BOSTON (State House News Service) – Lawmakers love to deflect questions about conference committee talks by saying their rules require them to keep the negotiations private among the three representative and three senators tasked with finding a compromise. But no one is making any bones about the fact that the conference committee still negotiating an economic development bill has looped in an informal seventh member: Gov. Charlie Baker.
The Legislature ended its formal sessions for the year on Aug. 1 without coming to agreement on a compromise version of a $4 billion economic development package that was to include $1 billion in tax rebates and reforms. The economic development bills (H 5034 / S 3030) are pending before a six-person, House-Senate conference committee that meets only in private, but Baker said Thursday on GBH’s Boston Public Radio that his office is also involved in the talks.
“We’ve had conversations with both the House and the Senate about this and are trying to figure out some ground everybody can stand on,” he said. “I got asked this the other day about am I optimistic that this will still happen? And actually, I am kind of optimistic. I mean, I don’t know exactly what it will look like, but I do believe that there will be a piece of legislation that gets to my desk that has a lot of the elements of this, and I really do believe that.”
Baker said he sees “a couple of possibilities” for getting some form of an economic development bill done, but did not say how he thinks it should get done. Senate President Karen Spilka alluded to Baker’s involvement in the economic development talks earlier this week when she suggested that Baker might file a supplemental budget that includes some of the spending called for in the stalled jobs bill.
One part of the original bill that is basically certain not to be included in anything that reaches Baker’s desk is the bonding that the Legislature intended to approve. Authorizing bonding requires roll call votes, which can only take place during the formal sessions that ended Aug. 1.
“If I can get an informal session on two-thirds of what’s in the eco dev bill, that’d be fine with me,” Baker said, referring to the American Rescue Plan Act and fiscal year 2022 surplus spending contemplated in the House and Senate bills. Baker said he thinks it is realistic to expect that a bonding-less bill could sail through the Legislature during informal sessions.
“One member can object, but the eco dev bill passed both branches unanimously. So … I think those two pieces, honestly would, I mean, I do think the so-called votes are there to get that to our desk,” Baker said.
And the governor even suggested on GBH that he’s a bit skeptical of the idea of the House and Senate returning for formal sessions without having a narrow scope of work, referencing the controversial lame-duck session developments decades ago that prompted legislators to set a deadline for major business of July 31 in election years.
“The issue with coming back in formal session is they have they would have to figure out how to come back in formal session in a way that doesn’t turn it into like a whole new session, when in fact, part of the reason they stopped doing this stuff, as you may recall, was a whole bunch of things that happened in late formal sessions after the elections that made everybody including a lot of people in the Legislature crazy, which is why they created this 7/31 deadline in the first place,” he said.
While Baker and Spilka would like to see the Legislature pass some form of tax relief now, House Speaker Ronald Mariano said this week he is “hesitant” to commit to all of the spending (including the tax relief) in the economic development bills without first knowing just how much of its excess tax revenue the state may have to return to taxpayers under a 1980s voter law known as Chapter 62F.