How to Impact State Budget Decisions

thisisdemocracy

by Lew Finfer, Director of MCAN and Workforce Solutions Group (WSG) E Team member  

Curious about the timeline and mechanics of the Massachusetts State budget process and how you can get involved? Keep reading to learn more and find out how you can influence key budget decisions!

The State Budget Process ~ “Inside the State House”

1.  The Governor Leads Off. 

Governor Baker made his budget proposals for FY 17 on 1/27/16 in what’s called House 2. 

2.  The House of Representatives Takes the Baton.

  • Legislators meet with the House Ways and Means Chair Brian Dempsey and tell him their budget priorities during February-Marchask them to put your budget item on their list!
  • The House Ways and Means Committee makes it’s budget decisions by late March and releases them around April 12.
  • Legislators can file budget amendments to seek to increase budget line items between around April 13-25. 
  • The House debates and votes on a budget around the week of April 25.

3.  The Senate Gets Their Turn.

  • Legislators meet with the Senate Ways and Means Chair Karen Spilka, and tell her their budget priorities during February-March…. ask them to put your budget item on their list!
  • The Senate Ways and Means Committee makes it’s budget decisions by early May and releases them around May 17.
  • Legislators can file budget amendments to seek to increase budget line items between around May 17-20.
  • The Senate debates and votes on a budget around the week of May 23.

4.  The Debates are On!

House-Senate Conference Committee meets in June to negotiate differences in amounts passed for budget line items.

5.  The Governor’s last chance.

The Governor can sign or veto each budget line item when he gets the budget in later June and the Legislature can override vetoes if they have 2/3 vote. Budget is agreed on before July 1 unless extensions are passed. Straightforward enough, right? Until you throw 9C Cuts into the mix… but that’s another topic for another time!

State Budget Process and Organizing ~ “Outside the State House”

1.  Act Local.

Organize local meetings with your state representatives and state senators and ask them to commit to make the state programs you care about be one of their budget priorities that they talk about with the Chair of House/Senate Ways and Means when they meet with him/her in February-March and that they will work for during the budget process. Ask them if they will co-sponsor a budget amendment for the needed funding if it’s NOT included in the Ways and Means budget.

THANK THEM for meeting with you after the meeting, and then again via phone and/or email, and don’t forget to post pictures and messages on social media. Politicians love to share a good photo-op, especially with constituents!

2.  Get out there!

Democracy works best when we all take part! Participate in or organize statewide rally/lobby days. Many issue-focused advocacy organizations organize one or multiple rallies, lobby days, and/or legislative briefings throughout budget season, which can usually be found on their websites. Look for the groups and organizations advocating for what matters to you

3. Organize behind the scenes.

In addition to the “in-their-face” advocacy described above (or instead of, if that’s not really your thing) join up with other advocates behind the scenes to write letters and make calls to your state legislators. Since you rarely (if ever) get to speak with anyone other than an intern or legislative aid, and/or your letters may go unanswered, don’t let this deter you! Your elected representatives work for YOU and they take your feedback seriously – or they should, at least, if they want to get re-elected!

Keep up with the letters, emails and calls and request that your message gets shared with your legislators. This can be really powerful if you organize a good-sized group of other constituents – one call or email here or there on a particular issue might get lost in the mix, but dozens? Hundreds? They’ll be much more inclined to seriously take notice.

4. Involve your constituency to take these actions with you.

This was already implied above, but deserves to be said explicitly: join up with other constituents! Democracy isn’t a solo or spectator sport – we’ve got to work together to really get anything done. Reach out to others who might be interested in your cause – friends, colleagues, allied advocacy groups and organizations, other local leaders and officials, etc. – and leverage their support.

5.  Get the word out.

Get articles in your local newspaper about your state budget priorities and efforts to reach your state legislators. This may also help you get more people involved in your cause.

For more info on organizing to impact this process, contact Massachusetts Communities Action Network, (617) 822-1499 LewFinfer@gmail.com or Kathie Mainzer at Workforce Solutions Group 617-263-3344 kmainzer@strategygroupinc.com.

Thank you for your civic engagement & happy advocating!

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