State budget won’t include provisions on immigration
Rejecting the loud pleas of immigration advocates and liberal lawmakers, the Massachusetts Legislature enacted a $42 billion state budget on Wednesday after dropping provisions designed to protect undocumented immigrants from the ongoing federal crackdown.
The Democratic-controlled House and Senate sent the compromise bill to Governor Charlie Baker hours after legislative leaders made the 331-page spending and policy proposal public. The speed of the vote, which required lawmakers to suspend their own rules, represented a stunning lack of public deliberation even in a State House known for its opacity.
The budget would plow new money into mental health services, health care for the poor, K-12 education, and it would subject the beleaguered State Police to new scrutiny. It would not impose any new or additional taxes or fees, but the plan is premised on the state raking in about $60 million in recreational pot taxes and almost $100 million from gaming revenues in the fiscal year that runs through next June.
Most notably, the compromise jettisoned several immigration policies that the more liberal Senate put in its budget, yet had received a cool response from House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo.
DeLeo, who has said the House has lacked consensus on the issue, said Wednesday that he believes the state’s current laws won’t endanger immigrants.
“I think we will have those protections. I do not see any danger to folks here in Massachusetts,” he told reporters.
But keeping the immigration provisions out of the budget drew condemnation from the ACLU of Massachusetts and progressive politicians.
“It’s a shameful day for the Commonwealth,” said Senator James B. Eldridge, the Senate’s top advocate for those policies. “I think we’re going to look back at this time, and as elected officials, realize that we could have taken action and we didn’t, even in liberal Massachusetts.”
Carol Rose, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said the decision “enshrines the politics of fear and silences the politics of hope and compassion.”
The provisions stripped from the budget proposal would have:
■ Stopped county sheriffs from entering into agreements with federal authorities to perform certain federal immigration enforcement functions;
■ Prohibited police from asking anyone about their immigration status unless doing so was required by federal or state law;
■ Ensured that undocumented immigrants who were arrested are informed of their right to have a lawyer present for questioning by federal immigration agents, and are provided a copy of any detainer request;
■ Forbidden state resources from going toward the creation of a religious registry.
Representative James J. Lyons Jr., an Andover Republican, cheered the decision to cut the sections from the budget, which came out 17 days after the new fiscal year began.
“We had to wait 17 days for the Senate to recognize that we should keep front and center the protection of our citizens, but I’m very happy to see that,” Lyons said, referring to the immigration provisions.
The Legislature’s final budget proposal, the result of seven months of hearings, debate, lobbying, and behind-closed-doors negotiation, reflected fiscal and legal developments this year.
The Massachusetts State Police have been battered by a series of scandals, including the arrest of three troopers — and a guilty plea from a fourth — in a burgeoning overtime fraud case involving the now-defunct troop that patrolled the Massachusetts Turnpike. The budget includes language, originally passed by the House, that would create a “special audit unit” within the State Police that would operate independently of the department and under the supervision of the state inspector general’s office. It would also create a special commission to review the hiring and promotion policies and practices of the department.
In recent weeks, the state has seen a huge windfall of tax revenue and, as a result, Senate and House leaders increased how much money they expect to flow into state coffers in the new fiscal year — and how much they plan to spend.
That helped iron out differences between favored spending areas of each chamber. For example, the House proposed spending $12.8 million for a program that subsidizes summer jobs for at-risk youth, while the Senate proposed $10.3 million. The compromise: $12.8 million.
The Senate proposed spending $15 million for state-backed family resource centers. The House proposed $7.8 million. The compromise? You guessed it: $15 million.
“The decision to increase tax revenue available for the budget,” the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation said, “allowed the conferees to opt for the higher spending figure in almost all instances where there was a discrepancy” between the chambers.
Other changes to state law were also marbled throughout the lengthy bill. The spending plan includes a provision that loosens the rules intended to curb “double-dipping” by increasing the hours that government retirees who are collecting a public pension are allowed to work at another public job, from 960 to 1,200 a year. That’s equivalent to a 23-hour work week.
Senator Karen E. Spilka, the chamber’s budget chief, trumpeted parts of the budget that she said “provide tools for low-income families to climb the economic ladder.”
One example she gave in an interview was increasing the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, which is expected to benefit more than 400,000 poor working people in the state.
The Ashland Democrat, who is slated to be sworn in as Senate president next week, also heralded new funding for regional transit authorities, expected to boost local bus service in places like Springfield and Worcester.
After the budget reaches his desk, Baker will have 10 days to take action on the bill. Following tradition, the Republican is likely to sign the spending plan into law while vetoing specific sections. But the Democratic-controlled Legislature will only have limited time to override those vetoes because the formal legislative session ends on July 31.
On Wednesday, Baker told reporters his team had not yet had time to review the proposal.
The fact that the final budget did not include the immigration provisions marked something of a loss for the two top negotiators of the package: Spilka, whose chamber had backed the measures; and Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, the top budget official in the House who personally backed such immigration efforts.
Sánchez, who faces a Democratic primary opponent who has pressed him on immigration issues, said, that there wasn’t “consensus” on the provisions.
Asked whether his primary race affected the negotiations, which stretched several weeks past the deadline, Sánchez said no. “I bust my back every single day to make sure that I follow my heart and I do the right things by my community,” he said. “Nobody said this was going to be easy, but who the hell cares about a politician complaining?”