Mass Senate’s Budget Hits at Governor’s Proposals

A Massachusetts state Senate committee’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year delivers another blow to Governor Deval Patrick’s more ambitious plan for new transportation and education spending. It would also end hopes for a freeze in UMass tuition sought by both the Governor and the House.

Stephen Brewer, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, says after years of cuts that began with the recession, this year marks an opportunity for renewed investment.

“Our continued recovery means that we must transition away from painful cuts of recent years, and refocus on investing in programs that are essential to our children, our families, and our communities.”

Brewer focused on areas that would get meaningful increases in the next fiscal year — 100 million dollars more to local schools and money to eliminate a waiting list for home health care for seniors. Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, says after losing hundreds of millions in state aid during the recession, the proposed boost in spending is welcome news.

“But it’s a mixed-bag in terms of funding for municipal aid, because unrestricted municipal aid would actually be 21 million dollars less than what the House passed in April..”

The senate plan is disappointing for leaders at UMass – who were heartened by proposals from both the governor and the House they say would enable a tuition freeze. The senate plan falls short of that, but system president Robert Caret is vowing to fight for more funding before the budget is finalized.

The biggest new spending in the budget is to some extent out of the state’s hands — more than a billion dollars to cover expansions in Medicaid enrollments under the federal Affordable Care Act. That got a caustic reception from the committee’s ranking Minority member, Senator Michael Knapik of Westfield.

“You talk about the affordable Care Act, which is talked about even in Washington, as a train wreck, by Senate majority leader Harry Reid, and it is a train wreck.”

Governor Patrick is in Ireland this week, and his staff had no immediate comment on the Senate plan. The House’s bottom line is similar to the Senate’s – and both rely on new tobacco, gas and other taxes – but horse-trading on the budget details is widely expected.