Patrick signs budget, sends amendments to Legislature
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
Gov. Deval Patrick put his final imprint on a $32.5 billion state budget for fiscal 2013 on Sunday, returning several proposals with amendments to the Legislature regarding immigration and welfare benefit reform, and rejecting efforts by lawmakers to keep Taunton Hospital open.
The governor also filed a roughly $64 million supplemental spending bill to accompany the budget reallocating the $32.1 million that he vetoed from the Legislative proposal, and directing a combination of fiscal 2012 and anticipated fiscal 2013 surplus funds to programs such as emergency housing, youth summer jobs, anti-gang initiatives and a summer sales tax holiday.
No lawmakers attended the bill-signing ceremony and press conference, which Patrick held on a Sunday after taking the full 10 days he is allowed under law to review legislation. “I needed all 10 days,” he said. The Legislature must now consider Patrick’s amendments, and whether to override any spending vetoes.
The governor touted the state’s investment in local aid at $5.32 billion, a 3.7 percent increase over last year, and reforms to the governance of the state’s community college system that he said would enabled students to more easily transfer credits between schools, and allow colleges to close the “skills gap” and meet the needs of regional employers.
He also approved a requirement that mutual insurance companies provide clear disclosure to their members of compensation paid to executive officers, and signed off on an expansion of the Community Preservation Act, a partial repeal of the pharmaceutical gift ban to allow “modest” spending on meals for doctors, and prescription drug coupons.
Defending his decision to move ahead with his administration’s proposed closure of Taunton State Hospital over strong opposition in the Legislature and nursing community, Patrick said no inpatient beds or provider jobs would be lost as a result.
After the House and Senate agreed to a compromise that would allow Taunton Hospital to remain open with a reduced number of 45 beds for mental health patients, Patrick said he had decided to veto the $5.1 million that would have allowed the hospital to stay open.
“I know this is a hard decision for many people I care about and I am moved by the support for the hospital, but mental health experts and advocates support this decision and are as committed as we are to moving away from institutionalized settings toward an environment that emphasizes community support for patients,” Patrick said.
In addition to a new mental health facility opening in Worcester next month, Patrick said closing Taunton Hospital was in line with his administration’s support for treating more patients in their homes or smaller community-based settings. The budget provides an additional $10 million for community-based services, and the governor agreed to an independent review of the state’s mental health system capacity needs.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association blasted the veto, and urged the Legislature to override the action.
“We’re outraged by the decision. The Legislature acted appropriately to save 45 beds until a study was completed. If this veto stands emergency departments not just in southeastern Massachusetts but across the state will continue to be overcrowded, patients will end up on the streets, homeless or even dead. A totally irresponsible decision by DMH and the governor,” said David Schildmeier.
Karen Coughlin, a nurse for the past 28 years at Taunton Hospital, said she was “disgusted” by the decision. “It’s a sad day for the state of Massachusetts when the governor would essentially turn his back on the mentally ill,” she said.
While Patrick agreed to recommendations that would increase penalties for driving without a license, forging licenses and identification cards and employing unlicensed workers as drivers, he rejected a new requirement that applicants for motor vehicle registration would have to provide “proof of legal residence,” including a driver’s license or social security number.
The governor returned the section, which he described as “murky” and “overbroad,” with an amendment that he said would tighten identification requirements for vehicle registration without asking Registry of Motor Vehicles employees to enforce federal immigration laws.
“I will not accept any Arizona-style legislation while I serve in this office,” Patrick said, congratulating the Legislature for coming up with “mostly reasonable” immigration reforms, and rebuffing calls from some more conservative members for more aggressive measures.
Patrick’s amendment would require applicants for vehicle registration to present a license, ID card, Social Security number or other “proof of residence in the Commonwealth,” and gives the discretions to the RMV and his administration to exempt out-of-state residents, military personnel, senior citizens, disabled persons, and other categories of people that serve public safety goals.
On welfare benefit reforms, Patrick signed provisions that would allow the Inspector General to investigate cases of eligibility fraud, and supported new criminal penalties for food stamp trafficking, and the use of EBT cards for MBTA and RTA public transit passes.
The governor, however, said he returned with amendments sections that would have prohibited certain purchases with EBT benefits, and called for a study of how to improve the entire EBT benefit system, not just how to move toward a cashless system.
“I’m not going to do anything that makes vulnerable people beg for their benefits. This notion of humiliating poor people has got to be separated from how we make a program, and frankly separated and disposed of, from how we make a program work and work well,” Patrick said.
Patrick said his recommendations were more in line with those of the EBT Commission, and would restrict the use of EBT cards for the purchase of alcohol, tobacco and Lottery, and at liquor stores; casinos, strip clubs, adult bookstores or adult paraphernalia shops, firearms and ammunitions dealers, tattoo parlors, spas, bars and drinking establishments, and cruise ships.
He dropped some items from the Legislature’s list, including jewelry and manicures, arguing it’s more feasible to restrict purchases in certain types of establishments, rather than trying to list prohibited goods or services. The governor also vetoed $400,000 for a new State Police benefit fraud unit, calling it “duplicative” of other state expenditures.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones issued a statement indicating he looked forward to reviewing the governor’s vetoes, amendments and the new spending bill filed by Patrick “just 8 days into the new fiscal year.”
“Further assessment of his amendments to EBT reform and other areas is necessary in order to determine whether or not Governor Patrick is making constructive recommendations or attempting to avoid substantive changes and reforms on key issues,” Jones said.
In addition to vetoing a number of earmarks baked into line-items by lawmakers for tourism, state parks and marine fisheries to benefit district projects, Patrick also rejected efforts to lower the population threshold for so-called “Gateway Cities” from 35,000 to 20,000 because he said it would dilute available resources.
Patrick divided a $20 million salary reserve for human services workers provided in the budget, recommending that $10 million be spent instead of on bonuses to fund a reimbursement program set up in 2008 for human service providers.
While the total amount of vetoes was small compared to the overall budget, the spending plan relies on significant savings in heath care, estimated at $700 million, largely through management, procurement and contracting efforts to reduce the state’s tab for the largest expense in the state budget.The budget supports spending with $350 million drawn from the state’s reserve account, leaving the rainy day fund with a projected balance of $1.28 billion. Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez said the state’s reserve is currently larger than every other state in the country except Alaska and Texas.Patrick administration officials said the 4 percent budget growth rate in fiscal 2013 is less than the assumed growth rate of state revenues collect ions in fiscal 2013, which began on July 1, giving them confidence in the level of spending despite growth in fixed costs for health care, pensions and debt.
“This budget is not as dire as some of the others we have seen during the global economic crisis, but that doesn’t mean it funds everything adequately,” Patrick said. “There is more work to be done in combatting youth violence and providing teens with summer jobs. There is more work to be done to support our social safety net, especially as demand for services continues to rise. And transportation funding needs have been well documented.”
Following a $3 billion national settlement last week with GlaxoSmithKline over illegally promoting prescription drugs and falsely reported drug prices, Patrick proposed in the supplemental budget bill he filed to pay for a summer sales tax holiday on Aug. 11 and 12 with one-time settlement money in fiscal 2013.The holiday costs the state roughly $20 million in foregone revenue, and the state is already expected to receive $35 million from GlaxoKlineSmith.
The supplemental budget also includes $14 million for what Patrick jokes to be “less flashy,” but important investments in information technology, $6 million for summer jobs, $15 million for emergency housing services, $1.5 million for Shannon Grants and $6 million for a “Safe and Successful Youth” anti-street violence program.