Municipal Relief Bill

The conference committee negotiating a municipal relief package reported a bill last night and the House accepted the report on what turned out to be straight party line vote. There was only vote — up or down on whether to accept the conference committee report.

The objections of the Republicans were glass-half-empty concerns which I shared — the bill did not include any progress on the single largest real financial issue, municipal health insurance costs.

The arguments in favor of the bill were of the glass-half-full variety — sure, the committee couldn’t get agreement on the health insurance measures, but we have provided a number of long-sought municipal management tools — easier regionalization, better busines practices in bidding, joint assessing agreements, new mechanisms for financing energy improvements. Many of these measures have long been recommended by municipal management. Click here for a section-by-section summary of the improvements.

I think the straight party-line vote followed from the half-full vs half-empty framing. For a Republican member, a vote against the half-empty glass was a routine shot at the Democratic leadership. For a Democrat to vote against the half-full glass — and the Republicans acknowledged the many positives in the bill — would have seemed just cranky.

But many Democrats, including me, had trouble with the bill. For me, the bigger picture issue is financial responsibility. The bill permits all municipalities to extend their pension liability payment schedules out until 2040 — this lowers current payments, but burdens future taxpayers. Some of the other management tools also involve pushing liabilities out further, for example extending bond terms to match asset life (a measure that officials in my community had sought).

The way the debate was framed, it didn’t seem an opportunity to make a statement about these larger challenges. The bill did include many positive elements, especially the facilitation of regionalization.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.