Senate gearing up for spending bill rollout

Boston Statehouse

Senate President Karen Spilka spoke at a State House ceremony in May while Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues (left) looked on. (Sam Doran/SHNS/File 2020)

BOSTON (SHNS) – Senate Democrats plan this week to roll out plans to spend a big chunk of the state’s American Rescue Plan Act funds, and the leader of that branch last month laid out four areas that are in need of investments.

Senate President Karen Spilka attached the “crisis” label to the areas during an “On The Record” interview on WCVB that aired Oct. 10. She agreed with the show’s hosts about the state’s housing crisis, but said that moniker applies to three other areas.

“So is mental health. We have a crisis in mental health,” Spilka said. “So is public health, because of the pandemic, we have a crisis. So is climate. So we are trying to figure out the best way to spend significant amounts of money to have a bold and transformative approach in that area, and we are working closely with the House and we will get it done.”

The Senate’s 36 Democrats plan to hold a private caucus Wednesday morning.

“So we’re going to find out what we’re doing with ARPA … and the surplus,” Assistant Majority Leader Sal DiDomenico of Everett told the News Service after Monday’s Senate session.

It seems Spilka will be participating remotely in any ARPA-surplus discussions this week. The Senate president plans to fly to Tampa, Fla. on Monday afternoon, according to a spokesman, to attend the annual summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Spilka will serve as a member of the NCSL Executive Committee at the meetings, the spokesman said, and will also serve on the Legislator Nominating Committee. The Executive Committee is due to meet Tuesday in Tampa ahead of the summit’s official kickoff on Wednesday.

The House on Friday approved a $3.82 billion bill (H 4219) allocating ARPA and fiscal 2021 surplus funds, using amendments to add about $174 million to the $3.65 billion bill recommended by the House Ways and Means Committee.

Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed nearly $5 billion in spending using ARPA and surplus funds, offering to put more money than House leaders did into areas like housing, infrastructure, unemployment insurance relief for businesses, and clean energy sector development. While spending less than Baker, the House is recommending larger investments than the governor in health care, education and bonuses for frontline workers.

A Spilka spokesman told the News Service over the weekend that the Senate plan will be unveiled this week, but rollout details were not available. Senate leaders on Friday laid out plans for Monday and Thursday sessions this week but on Monday scheduled a third informal session for Wednesday.

Legislators are scheduled to gavel into a seven-week holiday break Nov. 17, and DiDomenico said there are plans to wrap up work on the bill.

“The goal is to get the final product to the governor by that date,” DiDomenico said.

That timetable would leave just days for negotiators to agree on a consensus bill.

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