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After tense stalemate, multi-billion dollar state spending bill signed by Healey

A $3.1 billion spending bill that will fund union contracts and the state’s strained shelter system was signed into law on Monday, ending a stalemate on Beacon Hill, during which Republican lawmakers utilized a parliamentary move to stall the bill’s passing. 

Gov. Maura Healey signed the bill almost immediately after it landed on her desk, funding 95 collective bargaining agreements that allow wage increases for about 60,000 workers across the state. The bill also allocates $250 million toward the overwhelmed shelter system.

The Massachusetts State House. Gov. Maura Healey signed a $3.1 billion spending bill into law that will fund union contracts and the state’s strained shelter system. YITONG LI/DFP STAFF

Democratic Speaker of the House Ronald Mariano said it was the “importance of the issue” that brought legislators to the chamber Monday to vote on the bill, despite it being an informal session during which a quorum is rarely reached. 

“The importance of $250 million to homeless folks who are going to be out on the street if we don’t build a shelter for them, the raises in the contracts that are already negotiated,” Mariano said. “That’s what brought people back.”

Though Republicans were eager to fund public employee contracts, House minority leader Bradley Jones Jr. said he opposed the shelter funding because it lacked provisions to stem the flow of migrants into the system and ensure longtime residents are not denied housing assistance, according to the Associated Press.

In formal sessions, Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate would have been able to pass the bill despite Republican objection, but these sessions ended on Nov. 15.

Informal sessions were held to close out the fiscal year, allowing a single lawmaker to call for doubting the presence of a quorum and forcing the house to adjourn for the day, which happened last Thursday, Friday and Saturday, without holding a vote, according to the Boston Globe. 

On Monday, House Republicans tried the tactic again but were met with Democratic opposition: simply showing up, with 116 of 159 lawmakers present. 105 of them voted in support of the bill.

Jones told reporters that Democrats lacked this urgency last week, and that same impotence got them there in the first place. 

“Democrats … do your job, show up, get it done,” Jones said. “You guys control the House, Senate and governor’s office, no excuses … If you want to see why this didn’t happen in a timely fashion, grab a mirror and look at it.” 

Kelly Turley, the associate director of Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, was at the State House the night formal sessions ended last month. 

“While we were there, we were hearing about families that were being kicked out of Logan Airport, who didn’t have an alternative place to go,” Turley said. “The urgency of the supplemental budget … didn’t seem to match the pace of the negotiations.”

On Monday morning, it seemed like it might be a similar story. The House was quiet when the gavel sounded, signaling the 10 a.m. start time, and then immediately adjourned for recess until 11:30 a.m. 

When they returned, Mariano announced that a quorum was present, and after a brief vote, the bill moved to the Senate, while public workers and desperate families hoped another day would not prolong the government money. 

“We’ve seen procedural moves by a small group of Republicans in the House … delaying something over days here again when working people are anxiously waiting for those raises and all of this funding,” said Kevin Brousseau, secretary-treasurer of the Massachusetts American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. 

In the Senate, the bill was passed on Monday with a swift 20-3 vote. A crucial precursor was a GOP motion that called for a formal session, a move that Republican Senate minority leader Bruce Tarr said allowed for debate and demonstrated a collaborative spirit.

We got this bill very late, and we shouldn’t have allowed that to preclude our options. And today, because of that unanimous vote on having a formal session, we didn’t,” Tarr said, adding later, “The main point about today is we didn’t let that difference of opinion paralyze the Massachusetts State Senate.”

Turley said she hopes the money allocated towards shelters creates the promised overflow sites that allow for “continuity of the placement and minimal disruption to families.” 

On X, formerly Twitter, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO celebrated the signing of their contract before the holiday season, of which Brousseau said “working people have waited long enough.” 

But they were both frustrated with how long it took to get there, in both formal sessions where a Democratic-controlled legislature failed to reach an agreement and informal sessions ended by Republican procedural moves.

Jones, however, pinned the cumulation of the dramatic week squarely on the Democrats and their majority across the State government. 

“This has … highlighted the shortcomings of a one party monopoly on Beacon Hill,” Jones said. 

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