Negotiators agree to $34 billion state budget
Jul. 1, 2013
Agreeing to significantly higher spending on the state's university system and new efforts to tamp down on fraud in the welfare system while discarding an expansion of the bottle deposit law, the group of lawmakers negotiating the annual state budget filed their $34 billion proposal on the eve of the new fiscal year, along with an accord on a mid-year spending bill.
The House and Senate are scheduled to take up the two conference committee reports during sessions on Monday afternoon. If the two budget bills are approved as expected, Gov. Deval Patrick will have 10 days to consider the proposal and announce any amendments or vetoes before he signs it.
A roughly $4.1 billion interim budget is in place to cover state spending during July while final details of the annual spending plan are worked out between Patrick and the Democrat-controlled House and Senate.
The budget (H 3538) was submitted around 8 p.m. Sunday, when the State House was mostly empty. Lawmakers missed the 8 p.m. deadline on Friday, when both branches met in informal sessions, meaning the House and Senate will have to suspend their rules with a two-thirds vote to take the legislation up in formal sessions scheduled for Monday, according to the House clerk.
The $34 billion budget, up from the $32.5 billion fiscal 2013 budget, depends on new revenues from a gas tax hike, an application of the sales tax to certain computer software services and increased tobacco taxes, which are part of a separate piece of legislation that Patrick has said he will amend to ensure the revenues in it would eventually add up to $800 million.
The final budget also draws $350 million out of the state's rainy day fund, according to an aide.
The final budget includes $478.9 million for the University of Massachusetts, a proposed spending level that both the House and Patrick had included in their budgets, which will allow the university to prevent fee and tuition increases.
Language the Senate had included that expanded the state's 5-cent bottle deposit law to cover sports drinks, water and coffee was scrapped from the final version submitted by the conference committee.
The final budget retained language creating the Bureau of Program Integrity within the Department of Transitional Assistance, an oversight office that would be appointed by the inspector general and was included in the House version of the budget.
A House proposal to require photo identification on electronic benefit transfer cards used to distribute welfare was included in the mid-year spending bill (H 3539) for the current fiscal year. That mid-year spending bill also included $56 million to cover winter snow and ice removal, $18.2 million for the Committee for Public Counsel Services and $100,000 in line-of-duty death benefits for the family of Sean Collier, who authorities say was killed by the two brothers suspected of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Budget negotiations between the House and Senate began on June 6, when the six-member bipartisan conference committee came together and closed their meetings to the public. The four Democrats on the conference committee signed the jacket on the conference report, while the two Republicans on the committee did not, according to the clerk's office.
According to the offices of Brewer and Dempsey, the budget includes a $6.2 million increase that will eliminate a 1,500 person waiting list for elder home care services, and increases funding for housing programs by $18.2 million, allowing for 1,000 new housing vouchers. The final budget sends $920.2 million to cities and towns in unrestricted local aid, a $21.2 million increase over the fiscal 2013 budget.
Sen. Michael Knapik, a Westfield Republican who was the Senate minority party's negotiator on both the budget and the mid-year spending bill, signed the conference report jacket on the mid-year spending bill. That spending bill would also establish a plaque on the Charles River Esplanade for David Mugar, a philanthropist who helped create Fourth of July fireworks and Boston Pops along the river, and it includes $1.2 million to support the program of providing shelter to homeless families at hotels and motels.
The budget was filed about four hours before midnight, July 1, when fiscal year 2014 begins.
"Through this budget, the Legislature recognizes the economic challenges facing the Commonwealth and its residents," Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means Brian Dempsey said in a statement. The Haverhill Democrat, who was the lead negotiator for the House, said, "Our goal is a renewed focus on governmental oversight and accountability to eliminate fraud and delays and to ensure that those who need the Commonwealth's assistance receive it. We pair this focus with an emphasis on higher education as a means to provide our residents with a competitive edge that will continue to support the state's economic recovery."
"This budget makes a number of important and responsible investments that reflect the priorities of the legislature and of the residents of this Commonwealth. Moving away from the painful cuts of the past, this spending plan boosts spending for local aid and for some of our neediest residents including our youth and our elderly. Furthermore, this budget targets areas of spending that will foster economic stability in the future and strengthen many of the state's current programs to ensure future sustainability. " Senate Ways and Means Chairman Stephen Brewer, a Barre Democrat, said in a statement.