Massachusetts Senate releases $41.42B state budget plan

BOSTON (AP) – A Senate panel has released a $41.42 billion state budget plan for the 2019 fiscal year that begins July 1, a 3 percent increase over the current fiscal year.

Senate Ways and Means Committee chairwoman Karen Spilka said Thursday the proposed budget aims to keep Massachusetts as a leader on education, health care, economic innovation and protecting the vulnerable.

“We believe this is a balanced and fiscally responsible budget,” the Ashland Democrat said.

The spending plan includes $4.9 billion for kindergarten through grade 12 school funding, $1.1 billion for unrestricted aid to cities and towns and a minimum increase of $30 per pupil for every school district across the state

It also deposits $88.5 million into the state’s rainy day fund.

The budget includes no broad-based tax increases, but does anticipate about $63 million in taxes related to the new marijuana industry and $20 million from short-term rental businesses like Airbnb.

Spilka said the state has benefited from an uptick in tax revenues compared to recent years. She said the tax collections for the current fiscal year are about $800 million above predictions.

She said the budget takes what she called a “cautiously optimistic” approach, given the increased revenues.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, the leading Republican in the chamber, called the proposal “a reasonable starting point” but said it’s important not to overlook the fact that the budget plan pays for the cost of state government without new or increased broad-based taxes.

Spilka said the budget doesn’t anticipate any changes in revenues that could occur from several proposed ballot initiatives including one that would reduce the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax to 5 percent – a loss of roughly $1 billion in annual state revenues – and a proposed constitutional amendment, dubbed the “millionaire tax,” that would impose a 4 percent surtax on any portion of an individual’s annual income that exceeds $1 million.

It also would use $318.9 million to reimburse school districts for the cost of educating students with disabilities and $100 million to reimburse school districts for costs incurred when students leave to attend charter schools.

Spilka said the budget would also lift the so-called “cap on kids” or “family cap” which denies welfare benefits to children conceived while, or soon after, the family received benefits.

The Senate is scheduled to begin debating the bill on May 22. Senators can file proposed amendments to budget until noon Monday.

The House approved a budget last month that also would raise overall spending by about 3 percent without major tax increases.

Once the Senate has approved their version of the budget, a conference committee made up of three House members and three Senate members will craft a compromise spending plan.

That plan is subject to an up-or-down vote in both chambers and cannot be amended.

The final compromise budget is then sent to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who has 10 days to sign the spending plan and issue any vetoes. Democrats in the House and Senate have large enough majorities in both chambers to override any vetoes that they want.

The goal is to have the budget in place by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

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