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Massachusetts House schedules vote on spending some ARPA money

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There is overlap between the ARPA spending proposed by the House leadership and what was sought by Gov. Charlie Baker.

Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation looks at the spending plan

The Massachusetts House plans to vote Thursday on a bill to spend $3.65 billion in one-time federal COVID aid and surplus state money.

Under the House leadership’s proposal, the biggest chunks of money would go into health and human services, workforce training, economic development, housing and education.

A Beacon Hill watchdog, the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation has done a quick analysis of the proposed spending.

WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill spoke with MTF President Eileen McAnneny.

Eileen McAnneny

There's a lot to unpack given the magnitude of the spend. I think so like the governor's The house has focused on some key areas among them are housing, economic development, workforce training, healthcare infrastructure. So the big spending areas you might expect, in addition to that the House has proposals to spend areas of education, public health, food insecurity, and an array of other smaller programs. So I think it's, you know, the big takeaway is just the enormity of the spend, and the comprehensiveness of the focus.

Paul Tuthill 

Is there a lot of overlap between what Governor Baker proposed a few months ago and what the House has come out with now?

Eileen McAnneny

There is certainly the key areas, you know, in Governor Baker's bills, were housing, economic development, workforce training, and so forth. So there is a lot of overlap. The amount of money appropriated in each category differ, certainly, I think, reflecting, you know, some some of the different priorities and in the case of the house, they spent on many other spending categories, so it wasn't as focused as the Governor's bill.

Paul Tuthill 

Both that both the Governor and and the House would put money into this state's unemployment Trust Fund, which was badly spent down to a deficit level by during the pandemic. But the amounts differ by quite a bit by about one by about half a billion dollars, right?

Eileen McAnneny

They do. So the governor had proposed spending about a billion dollars of the state's tax surplus on unemployment insurance depositing a billion dollars into the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. The house is proposed 500 million, so about half in and I think in either case, the employer or community would say, that's not enough, right, because as you talked about, there is a sizable deficit in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, estimated at about 7 billion by the end of next year. And that's really because of the pandemic induced shutdown of many businesses. And so I think the employer community feels like it's a cost that shouldn't be borne just by employers that those costs should be socialized a little more by using either on paper, money via the federal funds, or using some of the state's tech surplus.

Paul Tuthill 

The house has proposed a premium pay or bonus pay, I'm not quite sure what they're calling it to. To to low and moderate income workers who were on the frontlines working throughout the throughout the pandemic shutdowns. Presumably, these would be people like grocery clerks, bus drivers, people who people who reported to work every day, that was something that wasn't included in the package that Governor Baker offered. Do we know? Do we know how that how this premium pay would work? How the house proposes to distribute it?

Eileen McAnneny

So I think those details are yet to be determined. But just a couple of points of clarification, I think that the governor did have some money for essential workers, but didn't have to get an appropriation because there was some money available that were was at his disposal to spend. Right. So I think he was going to accomplish it in a different way. So you know, I think but the other important thing to know is the Treasury guidance, which determines how to spend the money appropriately, did focus on people that were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. So to the extent that there were frontline workers who unexperienced more risk or potential sickness and so forth, you know, that is one of the focus areas that Treasury suggested, you know, where the money should be spent. So I think that aligns certainly with the purposes of these federal funds, but the details are devils in the details, you know, and certainly, whether or not people had to be like physically present, you know, frontline grocery workers who showed up in person every day and bus drivers, like you mentioned, or, you know, other folks and what the criteria for that is, you know, we're still looking at and examining, and I think some of it is to be determined by some of the executive agencies, so so there's a lot to work out with respect to that.

Paul Tuthill 

So by the end of this week, the House is expected to vote on this On this package, and then sometime within the next few weeks, we expect to hear the Senate's ideas. The goal is to get all of this wrapped up before Thanksgiving and the and the mid session recess. Is it? Is it a realistic timetable? You think they can you think they can accomplish that on on Beacon Hill?

Eileen McAnneny

I think they can. And I think as we all know, sometimes the deadlines are what facilitate the action. Right. So, you know, when everyone knows they're working up against a deadline, it certainly helps to reach compromise. I think the big question will be to see how much of this was pre negotiated, if you will. Right. So, you know, as we talked about the house, their focus overlapped significantly with the governor's, I assume that the Senate will have priorities like Housing and Economic Development and some of the other things in their bill is well, and the question is, you know, how much we'll be left to iron out in a conference committee. But the expectation is, and certainly the leaders, when they announced the plan, did expect that it would be resolved, you know, in on the governor's desk by their November break, which is, you know, I think it's the week of the 17th. That this is kind of still the beginning of the process. And what I mean by that is, the house has appropriated money into broad categories of spending, but then exactly how that is spent remains to be seen. So what I mean by that is, you know, there may be a lot of money, millions of dollars that are going in towards housing, but which programs in housing, get the money, you know, is to be determined, still, to some extent, I mean, there are some specific earmarks, but a lot of it. This is directional in indicating where they want the money spent on broad levels, but the details remain to be worked out. So I think that that's important, and that there is still some money in reserves, right. So they will be about, you know, in broad strokes, a couple of billion dollars still left to spend at a later date. And in math taxpayers Foundation believes that it's important because there are still some challenges with the pandemic that may not have surfaced yet. In so having some money in reserve to address those, I think is important, while also understanding that the money has to be fully appropriated by 2026. So we have some time to figure out exactly how that money is spent.