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Mass. House Releases $30.4B 2012 Budget Plan

BOSTON — Massachusetts House leaders unveiled a $30.4 billion proposed state budget for the 2012 fiscal year on Wednesday that they say spends $94 million less than Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan, in part through additional cuts in state programs.

The House budget plan agrees with Patrick’s proposed $65 million cut in local aid to cities and towns, and like Patrick’s plan would also take $200 million from the state’s rainy day fund.

The House plan includes $1.25 billion in cuts and savings and $337 million through other revenue initiatives, such as postponing for one year a tax deduction for certain businesses. Patrick and legislative leaders have both said they won’t raise taxes in the budget.

Despite the agreed-upon local aid cut, municipal leaders in Massachusetts welcomed the House budget because it would let cities and towns make changes in co-payments, deductibles and other aspects of health care plans without approval from unions. Municipalities would also be allowed to transfer their employees into the health care plan for state employees if it would achieve a greater cost savings.

“We adopted the proposals relative to local aid and to regional school transportation,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey. “We believe that the proposal around municipal health will more than offset the cut in local aid.”

Dempsey stressed the importance of controlling municipal health costs.

“If we do not rein in the cost of health care insurance,” he said, “we will not have the number of teachers or the number of textbooks that our kids need in the classroom, nor will we have, quite frankly, the number of police officers or firefighters that we need on our streets.”

The Massachusetts Municipal Association says the municipal health care changes would save cities and towns at least $100 million in its first year.

“It’s important to take a look at local aid accounts, but also reform and relief,” said MMA’s Geoff Beckwith. “And taken together, today is a good day for cities and towns.”

Union leaders bristled at the proposal, saying it would undermine collective bargaining rights. Edward Kelly, president of the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts, said the plan would “silence the voices of working families.”

House Republicans offered some praise for the spending plan.

“I am pleased that the local aid numbers are better than I thought they would be, and hopefully we can do a little bit better during the process,” said House Minority Leader Brad Jones.

Patrick released his $30.5 billion budget plan in January. His plan includes a mix of cuts and one-time funds to help close a projected $1.5 billion spending gap.

House members will have a few days to submit amendments before the full House debates the plan during the final week of the month.

The Senate is traditionally the last to release its version of the budget. The House and Senate budgets, once approved by each chamber, must be reconciled by a House and Senate conference committee.

The final version must be sent to Patrick for his signature before the end of the fiscal year on June. 30.

With reporting from WBUR’s Steve Brown and The Associated Press

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