Senate continues investments in Foundation Budget, Chapter 70, environmental protection, early and public higher education.
BOSTON – Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) joined his Senate colleagues to vote for a $40.8 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2018, investing in key areas related to local aid, education, health and human services, housing and workforce development. The budget makes targeted investments, relying in part on closing corporate tax loopholes, requiring employers to pay their fair share of health care costs, and reforming key bureaucracies.
“I’m proud of the Senate’s dedication to making important investments in human services, environmental protection, and public education,” said Senator Eldridge. “I want to thank Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Spilka and her staff for their hard work, as well as Senate President Rosenberg and Minority Leader Tarr for presiding over a thoughtful budget debate. Operating within our state’s fiscal constraints, this budget is compassionate, thoughtful, and forward-looking.”
Senator Eldridge successfully fought for several critical investments throughout this year’s budget process including:
- Increasing education funding for Chapter 70, regional school transportation, and the Special Education Circuit Breaker.
- Maintaining the Senate’s commitment to implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) by investing in healthcare costs, special education, and target sharing.
- $15.1M to expand access to high quality preschool for low income 4-year-olds.
- $10M to boost salaries for early educators.
- $18.5M for RAFT, providing short-term financial assistance to low income families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
- $5.5M for the Alternative Housing Voucher Program to provide over 100 new rental assistance vouchers for low income people with disabilities.
- $100M for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, providing funding for 350 to 400 new rental assistance vouchers.
- $46.5M for assistance for homeless individuals.
Senator Eldridge worked with his colleagues to pass an amendment that requires private human services organizations receiving state funding to apply at least 75% of the funds they receive towards paying workers in direct care roles a minimum of $15 per hour, which is part of a growing movement to provide a living wage to every worker in Massachusetts. Additionally, the budget includes several initiatives to reform corporate tax breaks, including a standing Tax Expenditure Review Commission to evaluate all tax expenditures and their fiscal impact. The budget also expands the room occupancy tax to short-term rentals and modifies the film tax credit to ensure the incentive benefits local communities, residents and business.
“This budget directs resources to the programs and services necessary to sustain our children, families and communities and provide for our future success,” said Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “With fiscal constraints in mind, we invest in education, health and human services, housing, workforce development and other support services to help people secure footholds on the economic ladder. We uphold our commitment to take care of those who need our help and build opportunities across the Commonwealth, and I hope to maintain this commitment throughout the conference committee process.”
The budget directs funding to high quality education for everyone, from children at birth to adults making midlife career transitions:
- $4.76B in Chapter 70 education funding, allowing for a minimum increase of $30 per pupil aid, 85% effort reduction, and steps to implement the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations to more adequately fund school districts across the state.
- $545.1M for community colleges and universities and $534.5M for the University of Massachusetts.
- $293.7M to fully fund the Special Education Circuit Breaker for the 6th year in a row, reimbursing school districts for the high cost of educating students with disabilities.
- $7.5M for the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative and $7M for youth anti-violence Shannon Grants.
- $3.7M for after-school and out-of-school programs to support students who need more time and specialized attention.
The budget continues the Senate’s strong partnership with municipalities in directing significant investments to local aid and community services:
- $1.06B for Unrestricted General Government Aid to support community investments in education, health care, public safety and roads and bridges.
- $83M for Regional Transit Authorities.
- $26.7M for the Board of Library Commissioners, including $10.4M for regional library local aid, $9.8M for municipal libraries and $2.3M for technology and automated resources.
- $16.5M for the Massachusetts Cultural Council to support the state-wide creative economy and local arts and culture.
- $14.2M for local Councils on Aging to strengthen programs and services in senior centers.
Senator Eldridge fought to pass several amendments and policies in the budget including:
- $500,000 for adult basic education to teach basic skills of reading, writing, and math to adult learners, preparing them to take the GED and transition into a job, college or university, or training program to increase total funding to $30.8M.
- $1M for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which is responsible for implementing the Commonwealth’s environmental laws and protecting our air, water, land, and health from environmental threats to increase total funding to $26M.
- Ensures that private human services organizations receiving state funding to apply at least 75% of the funds they receive towards paying workers in direct care roles a minimum of $15 per hour.
- $1.3M in earmarks for foreclosure counseling grants to help support struggling homeowners.
- $150,000 for the Healthy Relationships Grant, a program in public schools from grades 5 through 12 that will promote healthy relationships and address teen dating violence.
- Ensures that any study conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on the proposed North South Rail Link to include a review of the most efficient and cost effective railroad equipment and operating practices, updated ridership models, a regional economic analysis, a health impact assessment, and opportunities for phasing of construction and electrification.
- Allows the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust to use state funds for activities other than debt service obligations, including principal forgiveness, interest rate reduction, and other subsidies or financial assistance.
- $15,000 for the MetroWest Arts, Music and Food Truck Festival, also known as MetroFest, which is a celebration of food, music, performing arts and small businesses from the region.
Finally, Senator Eldridge secured several key investments for programs and services in his district:
- $150,000 for Mount Wachusett Community College Manufacturing and Technology Training Programs allowing MWCC Devens to continue offering free and low-cost advanced manufacturing training programs.
- $75,000 for the MetroWest Free Medical Program to increase access to affordable health care for low-income populations.
- $25,000 for the Middlesex District Attorney’s office for a countywide assessment of opioid prevention, intervention, and treatment programs.
- $75,000 for the Open Table Food Pantry, which offers weekly community dinner programs and food pantries in Concord and Maynard to more than 300 guests.
- $50,000 for restoration of the Levi Weatherbee Farm in Boxborough.
- $50,000 for much needed improvements to Ghiloni Park and Stevens Playground in the city of Marlborough.
- $75,000 for add additional van service to an existing senior shuttle service in Maynard and Acton.
A Conference Committee will now reconcile the differences between the Senate budget and the version passed by the House of Representatives in April. Fiscal Year 2018 begins on July 1, 2017.