Senate priorities align with House in $1.6-billlion budget
BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS)–The Massachusetts Senate plans next Thursday to consider a roughly $1.6 billion supplemental spending bill that largely mirrors the version that the House unanimously passed last week.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee released its redrafted version (S 2776) of the mid-year spending plan Thursday, proposing $1.64 billion in spending at a net cost of $850.1 million to the state. The Senate put the bill on its agenda for Thursday, March 24 and adopted an order giving senators until 3 p.m. Monday to file amendments.
Though the Senate version’s bottom line appears slightly larger than what representatives adopted on March 9 (H 4578), the two bills are largely aligned. Like the House bill, the Senate’s supplemental budget includes the $700 million requested by Gov. Charlie Baker for COVID-19 pandemic-related expenses — including $433 million for COVID testing, $72 million for treatments, $45.5 million for expanded vaccination access and more.
Both bills also call for $100 million to repair local roads damaged this winter, $100 million in rental assistance, $55 million for rate increases for human service providers, $10 million to support the resettlement of Ukrainian refugees and $140 million to support staffing and program needs at private special education schools.
And like the House, Senate Democrats did not include two key proposals that Baker made when he filed a $2.4 billion supplemental budget in February — a request for $450 million to extend stabilization grants for child care providers through next fiscal year and a proposal to put $50 million into the recruitment, training and salaries of guardians ad litem within the court system.
The Senate appears to have diverged from the House when it comes to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The House included $5 million for LIHEAP in its bill and the Senate draft calls for $20 million for the program that helps low-income seniors, working families and other households pay a portion of winter heating bills.
The Senate draft also includes $10 million for Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC), $10 million for staffing and other resources at suicide prevention and intervention services, $8.4 million for Department of Children and Families foster family rates, $1.8 million for mental health services for international evacuees resettled in Massachusetts, $1.7 million for state park investments, including water safety initiatives, $500,000 to expand the capacity of the Commission on the Status of Women, and $609,000 for additional staffing to implement the 2021 climate roadmap law, according to a Senate Ways and Means Committee summary.
Outdoor dining and to-go alcoholic beverages appear to be here to stay at least until April 1, 2023, as the Senate supp mirrors the House version in extending the popular pandemic-era policies that otherwise are due to expire this spring.
Retirees from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the Massachusetts Port Authority or the MBTA would have to wait only 6 months instead of one year before being reemployed by the agency or authority under a provision included in the House and Senate versions. The T dealt with a serious shortage of bus drivers this winter and Rep. William Straus suggested that the agency consider bringing back recent retirees who still have commercial driver’s licenses.
Fourteen members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, including Republican Sen. Patrick O’Connor, voted in favor of recommending the new draft. The Senate’s two other Republican members, Sens. Bruce Tarr and Ryan Fattman, opted to reserve their rights and did not weigh in favorably or unfavorably. Sen. Paul Feeney did not respond to the committee’s poll.
After posting a surplus of about $5 billion in fiscal year 2021, state tax revenue has continued its trend of strong growth throughout fiscal 2022. Collections for the current fiscal year were outpacing revenue projections by more than $1 billion through February, even after the Baker administration upgraded estimates by $1.5 billion.