The Massachusetts Senate passed 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, while limiting the use of one-time revenue sources and protecting the state’s Stabilization Fund.
“I’m pleased that this budget balances responsible fiscal stewardship with the need for critical investments in our Commonwealth,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “From starting to implement the recommendations of the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget Review Commission to fostering innovative approaches in public health to funding key support for workforce development, this budget does right by youth and seniors, workers and taxpayers, entrepreneurs and families.”
In line with the Senate’s “Kids First” framework to invest in our children, the budget directs funding to high quality education for everyone, from children at birth to adults making midlife career transitions. The budget commits $4.76 billion in Chapter 70 education funding, allowing for a minimum increase of $30 per pupil aid, and takes steps to implement the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations to more adequately and equitably fund school districts across the state, an effort for which Senator Lewis has spent his tenure in the legislature advocating. The budget allots $545.1 million for community colleges and universities, and $534.5 million for the University of Massachusetts. Importantly, $293.7 million is committed 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. To enhance the ability of all young people to meet their potential, $15.1 million is budgeted to expand access to high quality preschool for 4-year-olds in low-income households, $10 million is included to boost salaries for early educators, and $3.7 million is committed 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, including: $1.06 billion for Unrestricted General Government Aid to support community investments in education, health care, public safety and roads and bridges; $83 million for Regional Transit Authorities; $26.7 million for the Board of Library Commissioners, from which $10.4 million is committed for regional library local aid and $9.8 million is allocated for municipal libraries, with $2.3 million for technology and automated resources; $16.5 million for the Massachusetts Cultural Council to support the state-wide creative economy and local arts and culture; and, $14.2 million for local Councils on Aging to strengthen programs and services in senior centers.
The budget takes steps to contain health care costs and invests in health and human services to ensure access to high quality, affordable health care and to support children, seniors, people with disabilities and veterans. This includes: $388.4 million for mental health support services for adults, including $1 million to expand community-based placements to alleviate longer than necessary stays in inpatient units or emergency rooms; $144.1 million for a range of substance abuse treatment, intervention, and recovery support services; $91.6 million for mental health services for children and young people; $31.3 million for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment; $24.2 million to fully fund Department of Developmental Services Turning 22 services to help young people with disabilities transition to the adult services system; $13.2 million for Family Resource Centers, providing community-based services for families across the state; and, $3.5 million to encourage collaboration among agencies, schools and community partners to strengthen programming for early detection and screening for mental illness in children.
As part of his ongoing efforts to contain healthcare costs and enhance public health through prevention, Senator Lewis successfully championed an amendment to the budget that reauthorizes and expands the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund (PWTF), to be funded through a tax on flavored tobacco products, which had previously avoided its due level of taxation through a special loophole. Senator Lewis helped lead the effort to create a first-in-the-nation PWTF in 2012. The PWTF funds community partnerships made up of municipal governments, healthcare providers, and local health and human service organizations, all working closely together to achieve a community-wide focus on prevention and wellness. The goal is to reduce rates of the most prevalent and preventable health conditions, address health disparities, and reduce healthcare costs. Since its creation the PWTF has increased access to preventive services for nearly one million Massachusetts residents.
The budget invests $464.1M in low income housing and homelessness services, with a focus on preventative and supportive resources to connect people with affordable, stable housing, as well as assistance for those in crisis. In addition to increasing funding, the budget expands access to housing and homelessness prevention resources by increasing the income threshold for rental vouchers, expanding eligibility for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program, and increasing the HomeBASE re-housing subsidy cap to better divert families to housing.
The budget also makes targeted investments to promote self-sufficiency among low-income families and create opportunities for people to develop the skills they need to compete in the workforce and boost our economy, including: $30.8 million for adult basic education services; $20 million for civil legal aid services for low-income people; $17.6M for the emergency food assistance program; $12.5 million for summer jobs and work-readiness training for at-risk youth; and, $2.5 million for Small Business Technical Assistance grants.
As a safeguard for our Commonwealth’s commuters, Senator Lewis successfully championed an amendment to require that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) more effectively identify and notify any drivers who owe more than $100 in tolls and fees to prevent commuters from unknowingly accruing unexpectedly sizable overdue payment fees.
Finally, the budget includes several initiatives to maximize state and federal revenue opportunities, 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.
A Conference Committee will now work out 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.