With no deal in sight, Mass. House GOP calls for funding for raises for state, local employees

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Emergency funding for the state’s shelter system might be leading the headlines, but Republicans on Beacon Hill say they don’t want legislative budget writers to forget another important constituency: State and county employees whose raises hang in the balance.

The year-end budget bills now before House and Senate negotiators include funding for more than 90 collective bargaining agreements for those employees.

On Monday, House Republicans who could play an outsized role in the final deal, called on the joint committee trying out to iron out the differences between the two chambers to pass a bill funding them, even as they seek consensus on other matters — including a $250 million infusion into the state’s overburdened shelter system.

“Despite the many unresolved differences between [the House and Senate budget bills], there is a clear consensus in both branches to fund these new contracts, most of which were agreed to many months ago,” House Republicans wrote Monday to House and Senate negotiators of both parties.

The collective bargaining agreements include raises for about 100,000 workers, GOP lawmakers wrote, noting that many have gone without an automatic cost-of-living adjustment “in quite some time, even as the cost of living in Massachusetts has continued to climb.

“These CBAs were negotiated in good faith, and it is imperative that the state fulfill its obligation to fund these contracts,” Republicans wrote.

On Monday, hundreds of union activists rallied in the State House, where they called on lawmakers to approve the funding, criticizing them for “playing politics” with their livelihoods, Politico’s Massachusetts Playbook reported.

One top union leader, David Holway, president of the National Association of Government Employees, which represents 15,000 public employees, told the Boston Business Journal that it was a “disgrace” that lawmakers had failed to approve the funding before the end of formal sessions last week.

On Monday, Republicans told budget negotiators they “understand the complexities” they faced “in negotiating a compromise agreement on the final deficiency budget, given the many areas of disagreement that exist.”

But, they added, they “feel strongly that the lack of agreement on other unrelated areas of the closeout budget does not justify continuing to hold up indefinitely the funding of these CBAs, for which there is both bipartisan and bicameral support.”

Last week, the majority-Democrat state Senate approved a $2.81 billion close-out budget plan that set aside $378 million to fund those union deals. The House had previously approved its own, $2.74 billion version of the spending plan.

The actions by both chambers came on the heels of Democratic Gov. Maura Healey’s September submission of a $2.15 billion supplemental budget bill.

“We urge the Conference Committee to show its support for the state’s workers by immediately reporting out, in part, a bill that funds all pending CBAs so it can be moved through both branches and on to [Healey’s] desk as soon as possible,” Republicans wrote. “Given the clear support in both branches to fund these items, we are confident there will be no issue with taking up such a bill during informal sessions.”

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