Budget filed, headed for a vote
Online lottery doesn't make it into final bill; tax package not done yet
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
LEGISLATIVE NEGOTIATORS filed a compromise $56.2 billion annual state budget Sunday night, packing major education, transportation, and health care policy measures and spending into an overdue fiscal 2024 accord that is expected to win House and Senate approval on Monday.Spending | Municipal and Regional Aid | Outside Sections]
A tax relief bill had been moving in concert with the budget, but House and Senate Democrats did not reach an agreement on that bill, which contains many ideas that legislators were touting in early 2022. Budget negotiators did set aside $581 million for tax relief this fiscal year, and allocated $1 billion in revenues from the state’s new surtax on annual income above $1 million. Of that, $523 million will go to education and $477 million for transportation.
Also in the higher education arena, the budget provides $50 million to support free community college across all campuses by fall of 2024, including $38 million for free community college programs for students aged 25 or older and for students pursuing degrees in nursing starting in the fall of 2023.
It also includes a House-backed initiative requiring schools to provide school meals to all students free of charge, a program that began in the pandemic with federal money and which has been retained by the state due to its popularity. The program will cost about $172 million.
In the early education and care sector, negotiators agreed to $475 million for the Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) grants, a funding level that budget analysts said represents an historic commitment. The initiative draws funding from three sources: the state’s General Fund ($270 million), a transitional escrow fund ($102.5 million) and an early education trust fund ($102.5 million).
The House backed a measure to allow online Lottery sales to fund early education and child care grants; Senate negotiators did not agree to that idea.
Budget analysts said the conference committee bill lays out $6.59 billion in Chapter 70 K-12 public education funding, an increase of $604 million beyond fiscal 2023, and doubles the minimum Chapter 70 aid level from $30 to $60 per pupil.
Unrestricted general government aid to cities and towns landed at $1.27 billion in the compromise, an increase of $39.4 million.
In health care, ConnectorCare coverage eligibility will be expanded under a two-year pilot to individuals earning up to 500 percent of the federal poverty level, or $73,000 a year for an individual. Supporters say 47,000 to 70,000 residents will become newly eligible for more affordable coverage.
State employees will also be able to take advantage of another measure that will let them access health insurance coverage on their start date or the first day of the first full month of their employment.
Reviving the “free calls” initiative that nearly passed last session, the budget requires the Department of Correction and county sheriffs to provide voice communication services for free to people who are incarcerated.
The budget also raises a spending cap and allocates state funding to allow schools that signed building project contracts before the COVID-19 pandemic and those that are working toward signing contracts to “catch up” with inflationary costs.
According to information provided to the News Service on Sunday night, surtax appropriations of $1 billion in education and transportation break down as follows:
• $69 million towards universal school meals;
• $100 million for Mass. School Building Authority capital supports;
• $84 million for expanded financial aid;
• $50 million for a Green School Works initiative;
• $50 million for higher education capital projects;
• $25 million for “high demand” scholarships;
• $40 million for early education initiatives;
• $20 million for the MassReconnect community college program.
• $70 million for station repairs;
• $50 million for bridge maintenance;
• $30 million for track and power repairs;
• $20 million for MBTA safety and workforce needs;
• $100 million for local road and bridge funds;
• $90 million for regional transit authorities;
• $50 million for highway bridge repairs;
• $5 million for water transit.
Once the budget reaches Gov. Maura Healey’s desk, she gets 10 days to review it. Governors announce budget vetoes and amendments when they sign the bill.