The House Appropriations Committee members were hunched over copies of the budget Monday afternoon, giving it a read before their scheduled 4 p.m. vote on the bill.
Up the stairs comes Finance Commissioner Jim Reardon
with an envelop. He's delivering a proposal from Gov. Jim Douglas on how the administration would like to use some $38 million in federal stimulus dollars. He hoped to present the proposal.
House Appropriations Chairwoman Martha Heath, D-Westford
, was surprised, to say the least. Thirty minutes before the committee's vote the administration wanted to make a proposal? Too late, she said. The panel would look at it --- next week!
The committee already had a plan for the use of these dollars. Legislative leaders announced a proposal for these dollars last Thursday as well as how they would use another $8 million or so, all from a pot of money called State Fiscal Stabilization Funds. The Douglas administration unveiled its plan for the smaller portion, but not the education portion -- until late Monday afternoon.
At least one of the Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee said he didn't know anything about the administration's proposal -- even late Monday.
brought to Heath was a spreadsheet. He said the funds would be used to transition the state to a new way to pay for schools -- a way which has yet to be developed. The governor has a task force, which includes legislators, that is working on this issue, but there is no replacement system on the horizon yet.
So why come so late to the House budget process? It's not like the administration was in the dark about what the committee was doing. One of their own sits with the committee at all times with a cell phone and computer. It was a peculiar move.
When asked, Reardon
said it's taken time to unravel exactly what the rules were for different funds. And he bristled at criticism focused on the process, which he said lawmakers always resort to when the administration puts a proposal on the table. He wants to focus on substance, he said.
Sometimes, however, the way things are done overshadows what is done. For the exhausted House Appropriations Committee facing a long week in the spotlights, the strange timing of the administration proposal overshadowed whatever ideas are contained on the spreadsheet.
-- Nancy Remsen