As businesses and offices around Massachusetts have moved to remote operations during the pandemic, using videoconferencing apps like Zoom and Skype has become a new way of life for countless people.
For state government, the embrace of new technology has historically been a slow and trying one. It wasn’t until last month that State House leaders decided to live-stream informal legislative sessions in the House and Senate chambers.
The Baker administration created a new position, secretary of technology to supervise IT across much of state government — less than three years ago.
Tuesday’s highly anticipated hearing was slated to include Eric S. Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston; Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg; and several economists to help gauge not how, but to what degree, the state’s finances could crater in the coming months.
The projections were expected to be dire. State officials in January had expected revenue growth to hit 2.8 percent in the fiscal year, which starts in July. But economists have warned that harsh times await as record numbers of people seek out unemployment benefits and businesses shutter, likely requiring the state to dip into its emergency savings to cover any gaps created by flagging tax revenues.
Matt Stout can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.