Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Wednesday night urged lawmakers to shelve debate about a marijuana bill until they agree on a fiscal 2018 budget.
“The budget and marijuana negotiations were never linked by the House, nor should they be,” DeLeo, D-Winthrop, said in a written statement following reports of entanglements between the budget and marijuana bills.
The commonwealth began the fiscal year without a full budget, operating instead on a $5.2 billion plan that keeps the government functioning through July 31.
“Some years the budget lands on June 22, some years it lands on July 22, some years it lands on Aug. 22,” said Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican who works with a Democratic legislature. “The commonwealth still manages to find a way to function.”
Discussions over the marijuana bill revolve around oversight and taxation. Voters last year approved a law legalizing use of the drug while authorizing its regulation.
Negotiations on a $40.3 billion budget have hit an impasse over varying degrees of estimated spending and revenue levels. Baker’s plan for 2018 is based on a projected 3.9% revenue increase in tax revenues but reports for 11.5 months of fiscal 2017 show a 1.4 percent increase.
The variance in spending levels is due to stock market fluctuations and lesser sales tax revenues caused by tax-free online purchases and less spending from consumers.
A conference committee of leaders from the House and Senate are negotiating the budget.
Baker’s administration estimates the revenue shortfall for fiscal 2017 is around $430 million. The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation estimates the fiscal 2018 shortfall could reach $1 billion.
S&P Global Ratings last month downgraded Massachusetts’ general obligation bond rating to AA, citing inadequate progress toward reserves. Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service rate Massachusetts GOs AA-plus and Aa1, respectively.