The Senate got an early (for lawmakers) start Thursday, tackling their version of the "omnibus" energy legislation, an effort to bring a new mix of clean energy sources to Massachusetts. Lawmakers' challenge is to balance the desire for clean energy with the need for cheap electricity.

The key for Sen. Benjamin Downing's bill is to restructure the energy market so it can do two things: provide enough affordable power to the state while still lowering our greenhouse gas emissions.

"Both of which we must tackle together because if we just focus on one of the other we will not do so in the most effective way possible. So how do we aim to tackle these two public policy challenges together?," Downing said.

The Senate, the governor and the House all agree that the state needs to bring in a combination of cheaper traditional power and pricier, but greenhouse emission-free, hydropower from Canada. The Senate bill is similar to the one the House passed last month, but calls for more offshore wind in the mix.

The Senate adopted an amendment into prevent utility companies from charging ratepayers for the cost of constructing pipelines to transmit natural gas.

“Massachusetts ratepayers should not be subsidizing the corporate bottom line,” Sen. Patricia Jehlen wrote in a statement on her amendment.

"The passage of this amendment speaks volumes about the power of community advocacy and our constituents’ ability to impact policy," Jehlan wrote.

The House and Senate will need to reconcile their differing plans, including Jehlen's pipeline amendment, before giving the governor a final bill.


The Legislature narrowly avoided breaking Speaker Robert DeLeo's (near) streak of on-time balanced budgets Thursday, with both branches advancing a plan to shave down spending in light of drastically lower than expected tax collections projected for next fiscal year.

The new plan came together near the eleventh hour for House and Senate lawmakers, who, outside of a small circle of key budget negotiators, had less than a day to review the streamlined spending plan before overwhelmingly voting in favor of it.

In the end, both the House and Senate agreed to send a budget plan to Gov. Charlie Baker's desk with $750 million fewer dollars in it than the versions they initially passed this spring.

The $39.15 billion budget represents just 2.6 percent more in spending than the budget passed last year. The governor, House and Senate had initially offered nearly $40 billion plans which expanded spending at 3 percent.

Many of the cuts to balance the budget hone in on MassHealth, the state's Medicaid program that provides health care for the poor. Budget writers foresee fewer patients using MassHealth over the coming fiscal year, meaning caseloads for the program would reduce and therefore save around $142 million when combined with some additional cost savings.

Budgets for county sheriffs' offices and information technology accounts were also cut. Roughly $60 million scheduled for the MBTA and School Building Authority will also now not materialize.

Additionally, the state's rainy day fund, used in fiscal emergencies and already thoroughly drained after the Great Recession, won't see any deposits this year. The revenue stream that regularly refills the fund, excess capital gains taxes, is the very same stream that's dried up and left such a drastic budget hole to begin with.

"We looked at MassHealth. We looked at caseload accounts, we looked as cash management, we looked at savings.  We looked and worked with the administration to identify areas in the budget which we could reduce while at the same time making sure we are protecting our most vulnerable citizens," House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill) told his colleagues on the floor of the House.

The Republican caucus was in lockstep with Democrats on the new budget, voting overwhelmingly in support of the measure in both chambers.

Rep. Todd Smola, the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said the plan is a good budget, but that he hopes the revenue news gets better.

"I think that it is on a sound plan, working collaboratively with the Senate and with the administration in order to put a document before us that we feel confident today that we will be able to fund," Smola said. 

There was nominal opposition. Rep. Jim Lyons (R-Andover) was one of only three members, all on the right-wing of the Republican caucus, to vote against the budget plan.

"I think that what everyone recognizes is that these revenue numbers really do hit an alarm for all of us and I think the alarm is saying that going forward we must be must more judicious with how we spend our precious tax dollars. And the fact of the matter is that I don't think the cuts go far enough," Lyons said on the House floor, adding that he wished Beacon Hill would reform entitlement benefits.