Spilka Hoping Democrats Reach Spending Bill Agreement This Week

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BOSTON (State House News Service) — While there was no breakthrough on Wednesday, Senate President Karen Spilka said she's "hopeful" and "optimistic" that Democrats will strike a deal this week on a nearly $3 billion spending bill.

Democrats were unable to finish work on the controversial bill during formal sessions and now any single lawmaker can hold the bill up in informal sessions if an accord is reached. Spilka issued a subtle message to Republicans, who have opposed the bill in both branches.

"I hope people realize that it's critically important that we get this done as soon as possible and that it will move forward," the Ashland Democrat told reporters when asked about the possibility of Republicans blocking legislation.

House Minority Leader Brad Jones said his caucus opposes tackling the supplemental budget during informal sessions due to what GOP lawmakers see as the state's controversial spending on the influx of migrant families. Formal sessions resume in January.

"The fact that the Speaker, Senate President, and Governor have been unable to reach consensus on the migrant issue shows that this is too contentious an issue to take up in an informal session," the North Reading Republican said in a statement. "The House Republican Caucus believes this spending bill should receive a roll call vote in a full formal session, and not be passed in a sparsely attended informal session. The hard-working men and women who have been waiting months for their collectively bargained pay raises continue to show up for work, and the members of the House and Senate should be prepared to do the same and reconvene in a full formal session."

Spilka spoke to reporters hours after her branch adjourned for the day. The bill that pours $250 million more into the emergency shelter system and includes $300 million to fund raises for public employees remains before a six-member conference committee.

"I'm hopeful, I'm optimistic," Spilka said when asked about a potential compromise emerging.

The House and Senate meet in another pair of informal sessions Thursday morning.

"I'm hopeful that we can do the whole thing and get that done in the very near future," Spilka told reporters when asked whether the conference committee should advance parts of the bill in which lawmakers agree.

Republican lawmakers, as well as a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers spearheaded by Sen. Walter Timilty, have called on the conference committee to release from talks some of the funding for critical spending categories where there's consensus.

"If it is the intent of Democratic leadership to attempt to pass the $2.8 billion closeout budget in its entirety in an informal session, minus any meaningful policy reforms, we want to make it clear that we strongly oppose this option," Jones said.

House and Senate Democrats are divided over how the state should direct its shelter funds. Spilka asked whether the Senate would adopt the House's push to deploy $50 million for overflow shelter sites, and said, "You'll see that soon, hopefully."

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr would not say much about the spending bill at a press conference related to Sen. Peter Durant's swearing-in on Wednesday, but said Senate Republicans “deserve to have a voice in … discussions."

Asked by reporters if Republicans would be willing to block a supplemental budget that included shelter funding, Tarr said, "We need to continue to look at this as a fluid situation. And it would be irresponsible of me, and not well advised, to lock any of us into a position at this moment. We look forward to being full partners in the Massachusetts State Senate. And we expect that partnership to extend to the decision-making around the passage of the supplemental budget."

He added, "This is a supplemental budget that should have been passed at least a month ago, or maybe more so that we could close the books on fiscal year 2023. That's the first consequence of not having a document passed at this point. Along with that consequence, there are many others and it is not, it is not a positive situation."

Sen. Robyn Kennedy, the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, said the conference committee is working "as quickly as possible" to reach a resolution.

"I'm 100 percent concerned that we are providing support and needed support to all families here in Massachusetts and those coming to our commonwealth," she said.

[Sam Drysdale contributed to reporting.]

Written by Alison Kuznitz/SHNS

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