Two weeks after House budget leaders touted $109 million in spending cuts and talked solemnly of recession and the budget deficit, House members spent the week adding that money and more to the fiscal 2009 budget.


 

Two weeks after House budget leaders touted $109 million in spending cuts and talked solemnly of recession and the budget deficit, House members spent the week adding that money and more to the fiscal 2009 budget.

Park, youth and veterans projects were among the local earmarks restored to the $28.1 billion document, which was still growing as of Friday evening.

“The House is not behaving as if we’re heading into a recession,” said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, who expressed concern that the state would deplete its reserves if lawmakers don’t rein in spending.

“Things have held up better here, but inevitably we can’t escape a national recession, and even without a recession, we already have a deficit,” he said of the state’s $1.3 billion budget gap.

As expected, late nights and closed-door discussions filled the week, but new elements -- phantom voting, GOP ethics allegations against House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and behind-the-scenes maneuvering among his would-be successors -- complicated House budget debate this year.

DiMasi repeatedly reminded lawmakers to cast their own votes after it was reported last month that Rep. Charles Murphy, D-Burlington, had seven votes recorded in his name while he was in St. Croix. Murphy has said that he did not authorize anyone to vote for him.

State Republicans filed ethics complaints and demanded that Attorney General Martha Coakley investigate DiMasi’s relationship with friend Richard Vitale, who allegedly acted as a lobbyist without registering with the secretary of state.

According to a Boston Globe report, Vitale helped DiMasi get a $250,000 loan after accepting money from ticket brokers to help move a ticket resale bill through the House.

“It hasn’t been a crippling or disabling distraction, but it certainly has been a distraction,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Bradley Jones.

DiMasi’s office did not return calls for comment.

According to the State House News Service, Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, who DiMasi recently appointed to the House Ways and Means Committee, is one of several representatives lobbying members to support committee chairman Rep. Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, for speaker.

Linsky declined to respond to the report. 

Jones said the House is poised to increase the budget more than it ever has through amendments.

“I haven’t seen the restraint that I quite frankly thought we might see, or hoped we might see given the messages that we’ve been hearing.”

Among the local earmarks added to the House budget this week are:

- $375,000 for elderly housing services through several organizations including the Jewish Family Service of MetroWest

- $30,000 for the Veterans Oral History Project at the Morse Institute Library in Natick

- $34,393 for a grant to United Way of Tri-County at the Milford Youth Center

- $145,000 for the Framingham Coalition for substance abuse prevention

- $50,000 for teen programs through the Ashland Recreational Department

- $100,000 for Project Just Because in Hopkinton, which distributes food and clothing to those in danger of becoming homeless

- $100,000 to clean invasive plant species from Lake Cochituate

Before heading back into House deliberations yesterday, Linsky said he also expected the House to approve $250,000 for the 495/MetroWest Corridor Partnership, as well as extend the state program that pays the difference of public employees’ salaries while they serve the military.

“Military officers don’t get paid a lot of money, yet they’re leaving family behind that have the same gas bill, the same electric bill, and the same mortgage to pay,” he said.

“When we first passed the bill in 2002, we never imagined we would still be in Iraq, but whether we support this war or not, we have a duty to take care of (those who serve the military).”

“It’s an extremely difficult budget year, and yet many of the amendments I requested got in the budget,” said Rep. Pam Richardson, D-Framingham, who asked for money for teen pregnancy, dual language immersion and housing programs, among others.

“It’s just not the right year,” she said of a $1 million earmark she filed to restore Nevins Hall, which the House rejected.

Daily News staff writer Lindsey Parietti can be reached at lindsey.parietti@cnc.com