FROM OUR OCTOBER PRINTED EDITION:
Does Massachusetts Have a Republican Party?
by Ted Tripp
Sr. Political Reporter
September 13, 2017. For Massachusetts Republicans, a Day of Infamy (sorry, FDR).
On that Wednesday in September, the Democrat dominated Legislature restored $275 million to the FY2018 budget that Governor Charlie Baker had vetoed. The Republican governor had vetoed $320 million from the $40 billion FY2018 budget because – simply – he knew the money wasn’t there. The state had ended the last fiscal year $400 million in the hole and tax revenues were only growing at a rate of 1.4%, not the 2.9% projected by the House Democrats in the Legislature.
The Massachusetts Constitution requires a balanced budget. So Governor Baker, as chief executive and perhaps the best person in the state to balance that which can be cut while doing the least amount of overall harm, reduced spending on 160 line items. His spending reductions amounted to only 0.8% of the budget – less than 1% of the total.
Now, there are only 34 Republicans in the 160 member Massachusetts House, so they do not have the numbers necessary to uphold the governor’s vetoes without some Democrat help (a two-thirds vote required to overturn a veto).
But most of the general population which votes Republican expects the 34 Republican representatives to put up a good fight to restrain the spending.
The Republican Party or Republican brand is supposed to have a meaningful and basic ideology such as controlling spending, reducing taxes and minimizing regulations, all to generate a thriving economy and increase jobs. The 2014 Massachusetts Republican Party Platform, put together by the 80-member State Committee and adopted at the 2014 Republican Convention, states: “We support requiring a balanced budget at the beginning of each fiscal year, and suspension of legislative salaries whenever this requirement is not met.” The platform goes on to say, “In order to prepare for inevitable lean economic years, it is necessary to restrain spending and reduce the size of government during years of better economic growth.” Additional words are devoted to rolling back the sales tax and income tax to their historic levels of 5%.
These are the kinds of general positions that Massachusetts voters consider when pulling a lever for a Republican candidate.
Override Day, September 13th
When it came to overriding the governor’s vetoes, the Democrat leadership in the House controlled the agenda. There were 63 specific votes to override some of the governor’s 160 vetoes to put $275 million back into the budget. All passed with overwhelming margins as would be expected in a heavily Democrat House. The Senate is expected to take up the overrides at the end of September or early October.
In the 63 roll call votes, every Democrat present – I repeat, EVERY Democrat present – voted 100% of the time to override the governor. Not one of them strayed on any line item to side with the governor. Not even once. Not even one Democrat of the approximately 117 there for most of the day.
That is as good as you can get on party unity. Congratulations to the Democrats.
Now you would expect the Republicans to show some unity in supporting the governor.
You would be wrong. You couldn’t be more wrong.
Only 3 of the 34 Republican representatives voted to uphold the governor’s vetoes on all 63 votes. Kudos to Representative Brad Jones (N. Reading), Representative Jim Lyons (Andover) and Representative Jay Barrows (Mansfield). They deserve special recognition and thanks from Republican voters. Others who supported the governor most of the time included Rep. Hannah Kane (Shrewsbury), who sided with the Democrats only once; Donald Berthiaume (Spencer) who sided with the opposition twice; and Representatives Susan Gifford (Wareham), Nicholas Boldyga (Southwick) and Marc Lombardo (Billerica), all of whom strayed from the governor’s position four times.
The three worst Republicans were: Representative Kate Campanale (Leicester) who voted with the Democrats 29 out of 63 times; Representative Timothy Whelan (Brewster) who voted with the Democrats 28 times; and Representative David Viera (Falmouth) who strayed across the aisle 27 times.
It gets worse. Twenty two – 22! – of the 34 Republicans voted ten times or more with the Democrats to override Governor Charlie Baker. Even if you don’t agree with the governor, how can you vote to spend money the state doesn’t have? Fifteen of the 34 Republicans (almost half) sided 15 or more times with the opposition party. And nine – nine – voted with the Democrats 20 or more times.
Of the 63 votes, only 17 passed with no Republican defecting to the Democrat majority. The remaining 46 override votes passed with the help of somewhere between one and 29 Republicans.
So much for Party unity. So much for a Republican Party.
Let’s take a more detailed look at some of the budget items that were overridden. Budget line item 7077-0023 was $5 million to the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University for various services. Governor Baker’s veto reduced this by $1 million with the justification that it was “based on revenues projected to be available.” All the Democrats in the House thought otherwise and voted to add the $1 million back in. Four Republicans joined them: Reps. Paul Frost, Kate Campanale, Shawn Dooley and David Muradian.
Money is no object when you’re having fun.
Let’s look at line item 4403-2007. The Legislature budgeted $600,000 for a nutritional benefit program for low income workers. Governor Baker’s veto reduced this by half to $300,000. His justification was that the lower amount was consistent with what he had originally proposed in the (H.1) budget he had sent to the House earlier in the year. Again, 100% of the Democrats disagreed and restored the money. Seven Republicans also voted to override: Reps. Elizabeth Poirier, Kate Campanale, David DeCoste, Sheila Harrington, James Kelcourse, David Viera and Timothy Whelan.
Money is no object when you’re having fun.
Let’s look at one more item, a larger one, line item 0640-0300. Here the Legislature funded the Massachusetts Cultural Council with $13,950,699. Governor Baker’s veto reduced this amount by $1,875,000 to 12,075,699 and justified it “in view of revenues currently projected to be available.” Twenty – 20! – Republican representatives thought this was very inconsiderate of the governor and voted along with all the Democrats to add the money back in.
Money is no object when you’re having fun.
It must be pointed out that this line item is where a lot of the amendment pork is buried that we have reported on in our series about how the House budget amendment process is abused.
Last year the Mass. Cultural Council final budget mandated: $75,000 for the Springfield Performing Arts Development Corp.; $80,000 to Bradford for the Cogswell School building; $25,000 to Pittsfield for the Berkshire carousel project; $9,000 to Stoneham to help restore and preserve the historic town organ in the town hall; $100,000 to Wakefield for an arts center on Main Street; and $60,000 to the The Phyllis A. Marine Association, Inc. for the restoration and preservation of the historic fishing vessel Phyllis A. These amounts are all preceded by the words “not less than,” so we know they were obviously inserted through the amendment process.
So where do we go from here? Everybody knows that Governor Charlie Baker is not the most popular guy within his own Party. He is too liberal for many and not liberal enough for others. He gets faulted for not taking stands on the issues of the day.
But his popularity is not the question here. Whether he is liked or not liked should make no difference on how Republican Party members vote to override or not override his spending vetoes. This is an issue of spending money that is simply not going to be available.
Governor Charlie Baker was right to use his veto pen to try to get budget spending under control. Unfortunately, he was not supported by most members of his own Party who decided to go along with the unwarranted spending. If those Republicans who voted continually against the Baker vetoes have some secret plan to reduce spending somewhere down the road, let’s see it. Otherwise they should do some serious soul searching on how they can put that Republican label on their political literature.
Let’s repeat the question: “Does Massachusetts Have a Republican Party?”
[To view the proposed governor’s H.1 and Legislature’s budgets, visit: http://tinyurl.com/ydfxocrk, and to see the governor’s vetoes, visit: http://tinyurl.com/ybvxmep8 and click on “Veto Parchment” or “Attachment A – Line Item Accounts.” To see how your representative voted to override the governor, go to http://tinyurl.com/y8yept2w, find the September 13 line and click on the “Roll Calls” item. You are interested in roll calls No. 82 through 144.]
Note: Rep. Susannah Whipps (I-Athol) is listed with the Republicans on the House roll call votes, but she had already left the Republican Party when these votes took place. Her votes are not included in the numbers presented in this analysis. ♦