The Massachusetts legislature failed the most vulnerable members of our society last week when they let the clock run out on the normal legislative session without passing a budget bill that included $250 million needed to keep the state’s homeless shelters open.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re highly aware that the extra money is needed because literally thousands of immigrant families have suddenly arrived in our fair state in recent months fleeing privation, poverty, gang violence and other crises in countries like Haiti and El Salvador.
Thanks to our broken federal immigration system, these families are not yet able to legally earn a living and therefore pay for a home like the rest of us. And thanks to our apartment market, choked off by NIMBYs, even if these newest Bay Staters could secure jobs under the table it could be very difficult for them to make rent. So, under the state’s 40-year-old right-to-shelter law, the state has to offer homeless families a temporary roof over their heads.
Now to the budget bill – which, it should also be noted, contains money for contracts and collective bargaining agreements negotiated by the state’s counterparties in good faith, money that’s now hung up as well. Gov. Maura Healey filed her version of the bill Sept. 14. It took the House and Senate until Nov. 8 and Nov. 14, respectively to pass their versions, leaving a scant handful of days to iron out the details before lawmakers quit Beacon Hill for their month-long holiday break.
Maybe that 55-day delay wouldn’t be so bad if it also covered the natural negotiating involved in any contentious policy issue. Indeed, there is real substance to the House’s and Senate’s very legitimate disagreements that led us to this impasse.
The Senate seems willing to let the Healey administration manage the migrant shelter crisis as it sees fit, while the House is effectively trying to roll back the administration’s self-declared cap on the number of migrant families the state will house at any one time.
But by running out the clock on the normal legislative session without any compromise to show for it, legislative leaders have made it incredibly easy for a single, irate legislator to kill the spending bill due to the peculiar mechanics of off-season legislating in Massachusetts. It’s no idle worry: The few Republicans on Beacon Hill have made it clear they’re not above doing just that.
If that happens, who will pay the price? Not legislative leaders, with their comfortable homes and high salaries – $182,817 for House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka, $162,348 to $ 114,590 for their top deputies.
No, Beacon Hill’s failure to act like responsible adults and find a deal will fall hardest on faithful state workers and on people with nowhere else to sleep but the streets if shelter money runs out.
Letters to the editor of 350 words or less responding to this editorial or other topics may be submitted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Letter to the Editor.” Submission is not a guarantee of publication.