State Representative Paul J. Donato (D-Medford, Malden) joined his colleagues in the Legislature to enact a $34.06 billion state budget for fiscal year 2014 (FY14). The spending plan makes important investments to rebuild the Commonwealth’s essential services and programs, including local aid, education, housing, public safety, and health and human services, and supports the ongoing recovery of the local economy.
The budget reflects the priorities of the Commonwealth and the needs of cities, towns and residents, while also maintaining the highest level of fiscal responsibility and accountability, leaving the state’s rainy day fund at $1.46 billion.
“As a state with an AA+ bond rating, we were able enact a strong spending plan that makes proactive and responsible investments to help prepare our students for the jobs of the future, such as our STEM Starter Academy and our funding of the University of Massachusetts,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “This budget demonstrates our commitment to education and job creation while protecting those most in need of help.”
“Through this budget, the Legislature recognizes the economic challenges facing the Commonwealth and its residents,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian S. Dempsey (D – Haverhill). “Our goal is a renewed focus on governmental oversight and accountability to eliminate fraud and delays and to ensure that those who need the Commonwealth’s assistance receive it. We pair this focus with an emphasis on higher education as a means to provide our residents with a competitive edge that will continue to support the state’s economic recovery.”
“Although passing a budget is a very involved process, stated Representative Donato, I am very proud of my House colleagues for passing this inclusive budget which provided needed resources especially in education and local aid, but also is fiscally sound”.
The budget represents the Legislature’s continuing commitment to cities and towns, boosting investments in Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), Chapter 70, and the Special Education Circuit Breaker. For the first time since FY10 UGGA funding will increase to $920 million, an increase of more than $21 million, due largely in part to gaming licensing revenues.
This year’s spending bill underscores Massachusetts’ ongoing commitment to strengthening its educational systems through both new and updated provisions. The budget increases key areas of local education funding including $4.31 billion for Chapter 70, full funding for educating high-needs special education students and $51.5 million for Regional School Transportation. The budget also allocates a $15 million investment in early education that will take approximately 2,000 children off the waitlist for income-eligible child care.
The budget also takes decisive action to increase funding for the University of Massachusetts, state universities and community colleges, including $478.9 million for UMass to prevent tuition and fee increases in the upcoming school year. It creates a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Starter Academy program to be implemented through the Department of Higher Education. This program will benefit a targeted population of students at one or more of the Commonwealth’s Community Colleges who have expressed a high level of interest in STEM majors and careers.
The budget provides numerous health and human services provisions including $38.3 million to increase rates paid to Disproportionate Share Hospitals to assist struggling hospitals with modernization assistance and funding payment reform. It also provides crucial funding for mental health services through an increase of $8.4 million and increasing substance abuse services by $6.7 million. This funding will maintain at least 626 inpatient mental health beds, including 45 beds at Taunton State Hospital and for child, adolescent and emergency mental health services.
Additionally, the spending bill allocates $187.2 million to elder home care services, an increase of $6.2 million that will eliminate the 1,500 person waitlist for elder home care services, and increases funding for housing programs by $18.2 million to ensure safe and sustainable housing options. The majority of this increase will allow for more than 1,000 new housing vouchers.
The budget maintains the Legislature’s commitment to government efficiency and transparency by implementing key reforms to the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) and including funding to examine the state’s early education, public health and criminal justice programs to determine how efficiency can be improved within these programs.
In additional reforms, the legislation implements new oversight within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which administers the electronic benefits transfer (EBT) program, to bolster the waste and abuse prevention reforms enacted in the FY ’13 budget. The budget also creates The Bureau of Program Integrity to provide continuous oversight of public assistance programs while maintaining eligibility verification and ensuring we focus our state resources on those residents who are most in need of state assistance. This provision will be implemented alongside reforms included in the FY ’13 June Supplemental Budget, requiring EBT cards to include photo IDs and creating a state verification and eligibility Task Force to investigate and prevent fraud and the abuse of public benefits.
Lastly, the budget expands and funds numerous economic development initiatives, including more than $20 million in anticipated gaming revenue to a variety of manufacturing-related programs.
– Submitted by State Representative Paul Donato’s office