The joint press release from the Speaker and the Senate President appears below.
Legislature Passes Balanced FY13 Budget
Promotes Local Services, Workforce Training and Public Safety
BOSTON – The Legislature today enacted a $32.5 billion state budget for fiscal year 2013 (FY13). The spending plan prioritizes funding for cities and towns and commitments to reform and job creation. The budget does not contain any new taxes and uses a combination of ongoing revenue initiatives, one-time resources and spending reductions to close a $1.4 billion budget gap, the smallest budget gap the state has had since FY08.
The budget restores some painful cuts from previous years and makes new targeted investments, leaving the state’s rainy day fund at $1.2 billion which, along with the Legislature’s prudent reforms and fiscal decisions in previous years, is responsible for the Commonwealth’s highest bond rating in history.
“This budget makes smart investments to maintain our fiscal health and continue our economic recovery and job growth,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “It also reflects our priority to protect important funding for the essential services and programs in the Commonwealth. I want to thank the conference committee for their hard work in producing this final budget. We are doing better than most other states, but it is important that we remain prudent and focus on the priorities that will keep the Commonwealth moving forward.”
“I commend the conference committee, the committees on Ways and Means members and staff, and all of my colleagues in the House for their tireless efforts in producing a balanced, fiscally-sound budget for fiscal year ’13,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said. “This budget not only preserves essential services and aids municipalities, but also strengthens our community colleges and reforms our EBT system. Although we still face tough fiscal times, this budget maximizes the value of every last state dollar and strives to implement sensible reforms that will position Massachusetts for a bright economic future.”
“This plan has come after careful and thoughtful consideration from both legislative bodies,” said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Stephen M. Brewer (D-Barre). “It reflects a shared approach to revenues and reflects the General Court’s collective commitment to smarter financial planning for the future while fulfilling a promise to our municipal partners. Furthermore, this budget reflects our commitment to cities and towns, many communities are working hard to balance their budgets and we have provided a bit of security in what we were able to do with Unrestricted Local Aid figures in this plan.”
“Thanks to the hard work of the conference committee, this budget is able to begin to restore funding to many of the programs and services that were reduced due to the economic recession of 2008, and which many people in Massachusetts rely on every day,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill). “Additionally, we made significant investments with our partners in local government by appropriating over $288 million more than in fiscal year 2012 to support municipal services such as police, fire and education.”
“I am proud that the Conference Committee fulfilled our commitment to vital local services while at the same time funding programs that affect every citizen statewide,” said Senate Ways and Means Committee Vice-Chairwoman Jennifer L. Flanagan (D-Leominster). “This budget again stresses the importance of increased accountability. We have succeeded in streamlining services to the benefit of the taxpayer. Most importantly, we do so without raising taxes or fees.”
“This is a balanced and responsible budget that invests in our communities and important social services, while prioritizing both our economic recovery as a Commonwealth as well as future budget stability,” said House Ways and Means Committee Vice Chairman Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington).
“In addition to not raising taxes and prioritizing spending on important local aid accounts, this budget contains major reforms to prevent the abuse of our welfare system by those who would misuse EBT Cards, and reforms to prevent the exploitation of public benefits and the endangerment of public safety by those not present legally in our country and our state,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr (R-Gloucester)
“The Fiscal Year 2013 budget, while a difficult balancing act, demonstrates our commitment to producing a balanced and tax-free budget,” said House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading). “Aided by the inclusion of priorities of the House Republican Caucus, we have demonstrated to the residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that we as a governing body are committed to jobs, government transparency and local aid. I look forward to Governor Patrick’s timely review of this document.”
“The hallmark of this budget is a firm commitment to helping our partners in local government with substantial support for community preservation, special education, and public safety,” said Senator Michael R. Knapik (R-Westfield), Ranking Minority Member on the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “Further, I am pleased several important policy initiatives, including EBT reform and prescription drug discounts, were included in the final document.”
“I am honored to have once again had the privilege of serving on this year’s budget conference committee,” said Representative Viriato deMacedo (R-Plymouth), Ranking Minority Member on the House Ways and Means Committee. “I believe that by holding the line on taxes and fees, we send a strong message to the taxpayers that we, like them, will continue to live within our means in these difficult economic times.”
The budget represents the Legislature’s continuing commitment to cities and towns, boosting investments in Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), Chapter 70, and the Special Education Circuit Breaker – the three largest sources of direct state aid to municipalities and school districts.
The budget increases funding for local aid by $288.9 million over FY12 projected spending, including $899 million for unrestricted local aid. Chapter 70 funding is increased to $4.17 billion, ensuring that all school districts receive at least an additional $40 per pupil in aid. Regional School Transportation is also increased by $2 million to $45.52 million. Additionally, the budget fully funds the state’s obligation for the Special Education Circuit Breaker at $242 million for first time since FY08, ensuring that students with special needs receive the services and education they deserve.
The budget calls for increased oversight of community colleges, incorporating input from industry officials and vocational-technical schools to ensure they are best equipped to adapt to the changing job opportunities in the Commonwealth. Furthermore, it establishes the Office of Coordination within the Department of Higher Education to serve as a clearinghouse for all training opportunities provided by public higher education institutions.
The budget continues to improve public higher education resources and connects those resources to workforce needs across the state. New programs include Rapid Response to expedite the process of community colleges creating workforce training programs by targeting specific requests from employers, and a Degree Auditing System to more easily track credits and make it simpler for students to transfer from community colleges to state universities.
In another effort to aid cities and towns, the budget directs $25 million from the state’s FY13 budget surplus to the state’s community preservation trust fund. This is in addition to language that strengthens the Community Preservation Act (CPA), by expanding the use of funds to rehabilitate and support existing outdoor parks, recreational centers and affordable housing.
The budget also continues to prioritize essential services for our most vulnerable citizens. It maintains mental health services, ensuring all regions of the state have access to care, and includes funding to keep 45 beds at Taunton State Hospital. It also increases funding for elder protective services, substance abuse services, independent living centers, and the department of veterans services.
The budget makes the following enhancements to EBT card reforms:
• Restricts access to cash by providing benefits in the form of vendor payments for rent and utilities when assistance is not used properly, taking effect six months after a commission looking at transitioning to a cashless system and implementing direct vendor payments issues a feasibility and cost report;
• Expands the list of restricted items that cash assistance benefits cannot be used for including alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets, pornography, firearms, ammunition, tattoos, body piercings, manicures, jewelry, gambling, cruise ships, fees, fines, bail or bail bonds.
• Requires the MBTA and each regional transit authority to ensure they can accept EBT cards for the purchase of public transportation fares;
• Provides for a new State Police Public Benefit Fraud Unit to pursue cases where benefits intended to help our neediest families are being misused; and
• Directs the Inspector General to conduct a survey to uncover inconsistent or contradictory information that is provided by cash benefit recipients.
The budget supports key public safety programs, including Shannon Grants, which help maintain partnerships at the local level to address the root causes of gang violence; the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative, which targets services to youth who have been identified as most likely to be criminally involved; and support for municipal police staffing in cities with the highest crime rates and decreased police staffing.
The budget also increases public safety by closing a drunk-driving loophole that was exposed by a recent Supreme Judicial Court ruling. The language enhances penalties for repeat drunk drivers and ensures that individuals who are convicted, have a case continued without a finding, or are assigned to an alcohol or controlled substance program are subject to penalties for repeat drunk driving offenses.
The smart investments in this budget reflect the Legislature’s dedication to funding programs that are effective and efficient while demonstrating fiscal prudence. By targeting limited resources toward education, municipal services, and programs for our neediest residents, the budget ensures that the Commonwealth will be prepared for the future.
The budget now goes to the Governor for his approval.