Mass Governor Has Big Plans for Federal Money
The governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, is a Republican, but the entire legislative body working with him are Democrats. That in itself means that there's about a dozen news stories flying out of the state every single day, all focused on how the two sides are constantly bickering. Though in a move that's starting to make national news, Governor Baker wants to spend billions of dollars on housing and infrastructure, and the legislature does not want him to.
Like all states, Massachusetts got billions of dollars in federal stimulus money from the American Rescue Plan Act. Receiving over $5 billion for the state, Baker wants to set aside around $2.8 billion for housing, job training, water and sewer infrastructure, and more. Baker's reasoning is that he does not want his state to suffer the same fate as other states like New York and California, which are not only experiencing record homelessness numbers but also dealing with huge upticks in crime and drug use and unemployment. Baker's plan is to use this federal windfall to get more state residents back to work, and to ensure that there is enough affordable housing for people in the state who are indigent.
The issue Baker's facing here is that the Democratic-led legislature wants total control over how this money is spent in the state, while Baker wishes to unilaterally set half of it aside for housing and infrastructure. According to Baker, the legislature can vote to do as they like with half of the money, which is $2.6 billion, while he gets the other half to put toward his infrastructure plans. The legislature is not going for this, however, and is demanding that every penny must be accounted for and spent how they vote to spend it. This is leading to some serious gridlock within the state.
From the outside looking in, one may wonder what all the fuss is about. Firstly, it's not the state's money, in the sense that they earned it. It's billions of dollars that were handed to Massachusetts through federal aid. Secondly, a half and half split seems like a solid compromise to most people who would impartially observe this. Nevertheless, the tensions are really heating up inside of the state, with the legislature demanding that the money be entirely controlled through them and not the governor of the state.
There is plenty of precedent in America for governors to do this, especially with pandemic funds. Whitmer in Michigan, Cuomo in New York, and Newsome in California, to name a few, have all unilaterally made decisions, often with the full support of a Republican-led legislature (Michigan, for instance), and there hasn't been such gridlock. Though Massachusetts stands in contrast to these other states in many regards. The state doesn't have the crime, poverty or homelessness numbers that those other states have, and some suspect that the legislature just wants to spend this money on their pet projects, like diversity and inclusion centers to keep up with the big cities.
To date, we do not know what the Democrat-led legislature actually wants to spend the money on. All we know is that Charlie Baker's plan to use $2.8 billion to create new affordable housing and better infrastructure in the state is being fought against tooth and nail by the opposite party in the Statehouse.
Where the Money is Going
What we know to date is that the legislature in Massachusetts has spent around $200 million so far. They have spent this money on four separate municipalities that were hit hard during the pandemic, and they have given around $75 million in subsidies for public-union sick leave, ensuring that people who draw salaries from the taxpayers will have even more money available to them. This is part of what Baker wants to even out, so to speak. He wants to ensure that all workers can have this sort of money available, by creating a lot more infrastructure and construction jobs in the state. Meanwhile, the legislature seems intent to spend all of this money as they have spent it so far, on public-sector jobs.
When people critical of government see these sorts of things, it makes them even more cynical of what's going on. Why should teachers' unions and government employees receive this federal money, while no one else gets a single cent of it? This is a question that's been floating around for a year, though generally speaking one isn't allowed to ask these questions in public, as they may be accused of some sort of bigotry.
We'll have to wait and see how Baker gets to spend this money in his state, if at all.