House Budget Debate – Day 1 “…not terribly pretty”

Around 7:30PM on Monday the House began their week of budget debate. Chairman Murphy began by giving an overview of the budget world. The good news, the nation is on the road to recovery. The bad news, unemployment in the state is still over 9% and the state’s tax receipts are still below expectations. Massachusetts is not out of the woods yet. Chairman Murphy was tasked with filling a $3.2 billion deficit. Luckily, the FY11 budget includes $1.6 billion in federal stimulus money. The HWM budget included $800 million in line item cuts and about $234 million dollars in savings by cutting local aid. The HWM budget included no new tax increases, and no use of rainy day funds. According to Chairman Murphy, his budget is “balanced, but not terribly pretty.”

First up on the debate, the 24 revenue-related budget amendments. HCFA supports a number of various revenue initiatives. Chairman Kaufman, House Chair of the Committee on Revenue, committed to looking comprehensively at the tax expenditure budget in the coming year.

The big debate centered on an amendment to repeal of last session’s removal of the sales tax exemption on alcohol. Repeal would cost the state some $100 million in revenue. A referendum on the ballot for Nov. 2nd will have a similar question. Rep. Kulik, Vice-Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee opposed the amendment and stated, let the voters decide in November.

The House finished for the night just before 9:00, without voting on the alcohol sales tax amendment, amid speculation that the amendment may have sufficient votes to pass. HCFA urges House members to reject the amendment. Sessions resume at 10 am, and we would urge people to call their Representatives first thing Tuesday morning and ask for a vote in opposition to the alcohol amendment.

What’s in store for rest of the week? About 800 more budget amendments. The House has posted a list of budget amendments categorized by subject (pdf).

Final aside, money well spent a few years ago to streamline the live webcast of all debates, at www.masslegislature.tv.
-Mehreen Butt

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