House, Senate extend fiscal 2017 mini-budget talks into November

BOSTON (SHNS) – The hopes of House and Senate lawmakers to complete a budget deal before Nov. 1 faded quickly on Tuesday afternoon as negotiations, initially stymied over a procedural dispute, have bogged down over a handful of issues, including a gun control measure and funding for youth violence prevention.

The House and Senate are both controlled overwhelmingly by Democrats, but ideological differences and the jockeying for power on Beacon Hill have led to frequent skirmishes in recent years between the two branches.

Those tensions have flared in recent weeks as attempts to produce a roughly $130 million spending bill to close out the fiscal year that ended on June 30 have stalled, allowing a Halloween deadline to pass and frustrations among lawmakers on both sides to mount.

After overcoming a procedural hurdle last week, six House and Senate negotiators began trying to hash out a compromise face-to-face on Monday. Both branches followed up by scheduling sessions for Tuesday in anticipation that a deal could be struck.

But when the House adjourned just after 3 p.m., it became clear that talks were fraught.

“I am surprised to see that the House adjourned this afternoon, especially given the progress we have made on all of the FY17 issues before the conference committee. In all my time in the legislature, and of course in my years as Ways and Means Chair, we have been able to finish the close-out at least by late October. I am disappointed we could not do that this year. Finishing this work remains a priority of the Senate, and we will continue our efforts to come to agreement,” Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman and lead budget negotiator Karen Spilka said in a statement.

One issue yet to be resolved, according to sources, is over how best to restrict the possession of bump stocks, which were used in the Las Vegas mass shooting. The House proposed to broadly ban any device that can accelerate the firing capacity of guns, while the Senate focused on bump stocks and trigger cranks, with a narrow path for licensing for police trainers and collectors.

Some of the disagreements stem from the Senate’s desire to restrict the spending in the bill to fiscal 2017 needs, and not include money for the current fiscal year that could be dealt with at a later date. Several hundred thousand dollars sought by the House to help cities and towns pay for early voting falls into that category.

House Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez has also spoken publicly about his desire to pour an additional $4.7 million into a youth violence prevention program, known as Safe and Successful Youth, that he views as critical to his Jamaica Plain-based district.

The Senate did not include SSYI in its original budget bill, but one person familiar with proposals being traded back and forth said the Senate made an offer of “substantial funding” for SSYI that fell short of the $4.7 million total and was rejected by the House.

“I don’t know where it’s going at this point,” the State House official said.

While some on the Senate side have come to view the House as uncompromising and intractable, House Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez made clear that he views his position as standing up for how House members voted.

“I appreciate the progress we’ve made with the Senate. We have been and will continue to negotiate and work through our differences. The House has been clear on what our priorities are and these priorities require immediate action. I am confident we will reach resolution,” Sanchez said in a statement.

The House has also already agreed to the Senate’s higher request for $8.7 million in National Guard tuition reimbursements and to carry over $900,000 for the Department of Mental Health and $1.8 million for the Center for Health Information Analysis in unspent funds from the fiscal 2017 budget into fiscal 2018.

Those compromises were reflected in the revised budget bill that cleared the House last week.

The delay in completing the budget bill will prevent Comptroller Thomas Shack from meeting his statutory deadline to file a year-end financial report by Oct. 31, closing the books on fiscal 2017.

Both branches have sessions scheduled again for Wednesday when it’s possible a breakthrough could be made.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who had said previously that he would be ready to sign the bill quickly if the Legislature could act before Oct. 31, plans to fly to Palm Springs, California on Wednesday morning for a few days of vacation with his wife.

While Baker will be out of state until Monday, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito could sign the budget bill into law in the governor’s absence if a deal is struck and the administration has no objections.