House adds early ed. spending after debates over local aid
After rousing debates Monday night wherein Democrats roundly defeated two Republican local aid amendments, House lawmakers unanimously passed two rafts of amendments tacking nearly $22 million onto the annual budget bill.
Republicans first sought to devote to local government coffers any state tax revenues that exceed budget-writers expectations for fiscal 2016.
Mansfield Republican Rep. Jay Barrows and others argued the transfer of up to $100 million received in excess of the expected $26.8 billion tax haul could be used to provide some relief for local taxpayers through their local government.
Democrats countered that the amendment would tie lawmakers' hands, claimed the budget already contributes substantially to local aid and foreshadowed unanticipated needs cropping up later in the year.
"It's our job, let's just do it," Dartmouth Democrat Rep. Chris Markey urged his colleagues ahead of the 37 to 118 vote rejecting the amendment. Democrat Reps. James Dwyer, Colleen Garry and Tom Stanley voted with the Republicans to sequester the money for local aid.
Rep. James Lyons, an Andover Republican, and other members of the minority caucus, next turned their attention restricting local aid for so-called sanctuary cities, claiming their stance towards immigrants in the country illegally flouts federal immigration law.
"Does the rule of law even matter in this state?" Lyons asked. The amendment would prohibit unrestricted local aid from going to cities or towns found to be in violation of a particular section of federal law.
"I find this interesting that the amendment is trying to take discretion away from municipalities," said Attleboro Democrat Rep. Paul Heroux, noting the earlier amendment sought to give local governments more control over spending.
The Lyons amendment failed on a straight 34 to 118 party-line vote.
Paul Craney, executive director of the conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, opined on Monday's floor action that those concerned with local control "lost tonight" as "the majority of lawmakers refuse to assert themselves."
Democrats and Republicans came together to unanimously pass two consolidated amendments, adding $19.9 million in spending on a local aid and education amendment, and $1.8 million in spending through an amendment dealing with transportation, state administration and constitutional offices.
Amalgamations of various legislative proposals filed by members of the House, the consolidated amendments are assembled by House leadership, generally receive scant public discussion and usually pass overwhelmingly.
One provision adopted by the House would temporarily increase the amount of time when someone can vote in a city or town after moving from that municipality to elsewhere within the state.
Originally filed by Rep. Angelo Scaccia, a Boston Democrat from the Readville neighborhood, the amendment would extend to a year and a half the grace period when citizens can vote at their old residence after moving to a different part of the state - reverting it back to a six-month grace period right after November's election.
The House also added requirements for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to assemble a working group charged with expediting high-speed passenger rail service from Springfield to Boston and included language about pedestrian and cyclist safety to the state's driving learner's permit statute.
The House also moved to increase by 50 percent a proposed salary reserve for early education and care providers - a profession that lawmakers have said suffers from high turnover because of low wages.
The provision adopted Monday night would boost the size of the fund from the $10 million proposed in the initial Ways and Means budget to $15 million.
Lawmakers plan to return to the House chamber to resume debate over the budget Tuesday with roll calls set to begin at 11 a.m. A consolidated amendment covering social services and veterans affairs is scheduled to be available in the chamber an hour earlier.
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