BOSTON — Massachusetts is the only state in the nation without a budget, as House and Senate negotiators huddle behind closed doors this week in an attempt to iron out differences in the $41 billion spending package.
Both chambers approved competing versions of the budget weeks ago, but lawmakers haven't been able to reach consensus on major sticking points.
House Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sánchez said he is hopeful that a six-member committee tasked with finding consensus will reach an agreement.
"We're working hard on it," the Jamaica Plain Democrat told reporters Monday. "There's a lot in the budget and it's all very sensitive."
Gov. Charlie Baker said he is worried about the impact on his legislative agenda as the budget impasse approaches a fourth week.
"The later we go on the budget, the more difficulty that creates for some non-budgetary related items," Baker said. "And we have several important pieces of legislation that have to do with the opioid epidemic and housing that really matter to this administration and to the people of the commonwealth."
Although their totals are not far apart, the House and Senate are deeply divided over details and outside policy provisions tacked onto the spending bills. The House passed a $41.06 million budget. The Senate approved $41.49 billion in spending. Baker had asked for $40.9 billion.
One of the biggest sticking points in the House and Senate negotiations has little, if anything, to do with the budget.
Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, who takes over as Senate president next week, is pushing a proposal to prevent state resources from being used to enforce federal immigration law and prohibit state and local police from asking about a suspect's immigration status. The Senate tacked the amendment onto its version of the budget.
But House Speaker Robert DeLeo has said there is "no consensus" in the lower chamber for the amendment.
DeLeo said he's also "disappointed" about the budget delay but is optimistic that a deal will be reached before the July 31 end of formal sessions.
"We have an awful lot of folks who rely on that budget – whether it's transportation, the environment or health care – so it's important that we get that money to them as soon as possible, so they can plan accordingly," he told reporters Monday.
Massachusetts remains the only state that hasn't agreed to a fiscal 2019 budget, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.
That's led to finger-pointing and criticism of the Legislature's Democratic leadership, whom Republicans have noted began the session in January 2017 by approving $18 million in pay raises for themselves and other elected officials.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading, said the lack of a timely budget is "especially frustrating" because unlike previous budget cycles the state isn't facing revenue shortfalls.
"It's the exact opposite of previous fiscal years, which should make the task of reaching an agreement easier," he said. "But that's clearly not the case."
Jones, who has been posting a daily reminder of the impasse on his Twitter account, said if the state goes too long without a budget, it could negatively impact the state's credit rating.
"The bonding agencies might not like that, because it doesn't present an aura of stability," he said.
Ahead of the July 1 fiscal year, Baker and legislative leaders agreed to a $5 million supplemental budget to keep state government running until July 31.
Baker filed another supplemental budget on Friday, which includes funding for local governments to improve school safety, fight opioid addiction and fix potholes, among other spending items. Lawmakers haven't yet taken up that bill.
To be sure, budget delays could end up benefitting Baker because it would give lawmakers less time to override any of his line-item vetoes of local projects and funding tacked on to the spending bill.
Lawmakers can still vote on bills during informal sessions after July 31, but they would lack sufficient numbers to challenge any vetoes or amendments.
This is not the longest stretch without a finalized state budget. In 1999, Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci had to wait until November to sign the budget, which was tied up over infighting between House Speaker Thomas Finneran and Senate President Thomas Birmingham, both Democrats.
And while the impasse is embarrassing for the state, Beacon Hill watchers say it could be a lot worse.
"The bright side is that we're not seeing the kinds of brinksmanship and efforts to shut down government that we've sometimes seen at the federal level," said Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. "It's important for lawmakers to get the budget done, but in a constructive way."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.