Senate approves $56B state budget | News
BOSTON — The state Senate approved a nearly $56 billion budget on Thursday after plowing tens of millions of dollars in new spending into the package and approving a proposal that would authorize in-state tuition rates and financial aid for undocumented students at state colleges and universities.
The spending plan, approved unanimously, includes more money for education, housing, regional transportation, health care, mental health and environmental protection.
It boosts state local aid to communities in the next fiscal year by $39.4 million to nearly $1.27 billion. Meanwhile, it increases Chapter 70 funding for schools by $604 million to more than $6.59 billion. That would fully fund the third year of the Student Opportunity Act, which was approved by the Legislature in 2019.
The plan also calls for spending $1 billion in proceeds from the newly enacted “millionaires tax” by divvying up the money for a range of education and transportation programs and new initiatives. The new voter-approved law, which went into effect in January, set a 4% surtax on incomes above $1 million.
Other proposed spending calls for $100 million for the state’s 15 regional transit authorities, such as the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority, which provide public transportation outside the MBTA’s service area.
It also calls for pumping $100 million into the Massachusetts School Building Authority to offset the impact of inflation on the cost of new school buildings.
Increased funding for job training, housing, higher education and expanding mental health services also are part of the Senate’s proposal.
During three days of debate, senators slogged through more than 1,000 amendments to the budget, rejecting many of them in bundled amendments. Still, the chamber added hundreds of amendments that drove up the final price tag on the package by more than $60 million.
The spending package also includes dozens of proposed policy changes, including a plan that would authorize in-state tuition at public universities and colleges for undocumented students and provide access to state financial aid assistance.
To qualify, undocumented students must have attended a Massachusetts high school for at least three years and graduated or obtain a general education diploma.
The Senate’s three-member Republican minority, which is led by Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, sought to remove that provision from the budget but the chamber’s Democratic majority rejected the amendment.
Republicans argued that the proposal was being rushed through as part of the budget, and should be vetted in a public hearing before being approved.
They also raised concerns about fairness and the potential loss of revenue to the state from the policy change, with other programs seeing a decline in funding through the Senate’s version of the budget.
Democrats argued that it was unfair to offer in-state tuition for students who grew up in Massachusetts and not others, even if they are living in the U.S. illegally. They said it would encourage more public university and college students to stay in the state after graduating.
At least 23 states and the District of Columbia allow undocumented students to access in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Many of the states also offer access to state financial aid for undocumented students.
The House of Representatives approved its $56.2 billion state budget plan last month. Gov. Maura Healey unveiled her preliminary budget plan in March.
Differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget must be worked out by a yet-to-be appointed conference committee of six lawmakers before heading to Healey’s desk for review.
Last year, the budget was approved more than two weeks after the beginning of the fiscal year amid snarled negotiations between the House and Senate. Massachusetts was the last state in the nation with a July 1 fiscal year to approve a budget, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Like most states, Massachusetts is required to have a budget, even if temporary, to keep the government running. There are no penalties for approving it late.
But tardy spending packages have become common on Beacon Hill in recent years, with the past six state budgets coming in after the July 1 deadline.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com