BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey unveiled a proposed $55.5 billion state budget on Wednesday – a plan that increases spending by more than 4% over the current fiscal year and offers insight into the Democrat’s priorities during her first year as the state’s chief executive.
One of those priorities is Healey’s campaign promise to cover the cost of community college for all Massachusetts residents aged 25 years old and older who have not yet earned a college degree or industry credential.
“We have an incredible opportunity before us to train the next generation of workers and increase opportunities for all,” said Healey, who outlined the program Wednesday morning during a stop at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston.
The program would offer students financial support to help cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies as well as provide funding for career and support services, according to Healey.
The $20 million proposal, which Healey dubbed MassReconnect during her campaign last year, would also include investments in other education and workforce development programs and apprenticeship initiatives.
Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka has called for the state to make community college free for all students.
Healey’s budget also outlines how she thinks the state should spend an estimated $1 billion in extra revenue the state is expected to collect this year after voters last November approved a so-called “millionaire tax” amendment to the state constitution that imposes a 4% surtax on the portion of an individual’s annual income that exceeds $1 million.
The new spending is split nearly evenly between transportation and education programs in Healey’s budget.
Among the education programs is an initiative that would help stabilize higher education expenses by locking in costs like tuition and fees for each incoming class of students at the University of Massachusetts and state universities through graduation.
New spending on transportation would be focused in part on major projects like ongoing efforts to create a passenger rail link connecting Boston and western Massachusetts. The budget would also set aside $5 million to look at an income-based public transit fares.
During her inaugural speech in January, Healey said her first budget “will include funding to hire 1,000 additional workers focused on the operation of the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) within the first year of our administration.”
Budget officials said the money to hire the workers is already in place at the MBTA, but the administration is ready to help with the process of finding new workers. The transit system is suffering from a shortage orf workers, including drivers, which has contributed to bus and subway delays.
The release of Healey’s budget kicks off the long process of crafting a final state budget for the 2024 fiscal year that begins July 1 — a process that includes the House and Senate crafting their own budget plans before settling on a compromise to send back to Healey for her signature.
On Monday, Healey unveiled a $742 million tax-relief proposal that she said would provide savings for families, renters, seniors and others. That separate proposal includes changes Healey said would make Massachusetts a more attractive place to live and work. It was also filed with lawmakers Wednesday.
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