Senate Passes Budget

Wednesday and Thursday of last week were long days as we plowed through 725 budget amendments.  It was a relatively smooth year with fewer controversial issues.  The budget was tight, but fewer programs were taking deep cuts so there was less anxiety overall than there has been for the past few years.

My biggest concerns about the budget this year had been transportation funding (which is in conference committee) and Chapter 70 funding reforms, which the Senate Ways and Means budget did make some progress on. I had a dozen smaller amendments that I was working through the debate process. I was pleased with the acceptance of my amendment partially restoring pre-recession funding for school to career programs which have been very useful at Brighton High School. I was also pleased with the adoption of language addressing openness of the MBTA pension fund — previously adopted in the transportation finance bill, but still pending as an issue. Click here to see actions on other amendments.

The Senate’s offical press release appears below.

 

Senate Passes Fiscal Year 2014 Spending Plan

Boosts spending to cities and towns

 

(Boston) – The Massachusetts Senate today voted to pass a $33.989 billion budget for fiscal year 2014 (FY14).  Debate ended after the Senate passed 195 amendments, increasing spending by $67 million during formal session.  Additional spending was allocated to local aid, public safety, education and human service initiatives.

The Senate’s spending plan closes a $1.2 billion budget gap while investing in some of the most essential elements of government.  The FY14 budget utilizes new revenues generated as a result of the joint transportation finance framework agreed on by the House and Senate last month and continues the Senate’s commitment to fiscal responsibility while meeting the needs of citizens through restoring vital funding to core services and increasing support for economic and workforce development.

“This budget moves away from some of the painful cuts of the past and begins to make targeted investments in areas that will support and sustain our economy,” said Senator Stephen M. Brewer, Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “I am proud of the funding we have been able to dedicate to building innovation and efficiency while maintaining a partnership with our municipalities and providing essential increases to residents most in need.”

“I am very proud of the work done by Senate Ways and Means Chairman Senator Brewer and the contributions of all members to produce a final budget,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “The Senate budget makes important and thoughtful investments that will help strengthen our services and programs while maintaining the fiscal health of the Commonwealth. As we continue to recover, we must always remain cautious in our spending but look to where we can, and should, invest and rebuild. This final budget is thoughtful, responsible and reflects the priorities of the Commonwealth.”

“It has been an absolute pleasure working beside Chairman Brewer to craft this budget.  It’s responsible, it’s balanced and most importantly it addresses the many needs of the Commonwealth.  In particular, the funding we were able to provide in the area of mental health is unprecedented; I’m very proud of that,” said Senator Jennifer L. Flanagan, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

“This budget makes many essential investments that will have far reaching benefits for many residents of Massachusetts,” said Senator Sal DiDomenico, Assistant Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.  “It has been a pleasure to work alongside Chairman Brewer and Vice Chair Flanagan throughout this process and I am proud of the budget we have produced.”

The final Senate budget increases critical aid for Massachusetts cities and towns by $5.3M.  The plan boosts Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) funding by $21.5 million through a transfer from a surplus from FY13.  Funding was also increased for Regional School Transportation by $2 million and for McKinney-Vento Transportation by $1.3 million to alleviate costs accrued by school districts for transporting homeless children to their home schools.  Senate members also increased payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT), which provides direct local aid to certain municipalities for hosting state-owned land, by $1 million.  Under the plan, local tourism councils would also receive an increase in funding by $1.5 million and $1 million for the education “pothole” funding, which provides state funding to towns that educate military dependents but do not receive the full cost of schooling through federal funds.

The Senate plan remains strong on public safety, funding the State Police at $256.1 million for State Police Operations, appropriating monies for a new recruit class, increasing the appropriation for the Municipal Police Training Committee, and increasing funding for Shannon Grants, which provide support to communities hardest hit by gang crime and violence, by $750,000 to $7 million in total funding.

The spending plan also included $11.5 million for the child care salary reserve, increasing the reimbursement rates for state-subsidized childcare providers; and another $11.5 million for the human service salary reserve for underpaid direct care personnel, including highly qualified social workers, speech therapists, and clinicians, who provide services and support to our most vulnerable residents.

The Senate also voted to:

  • Dedicate $39.9 million to increase rates paid to Disproportionate Share Hospitals by dedicating funds from the Distressed Hospital Trust Fund to assist struggling hospitals to modernize and prepare for payment reform;
  • Expand the state’s bottle bill to include non-carbonated drinks such as water, coffee-based drinks and sports drinks;
  • Increase funding for Youth-at-Risk Summer Jobs by $1 million to $9 million;
  • Increase funding for Youth Build Grants by $500,000 to provide additional education services and job training to youth who have dropped out of school; and
  • Increase funding for Family Health Services by $500,000;
  • Provides $8 million for MassHealth Dental Services.

The Senate budget also promotes targeted investments in the area of health and human services by funding sustainable programs that provide long term solutions.  The proposal maintains $11.3 million in new funding for Elder Affairs programs and funds councils on aging at the highest level of state support ever. The Senate’s plan will eliminate existing wait lists for home care services and will increase funding for Foster Care and Adopted Fee Waivers to ensure that the Commonwealth fully reimburses institutions for the tuition and fees for children in foster care or who are adopted regardless of family circumstance and adds $1 million for the Turning 22 program that funds the first-year of services for individuals with intellectual disabilities transitioning out of Special Education into adult services.

In addition to targeted investments in many key areas of government, the Senate unanimously approved an amendment to reform sex offender registry laws.  The proposal strengthens the procedures for classifying convicted sex offenders and ensures that the Sex Offender Registry Board has the information it needs to protect our children and communities.

The Senate also unanimously approved an amendment filed by Senate President Therese Murray to establish an Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) registry, to be known as the Argeo Paul Cellucci Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Registry, named for the former Massachusetts Governor who suffers from the fatal disease.

The Senate’s budget for FY14 prioritizes resources for vital programs that help people, families, and communities, including significant increases for mental health services and for sustainable housing.  Although Massachusetts continues to recover from the recession at a rate faster than most states, many programs that offer key services still have not seen funding levels restored to before the economic downturn.  This budget targets many of those investments key to continuing the state’s recovery and confronts remaining challenges.

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Will Brownsberger
State Senator
2d Suffolk and Middlesex District