The Senate has now debated and passed its version of the state budget. Here are some of the highlights.

The senate considered a total of 1148 proposed amendments to the $42.7 billion budget.  We were able to cut through all of those decisions in three days because of the thorough preparation by Senate Ways and Means Chair Mike Rodriques over the past few months:  Most of the major controversies had been anticipated and compromises reached.

The budget increases 3% from last year to a total of $42.7 billion.  Fixed costs — health care, pensions and debt service — account for roughly half of the total.  MassHealth alone accounts for 38%. The budget includes language allowing the state to negotiate better rates for MassHealth drug providers.

The budget increases local school aid by an “historic” $268 million.  That amounts to a one-seventh downpayment on the increases required to implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, which I wrote about last week.  It also includes full funding of the special education “circuit breaker” which helps cover very expensive placements of local school students in out-of-district special education programs.

Budgets always involve choices.  This year’s senate budget prioritizes local school aid and does not make as much progress on funding for public higher education.  It includes a substantial increase, but not enough to cover all the proposed spending at the University of Massachusetts without increasing tuition.  Students visited the statehouse and chanted protests. We certainly have more work to do on the higher education funding front.

Another difficult issue was nursing home funding.  Nursing homes are being squeezed in two ways. First, most nursing homes across the state are now filled almost entirely with patients who are on the MassHealth program.  That means that they are highly vulnerable to chronic state budgetary pressure on their rates. Second, they are facing diminished occupancy: Although we have an aging population, the nursing home census has been going down because more people are aging in place at home.  

The Senate budget includes substantial new funds for nursing home rates, but less than nursing homes are asking for.  To resolve the ongoing controversy, the budget also includes a commission to consider how the industry should be supported and/or, perhaps, reconfigured to reflect changing care patterns.

I was pleased that the budget follows through on our criminal justice reforms from last year.  Specifically, it includes new funding for interventions supporting at-risk young adults. It also includes language allowing the commonwealth’s “community corrections” centers to provide services to all persons returning from incarceration — whether they are on probation, on parole or released without oversight.  Community corrections centers have excess capacity. Broadening their mission to include support for returning citizens will effectively provide new resources.

The senate budget does not go as far as the house budget for adult residential treatment programs for returning adults. I still hope that the final budget coming out of the negotiations between the house and the senate will include more funding for those programs.

The senate budget, like the house budget, includes an increase in deed registration fees that will allow the state to increase the match for community preservation funds.  All three of the communities that I represent have voted to increase their taxes to raise funds for historic preservation, open space conservation, and affordable housing through the Community Preservation Act.  The deed registration fee increase will allow the state to provide approximately a 30% match for local CPA funds.

If spending and revenue plans hold through the end of Fiscal 2020, the state’s reserve fund will then stand at over $3 billion, an historically high level.  However, most of us feel that the reserve should be closer to $4 billion, roughly 10% of annual spending and achieving that will remain a priority.

I’m pleased that the budget includes no dramatic collateral policy proposals.  As I wrote in a previous article, the budget needs to stay focused on financial measures.  Policy measures should come through the transparent vetting of the joint committee process.


A conference committee will convene shortly to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget. 


Senate Press Release (additional details)

BOSTON– Today, the Massachusetts State Senate passed a $42.8 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2020, after adding $74.4 million during three days of deliberations. The budget recommends targeted investments to provide access to opportunity and economic vitality across the Commonwealth.

 “I would like to express my deepest appreciation to the members of the Senate for their kindness, thoughtfulness, willingness to work collaboratively, and commitment to service during this entire budget process,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland).  “Together, we worked hard to produce a fiscally responsible budget that reflects our Senate values.”

“I am proud of the collaborative process that the Senate employed this week, my first budget debate as Chair.  Through robust debate, we made further investments across several key areas including substance use treatment and supports, civics education, security upgrades at non-profits, and suicide prevention,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.  “Through respectful and thoughtful deliberation, and under the leadership of Senate President Spilka, the Senate has passed a budget that reflects our commitment to ensuring equity and boldly moving Massachusetts forward.  Thank you to my colleagues in the Senate for their many steps passionate advocacy over the course of our debate.”

“Most notably, this Senate budget reflects our strong commitment to increasing access to quality, affordable health care, ensuring that every student has the opportunity to receive a quality education, and expanding access to behavioral health services,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “As our state continues to grapple with the opioid crisis, I’m especially proud that this budget makes strong investments in mental health treatment and harm reduction initiatives to ensure more resources for families and their loved ones. I want to sincerely thank Chair Rodrigues and Senate President Spilka for their leadership, hard work, and collaboration during this process and for facilitating a thoughtful and efficient debate. As Vice Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, I look forward to advocating on behalf of my colleagues and their budget priorities during the upcoming conference committee.”

“After a week of productive and substantive debate and discussion with my Senate colleagues, I am more confident than ever that the Senate’s budget for Fiscal Year 2020 will meaningfully address many of the Commonwealth’s greatest collective needs,” said Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), Assistant Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “I’m especially pleased that this budget makes substantial new investments in education, reflecting the Senate’s longstanding commitment to supporting public education and laying the groundwork for the Massachusetts Legislature to update the Commonwealth’s school funding formula and ensure that every school district is adequately and equitably funded.”

“This budget was the product of bipartisan input, debate, and adoption. It recognizes important Senate priorities such as public education, aid for cities and towns, health care, senior care, transportation, substance abuse and more while  creating opportunities to increase efficiencies and reduce government costs,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R- Gloucester). “We deposit more than $260 million into the Stabilization Fund, provide tools for MassHealth to pursue savings, probe the MBTA pension problem, respond to the growing skilled nursing home crisis, and we take steps to foster greater economic prosperity for all; this is a bold budget that avoids broad-based tax hikes and adheres to principles of fiscal discipline”

The Senate’s budget includes a total of $42.8B in spending, a 3.2% increase over the Fiscal Year 2019 General Appropriations Act.  The FY 2020 budget reduces reliance on the use of one-time revenue sources and directs $268M to the Stabilization Fund to continue to build the Commonwealth’s financial safety net.

The Senate’s budget strengthens Massachusetts’ commitment to being a national leader in ensuring children of all backgrounds have access to greater educational opportunities.  Consistent with the Senate’s long-standing commitment to supporting increased investments in education, this budget makes a significant down payment on the work of the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC), and funds Chapter 70 at its highest level ever; $5.176B, an increase of $268.4M over FY 2019. 

This historic education investment allows for a minimum aid increase of at least $30 per pupil over FY 2019 for every school district across the state, as well as 100% effort reduction to bring all school districts to their target local contribution.  With this record level of investment, this budget focuses on school districts with the most pressing needs and addresses four key areas identified by the FBRC: employee health benefits, special education, English language learners, and low-income students in economically disadvantaged communities.  Consequentially, the budget also includes $345M for the Special Education Circuit Breaker, reimbursing school districts for the cost of educating students with disabilities at the statutorily required 75% reimbursement rate. Education investments include:

  • $5.176B for Chapter 70 education funding
  • $345M to fully fund the Special Education Circuit Breaker
  • $75.8M to reimburse school districts for regional school transportation costs, after adding $2M on the floor
  • $100M to reimburse school districts for costs incurred when students leave to attend charter schools
  • $558M for the University of Massachusetts, $293.2M for the fifteen community colleges, and $274M for the nine state universities; $2.5M for the Early Colleges program to allow students to earn college credits and get a head start on the transition to college, after adding $815K on the floor; and $2M for grants offered through the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative to support high school students with intellectual disabilities ages 18–22 with access to higher education opportunities
  • $12M for grants to the Head Start program to maintain access to early education services for low-income families
  • $7.5M for the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative to expand access to preschool in underserved areas
  • $6.5M for Youth-At-Risk Matching grants, including support for YWCAs, YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs, after adding $1.9M on the floor
  • $2.5M for Rural School Aid , after adding $1M on the floor

The Senate’s budget continues Massachusetts’ leadership in keeping health care accessible and affordable, increasing resources, making investments to deliver services to our most vulnerable residents, and ensuring the well-being of individuals and families.

The budget funds MassHealth at a total of $16.55B to maintain access to affordable health care coverage for over 1.8 million people, ensuring comprehensive care for our most vulnerable children, seniors and low income residents.  Many steps were taken in an effort to contain program costs and keep health care affordable and accessible to all.  These include providing MassHealth with additional tools to tackle the rapidly growing cost of pharmaceutical drugs by permitting the Secretary of Health and Human Services to directly negotiate for fair and additional rebates or cost effective payment arrangements with pharmaceutical manufacturers.  The budget also explores new and creative cost savings initiatives for MassHealth to purchase prescription drugs and requires greater transparency from pharmacy benefit managers. Health investments include:

  • $10M for the new Behavioral Health Outreach, Access and Support Trust Fund to support a loan forgiveness initiative for behavioral health workers and a general public awareness campaign
  • $150.2M for a range of substance abuse treatment and intervention services, including $3.5M in new funding to open five new recovery centers
  • $5M for investments in the substance use disorder workforce, including training on medication management, medication-assisted treatment and treatment of co-occurring disorders
  • $93.4M for children’s mental health services, including $3.9M for the Massachusetts Child Psychiatric Access Program (MCPAP) and $675K for MCPAP for Moms to address mental health needs of pregnant and postpartum women
  • $16.5M for Family Resource Centers to expand to new communities and meet increased demand for services
  • $489M for Adult Support Services, including assisted outpatient programming and comprehensive care coordination among health care providers
  • $25M to fully fund Department of Developmental Services Turning 22 services to help young people with disabilities transition to adulthood
  • $5M for the coordination of a comprehensive statewide strategy, in partnership with municipalities, public health harm reduction organizations and  other stakeholders, to promote existing harm reduction efforts and community-based harm reduction services
  • $1M for the Healthy Relationship grants program to support teen dating violence prevention efforts, after adding $850K on the floor

The Senate’s budget invests in programs and policies to educate, train, and prepare Massachusetts workers in order to provide them with opportunities to grow and succeed.  Opportunity investments include:

  • $38.5M for adult basic education services to improve access to skills and tools necessary to join the workforce
  • $15.6M for summer jobs and work-readiness training for at-risk youth, after adding $1.2M on the floor
  • $7M for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund to connect unemployed and under-employed workers with higher paying jobs
  • $2.5M for the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative Innovation Institute
  • $2.5M for the Precision Manufacturing Program
  • $2M for Small Business Technical Assistance grants
  • $2M for the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership
  • $1M for Regional Economic Development Organizations to support economic growth in all regions of the state

The Senate’s budget maintains the Senate’s commitment to increasing access to quality, affordable housing, investing in low-income housing and homelessness services and supports. Housing investments include:

  • $178.7M for Emergency Assistance Family Shelters, after adding $800K on the floor
  • $110M for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP)
  • $48.3M for assistance for homeless individuals
  • $30.8M for the HomeBASE diversion and rapid re-housing programs
  • $21M for Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), including $3M to continue expanding eligibility for individuals in need, including persons with disabilities, seniors, unaccompanied youth, after adding $1M on the floor
  • $8M for the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP) providing rental assistance to people with disabilities and $2.7M for grants to improve or create accessible affordable housing units
  • $7.5M for rental subsidies to help those suffering from mental health find or maintain stable housing, after adding $1M on the floor
  • $5M for housing and supportive services for unaccompanied homeless youth
  • $2.9M for the Home and Healthy Good program, including $500K for a new housing program to support those experiencing homelessness who also have complex medical and behavioral health needs.

The FY 2020 budget furthers regional equity and supports cities and towns by directing significant resources to local and regional aid.  This includes increased funding for Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) to $90.5M and ties future funding to inflation, while incentivizing RTAs to adopt best practices to ensure that commuters, students, seniors and people with disabilities are able to rely on public transportation to access jobs, education and opportunity.  In addition to traditional local aid, the Senate’s budget increases payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for state-owned land to $30M.  PILOT funding has been a beneficial source of local aid that provides cities and towns with additional resources to support core public services. Local investments include:

  • $1.129B for unrestricted general government aid to support community investments in education, health care, public safety and roads and bridges
  • $29.1M for the Board of Library Commissioners, $11.5M for regional library local aid, $9.9M for municipal libraries and $3.3M for technology and automated resources
  • $18M for the Massachusetts Cultural Council to support local arts, culture and creative economy initiatives, after adding $1M on the floor
  • $18.1M for local Councils on Aging to strengthen programs and services in senior centers in communities across the state, after adding $1.4M on the floor
  • $11M for Shannon Grants, which are distributed to municipalities for youth gang violence prevention, after adding $2M on the floor

A Conference Committee will now convene to reconcile the differences between the Senate budget and the version passed by the House of Representatives in April. Fiscal Year 2020 begins on July 1, 2019.

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Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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2 Comments

  1. You have provided easy access to important info for your constituents. Thank you.
    A simple graph (say a bar chart) showing the main areas where the money is spent would be most useful. Thanks again for your informative emails.

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