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Year-end spending bill includes $350K for Boston libraries

Beacon Hill lawmakers will be taking up a $320 million spending bill this week, according to the State House News Service. The bill includes $350,000 for the Boston Public Library system, which faced the closure of four branches earlier this year.

Library officials reversed course after community outcry, and pledged to keep open the libraries on the chopping block -- which included the Lower Mills branch -- if funding became available.

At an October meeting with neighborhood residents, library officials said a $375,000 budget gap exists until the end of the fiscal year in June. The cost of keeping just the Lower Mills branch open is $108,000.

After the jump is the report from the State House News Service:

A week before nearly 50 freshmen take their seats in the House and Senate, lawmakers are preparing to advance a $320 million spending bill that includes about $194 million for Medicaid programs, $50 million for children’s behavioral health services and $8.5 million for the Legislature’s own operations.

The proposal, distributed to the members of the House budget committee Wednesday night and intended to emerge during a Thursday House session, with the halls of the capitol largely empty, has been crafted behind closed doors with little indication from the administration or lawmakers about what is driving the need for new spending. Many senior state officials have declined to discuss the bill.

Gov. Deval Patrick and lawmakers have repeatedly hailed their fiscal management and described the state budget as balanced, but the spending proposal marks the second time in three months that lawmakers and the administration have been forced to revisit the budget to tack on additional spending. In October, the Legislature passed and the governor signed a $419 million spending bill that also focused largely on Medicaid. That bill was largely covered by onetime federal funds.

It is unclear whether any remaining federal funds, which are not expected to recur next fiscal year, will be used to support the new spending bill or whether it will clear the branches meeting in lame-duck sessions.

State tax collections are running $500 million above projections for this fiscal year, a trend that state officials have been more willing to emphasize in recent months. The Department of Revenue also reported Thursday that the state gave up almost $20 million in tax revenues by waiving the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax in an attempt to spark sales over two days in August.

The state Medicaid program, MassHealth, has attracted almost a quarter million new enrollees since June 2006, helping Massachusetts achieve the lowest rate of uninsured individuals in the nation but driving the costs of that program past $10 billion. In addition, 75 percent of the estimated 410,000 individuals newly insured in Massachusetts since passage of the 2006 health reform law under Gov. Mitt Romney have found coverage through publicly subsidized programs, including the expanded Medicaid program.

Rep. Charles Murphy, the chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, described the plan as “necessary” to support families that need shelter, as well as seniors utilizing health care and home/

“It also addresses deficiencies in Mass Health as a result of unforeseen case load utilization for various programs and addresses several technical changes to prior legislation,” Murphy said in a statement.

The Patrick administration in October refused to release updated Medicaid enrollment figures, but figures obtained by the News Service showed a steep climb in program enrollment.

The 13-page bill includes $13 million for a Medicare contribution to the federal government, according to a copy of the legislation obtained by the News Service.

The plan under consideration would also boost legislative accounts by about $8.5 million, including $5.5 million for the House, $1.1 million for the Senate, and $1.9 million for a joint account.

The proposal also includes:

--$20 million for the state's Commonwealth Care Trust Fund;
--$16 million for emergency shelter services, $2.1 million for state parks and recreation;
--$1 million for residential services for youth pretrial detainees;
--$4.3 million for emergency cash assistance to residents eligible for transitional assistance;
--$2.5 million for early intervention services for children with developmental delays or disabilities;
--$2.4 million for elder home care services, $1.1 million for a rental voucher program;
--$1.5 million for House and Senate redistricting costs;
--$1.2 million or mosquito control;
--$800,000 for regional economic development grants;
--$750,000 for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention;
--$500,000 for compulsive behavior treatment;
--$341,000 for suicide prevention; and,
--$350,000 for the Boston Public Library;
--$335,000 for substance abuse services.

The proposal also includes eight pages of policy changes affecting areas like land transfers and donations; the timing for submitting information to voters about local ballot questions; coinsurance in certain health care policies; the uniform probation code; the transfer of funds by the Massachusetts Technology Corporation and whether the comptroller carries forward any surplus revenue from the current fiscal year.

The bill revives a stalled Charles River Water Quality Commission and gives it a November 2011 deadline to issue a report. It also extends the deadline for a commission exploring the reorganization of state sheriffs’ departments until June 30, 2011. That commission was due to report Friday.

A commission studying the use of federal stimulus funds received a five-month extension from a January reporting deadline as well.

The proposal also reconstitutes a commission studying residential rehabilitative services and extends its deadline from April 2011 to September 2011. It also reconstitutes a special commission on autism and extends its deadline from Jan. 26, 2011 to Sept. 28, 2011.

The House and Senate convene sessions at 11 a.m. Thursday.