Conference Budget: Hold the Victory Lap

The Conference Budget, which the Legislature will approve today, contains substantive reform to municipal health care. But let’s be clear — it looks a lot more like the weaker Senate version than the stronger House version.

Happily, the Conference Budget’s municipal healthcare reform is free of the ‘poison pill’ provision that actually raised costs. This provision was slipped into a redrafted amendment which presented to members as a “technical amendment” by the sponsor, Senator Clark. That’s a phrase typically reserved for correcting obvious errors that don’t change the intent of the underlying legislation. To his credit, Senator Marc Pacheco was the only voice in the chamber to ask if he could review the amendment to make sure nothing substantive had changed. (State House News Service transcript, sub. req.) Reading actual legislation seems hard to do these days — the 314 page Conference Budget was released last night sometime after 8 p.m. and will be voted on at 11 a.m. today by the House.

And Pacheco was right to want clarity as this change would have resulted in $100 million per year in additional costs for municipalities (per the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation). Municipal leaders were understandably displeased.

So, the end result is a process that provides for a 30-day negotiating period than an approval process by a 3 person board (one appointee from the unions, one appointee by the municipality, and one by the Sec’y of Administration and Finance) in event of an impasse. I’m still concerned that the potential for mischief on the review panel is huge (ask the City of Boston about their firefighter contract arbitration process).

We have some experience with administratively-cumbersome, consensus-driven municipal healthcare reform. We should carefully monitor the outcomes from this law — will it provide real savings in the next 12 months? — before our public officials take a victory lap.


Crossposted on Pioneer Institute’s blog.