Overview of the Massachusetts Budget Process
The Legislature is currently in the process of developing the FY2020 state budget. Every year, the House of Representatives and Senate are required to pass a new budget to finance the operations and programmatic investments of the Commonwealth in advance of the new fiscal year on July 1st.
1. The process begins in December, when the House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means, along with the Executive Office of Administration and Finance, meet to hold consensus revenue hearings. In essence, these public hearings allow the Executive branch, the House and Senate to come to an agreement on what revenue the state can expect in the future fiscal year so that they can begin to build their draft budgets in the months ahead.
2. In January, the Governor files his or her suggested budget. This budget is seen as the basis for the House and Senate budgets, and includes a minimum suggested amount for the functioning of various state departments and programs. The House of Representatives traditionally releases their budget in mid-April—this year it is expected to be released on Wednesday, April 10th. This budget may include new programs or policies that were not present in the previous year. Often the total House budget spending also exceeds the Governor’s budget, and may not reflect the same priorities.
3. House members offer amendments that will be considered during the budget debate week. These are organized and taken up by subject matter during the consideration process. At the end of the budget debate week – likely the week of April 22-26 this year – the final House budget will be voted on.
4. The Senate releases their version of the budget and, again, it can be a totally different document than the Governor or House’s budget. Usually this budget is released mid-May—expected release date this year is May 14 or 15—and Senate members offer their own amendments to the budget after it’s released. Senate budget debate usually occurs the week before Memorial Day – May 21-24 this year – and can even continue into Memorial Day weekend though this is a rare occurrence. Typically, the Senate has far fewer amendments to consider than the House and the amendments are considered in the numerical order by which they were filed.
5. The House and Senate budgets are considered side-by-side by a Conference Committee, consisting of six members – three members of each the House and Senate; including Ways and Means Chairs, a Ways and Means majority party member and a Ways and Means minority party member. The final state budget is released in June, and it requires acceptance by both the House and Senate with no modifications.
6. This final budget goes to the Governor for their consideration, and the Governor has 10 days to take action. In Massachusetts, the Governor does have line-item veto power so he or she can make cuts to individual programs which must be overridden by the Legislature if they insist on their allocation. Additionally, the Massachusetts state budget is always required to be in balance, so the Governor may make cuts or propose additional spending throughout the year. As such, the development of a state budget is really a year-round process, while the most significant and visible portions take place in the first part of the calendar year.