Despite Glare of State Budget’s Tardiness, Legislators Praise FY24’s Virtues…
The Massachusetts state budget, which both legislative chambers on Beacon Hill passed Monday, was late. It passed 31 days after the last budget expired on June 30. Negotiators caved to either the siren of the August recess or the hairy eyeball of the State House press corp. A 10-day period for Governor Maura Healey has begun when she will review the document and issue any vetoes. A temporary budget will fund state government until she signs the fiscal year 2024 budget bill.
This budget was one of the latest in recent memory, excluding the first year of the pandemic. House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka are also jousting with State Auditor Diana Dizoglio. The new auditor wants to audit the legislature. They do not want her to do so. Still, legislators, including those from the 413, celebrated the spending plan’s passage, which releases funds for many of their priorities.
“This budget represents a major step forward for our Commonwealth, particularly in making higher education more affordable and more accessible to everyone,” Spilka said in a statement legislators’ offices distributed. She pointed to several educational initiatives including free community college for some programs.
Mariano, in the same statement touted the FY24 funding across multiple areas.
“From critical investments in health care and workforce development to funding for new initiatives that are designed to increase educational opportunities, better support working families, and provide for a safer and more reliable public transportation system, this FY24 budget will help to make Massachusetts more affordable while ensuring that the Commonwealth’s most consequential institutions work better for Massachusetts residents,” he said.
The budget passed without dissent across both chambers save two grumps in the House. One was Southwick Republican Nicholas Boldyga.
This was Ludlow Senator Jake Oliveira’s first budget since moving up to the upper chamber. He highlighted funding for several local projects and regional school transportation funding.
“I’m incredibly proud to have worked with my colleagues in the Legislature to enact a comprehensive budget that puts the people of the Commonwealth first and brings regional equity to Western Mass. I’m particularly encouraged to see the 97 million dollars allocated for Regional School Transportation and the investments we’re making right here in the district.”
Bridge work on the Cottage Avenue bridge, the Ludlow Boys & Girls Club, and Jewish Geriatric Services in Longmeadow were among the beneficiaries of the budget.
Northampton Senator Jo Comerford, who serves on the Senate’s Ways & Means Committee, feted “transformative investments” in the budget.
“Early educators will feel it in their paychecks. RTA riders will experience it in their commutes. College students will see it in their financial aid awards. Town officials will notice increases in their balance sheets,” she said in a statement. “Enormous thanks to Senate President Spilka and Chair [Michael] Rodrigues for their commitment to making constituents’ lives better and for always keeping regional equity on the front burner.”
Comerford highlighted a number of local items. in the budget. They included $100,000 for a veterans health outreach program, $56,250 to support program center and food pantry in Greenfield, and $100,000 for new municipal vehicles in Leydon.
Chapter 70 education funding often gets the most attention—it rose $604 million to $6.59 billion. However, the new budget also upped unrestricted aid to municipalities. That line will rise $39 million to $1.27 billion. General state aid plugs holes in many cities and towns budgets.
For poorer communities that also receive substantial school aid, more unrestricted aid can be a relief. It may help avoid cuts elsewhere in their budget. Even these poorer districts, such as Holyoke and Springfield have statutory matches to state aid. When school aid rises too fast, it can force the municipalities to cut non-school services to maintain the match.
Westfield Senator John Velis said in a statement that his local funding priorities survived the negotiation process.
“Over the past several months, my team and I have been meeting with leaders and organizations across the Commonwealth and I am grateful that my priorities in the Senate’s original budget have been maintained in the final FY24 budget we are sending to Governor Healey’s desk,” he said.
Among those items were $250,000 for a Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce program to restore facades in the city, $50,000 for Noble Hospital’s opioid treatment and overdoes program, and $50,000 for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance improvements in Agawam and Easthampton.
Velis, who also co-chairs the legislature’s Veterans’ Committee, hailed nearly $2 million in veterans program spending. Among that was $500,000 to expand trauma services at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Home Base program. Another $200,000 will go toward implementing recommendations last session’s Women Veterans Study.
The legislature also passed and Governor Healey has signed a $200 million supplemental spending bill. About 90% will relieve critically strained hospitals. The other $20 million will go toward relief for farmers devastated by flooding in Western and Central Massachusetts.
“In the days following the heavy rainfall and severe flooding the devastated so many Massachusetts farms, the Lieutenant Governor and I went directly to the farmers and promised them that we would get them relief,” Healey said in a statement. “Just weeks later, we are proud to have delivered on that promise on multiple fronts–securing $20 million in state aid, supporting a philanthropic relief fund and receiving a federal natural disaster designation.”
Healey thanked the legislature for its prompt action and the Biden administration for its support of Western Massachusetts farms.
Family farms like these are the heart and soul of Western Mass, and so important to Massachusetts as a whole.
We visited Deerfield today to hear directly from farmers about the challenges they’re facing after the floods, and support them as they recover. pic.twitter.com/mWDhUIsYl3
— Maura Healey (@MassGovernor) July 18, 2023
“The flexible funding for farm communities will allow our farmers to continue to recover from the lasting effects of severe weather on their crops, land and livelihoods, and patients will continue to receive care at their community hospitals,” Spilka said in a statement on the bill’s passage.
Last month, Spilka, Chairman Rodrigues and Senator Comerford announced the relief in Hatfield. Many of the crops the floods destroyed were on farms in Comerford’s district.
“The $20 million in the fiscal year ‘23 supplemental budget will support farmers who have experienced massive hardships, from extreme flooding earlier this month to the frosts and freezes earlier this year,” the Northampton Democrat said in a statement. “Thank you to Senate President Karen Spilka and Chair Michael Rodrigues for their unwavering commitment to farms and farmers, both in the short and long term. This unprecedented funding will be out the door in record time thanks to their quick work.”
On Tuesday, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Services Bureau declared seven Massachusetts counties a disaster area. This included all four counties in the 413. The region’s two congressmen, both US senators and Healey welcomed the determination, which makes loans available to farmers.
INBOX: @SenWarren, @SenMarkey, @RepMcGovern, @RepRichardNeal praise @USDAFSA disaster declaration for seven counties, including Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden & Hampshire counties which will make farmers there eligible for loans. #mapoli pic.twitter.com/P2Klf1HkX9
— Matt Szafranski (@MSzafranski413) August 1, 2023