BOSTON — It’s a little over a week late, but the state has a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. Gov. Deval Patrick signed the $30.6 billion spending plan in his State House office Monday.
The main holdup was a series of changes that will give cities and towns more authority to adjust health insurance and save money.
Patrick says the new rules governing health insurance negotiations for municipal employees will save cities and towns about $100 million, and the savings will begin this year. Patrick took a House-Senate compromise and spent the last week negotiating changes that softened the financial hit for some union members or retirees. He says the amendments he revised with union, municipal, House and Senate leaders are an important accomplishment.
“By delivering meaningful savings to cities and towns and ensuring a meaning role for employees in determining how those savings will be achieved, this has been no small accomplishment,” Patrick said.
Municipal leaders agree. But some union leaders, while agreeing to not fight the compromise, still feel this is a loss. The changes means cities and towns can increase co-pays and deductibles without union approval as long as the increases are in line with what most state employees pay.
“I’m disappointed in the fact that in a state like Massachusetts we had to get to this point in time, when we’ve been a national example for how to treat your employees and how important the collective bargaining process is,” said Ray McGrath, political director of the National Association of Government Employees in Massachusetts.
McGrath and the governor agree that these changes do nothing to address the underlying problem of rising health care costs. Patrick says working with the Legislature on that problem is a top priority in the coming months.
Some of the budget’s other provisions, which were agreed to earlier, include:
– $750 million in total spending cuts — the largest single-year reduction in 20 years — such as a $70 million higher education cut and a $800 million Medicaid cut;
– an additional $80 million in public school spending;
– drawing $185 million from the state’s rainy day fund;
– no new broad-based taxes;
– an overhaul of the public defender system by reducing the state’s reliance on private attorneys.