The legislature can pass a whopping $ 48.1 billion budget, but that doesn’t mean MPs have to read it.
The point is, virtually none of the 160 House members and 40 Senate members of the Democratic-controlled Legislature have read the hundreds of pages of the budget or have any clue where the money came from. money or where it goes.
But they still vote to approve it, as they did last week before sending the record-breaking tax document to Governor Charlie Baker for his signature. The Republican governor on Friday signed a budget of $ 47.6 billion, vetoing lawmakers’ spending plan at $ 7.9 million.
“Hell no,” a veteran lawmaker told me when I asked him if he had ever read any of the annual budgets he voted on. “I relied on the leadership and the staff.”
By leadership, he means Speaker of the House Ron Mariano and his management team.
And the staff he referred to are the dozens of career budget experts who work for the House Ways & Means Committee, as well as staff from other committees dealing with financial matters at the State House.
The same is even more true for the State Senate headed by Senate Speaker Karen Spilka, where there are far fewer members and its grip is tighter.
One of the State House’s best-kept secrets is that while the legislature may pass a whopping $ 48.1 billion budget for the next fiscal year, that doesn’t mean lawmakers need to read it.
This is also true for the journalists and the editorial writers of State House. Although fewer in number these days, most reporters who “cover” the Legislature also don’t read the budget.
It is also true that the budget, among the thousands of other bills introduced in each legislative session, is the most important document before them.
It is also the most complicated, difficult and boring document you will ever come across.
It would take a certified public accountant to make sense of the budget, let alone a newcomer to the Legislature struggling to balance his personal account.
Here is a random paragraph from the 422-page, $ 48.1 billion budget dealing with a credit for an agency. The allocation is made “notwithstanding article 2 of chapter 70 of the General Laws, as amended by chapter 12B of chapter 76 and article 89 of chapter 71 of the General Laws”. Hey what?
Here is another, “Article 4 of the general laws, as hereby amended by deleting article 68, as last amended by article 5 of chapter 227, of the laws of 2020 by inserting the following article… ”
These are just two small examples of what is in the document.
So what is a legislator supposed to do? Well, the conscientious goes to the Legislative Assembly Institutional Memory Bank, which is controlled by the Speaker of the House, for a briefing. This is the time-honored process. Satisfied, the legislator votes with the speaker.
The most politically ambitious lawmaker, seeking publicity and a stepping stone to a higher office, attacks the process and calls for an eight-year term for the president to reduce his power.
That’s what Progressive Representative Tami Gouveia, Lieutenant Governor D-Acton, proposed last week. As she grabbed the headlines, she only got six Democrats to vote with her along with a handful of Republicans when the motion was defeated, 35-125.
To automatically throw a lecturer under the bus after eight years is to throw away his institutional memory and the memory of his team, accumulated over the years they served before even assuming the function of lecturer. It’s like knocking down a statue of a person you don’t know anything about.
In addition, there are ways to limit a speaker’s mandate or to expel them. Democrats can set term limits in a caucus.
In addition, members can remove a speaker simply by making a motion to “leave the chair” at any time. It is a motion that takes precedence and must be resumed immediately.
In addition, a speaker can be dumped like the late President Thomas W. McGee in 1985, when fellow Democratic Representative George Keverian, McGee’s former majority leader, led a coup against McGee, who was seeking his 10th year of work.
But while McGee was defeated, Keverian continued and the institutional memory of the legislature remained intact.
Time limits are a false problem.
Peter Lucas is a veteran political journalist and columnist from Massachusetts.