BOSTON — Top Democratic leaders in the Massachusetts House and Senate said Monday negotiators from both chambers are continuing to hammer out a compromise state budget for the fiscal year that started last week.
The six-member conference committee has been meeting behind closed doors for several weeks to resolve differences over the $38 billion spending plan.
The state, meanwhile, has been operating since July 1 on a $5.5 billion stopgap budget that will remain in place until the end of the month or until Gov. Charlie Baker signs a final budget.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo — speaking to reporters after a weekly leadership meeting with Baker and Senate President Stan Rosenberg — said that the negotiations are moving in the right direction.
"Hopefully we're progressing forward and not inching backward," DeLeo said.
Rosenberg said the committee is continuing to work hard to come up with a final comprise budget.
"We want them to get it right and they are taking the time they need to get it right," Rosenberg said.
Once the committee releases the final budget plan, it must go back to each legislative chamber for a final up-or-down vote. The budget cannot be amended at this step in the process.
After the budget is approved, it is sent along to Baker, who has ten days to review it and issue any vetoes to specific line items before signing the budget. Lawmakers can vote to override the vetoes.
Baker said given the rough winter and that — as a governor in his first term, he didn't have to submit his own version of the budget until March — he's willing to give lawmakers a little slack.
"The fact that it's taking a little longer shouldn't be a surprise," Baker told reporters after the leadership meeting.
But Baker said he doesn't want negotiations to stretch out so long that the state would require a second temporary budget.
Rosenberg and DeLeo declined to rule out another delay, but said they hoped for a resolution soon.
"We have another three weeks," Rosenberg said. "But let's hope it doesn't take another three weeks."
It is the first budget proposal for Baker as governor and Rosenberg as senate president.
Once the new budget is in place, the management skills and pledges of fiscal austerity that Baker campaigned on will be put to their first real world test.
One change will be in Baker's executive branch, which will be a bit leaner in the new year. Close to 3,000 state workers had applied for an early retirement program offered by Baker and approved by lawmakers.
It's not an unusual occurrence for the state to begin a fiscal year without a budget in place, but in each of the last six years, a spending plan had at least been delivered to the governor's desk for review by July 1.