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House Budget Roundup: Some Key Provisions

At midnight last night, the Massachusetts House passed its $32.4 billion state spending plan, completing consideration of nearly 900 amendments in just three days of debate.

The budget, which passed by a vote of 150-4, contains no new taxes, but seeks about $790 million in one-time revenues, including $400 million from the “Rainy Day” fund.

A number of provisions have garnered headlines over the three days. Here are a few of them:

EBT Reform. From the Boston Herald:

A tough-talking House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo put welfare cheats on notice last night, vowing to crack down on fraud, as the House approved strict tightening of the abused EBT card system and set up a potential showdown with Gov. Deval Patrick, a fierce defender of the program.

As State House News reported, EBT reform sparked heated debate last night and “laid bare a schism among the chamber’s Democrats” before it was ultimately passed, 122-33, with all “nay” votes coming from Democrats.

The provision, as the AP reports, “would add several items to the list of purchases that could not be made with the [welfare] cards, including firearms, cosmetics, professional services other than medical care, strip clubs, travel services, health clubs, tattoo parlors, jewelry, gambling, payment of restitution or bail, and gambling.”

Rep. Ruth Balser, one of the amendment’s critics, reportedly called it “anti-poor-person,” but supporters say it’s needed to root out welfare fraud.

Patrick, the AP reports, today “did not commit to signing the EBT changes, saying he would wait and see what emerges after the budget goes through the Senate.”

Bottle Bill. A long-discussed expansion of the bottle bill was dropped. [Clarification: It was dropped from consideration as a budget amendment; the bill is still being debated in committee.] From WWLP-TV:

You won’t be paying a deposit on water, sports drink or juice containers any time soon in Massachusetts. A proposed expansion of the bottle bill was quietly eliminated in the House Wednesday.

The proposal would have expanded the state’s existing law, which adds a 5-cent cost to carbonated beverages that are redeemable when those bottles are recycled at local redemption centers.

Taunton State Hospital. On Tuesday night, the House paved the way for the state to close Taunton State Hospital. From the New Bedford Standard-Times:

The House has supported the Patrick administration’s plan to close Taunton State Hospital but approved an amendment requiring some privately run mental health beds in Southeastern Massachusetts.

Inmate Fee. By a 112-44 vote, the House beat back a proposal to charge prison inmates $5 a day. From the Fall River Herald News:

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, who had the fee in place from 2002 to 2004, was very mad Wednesday, saying he stands by the idea, which he said raised $750,000 in the two years the fee was levied on inmates at the Bristol County House of Correction.

Sales Tax Rollback. On Monday, the House voted 119-37 to defeat a measure that would have lowered the state sales tax. From the Boston Globe:

The measure would have reduced the rate to 5 percent, phased in over a three-year period, beginning in July 2013. Three years ago, lawmakers increased the sales tax from 5 percent to 6.25 percent. At the time, some said it was a temporary increase.

— And here’s Speaker DeLeo’s statement, released after the budget’s passage:

The House budget for fiscal year ’13 maximizes the value of every last state dollar and strives to implement sensible reforms to position Massachusetts for a bright economic future. Although we are still challenged by this downturn, we’ve produced a budget that preserves essential services, aids municipalities, strengthens our community colleges and reforms the use of our EBT system so that its serves the most in need.

The budget now heads to the Senate. The fiscal year starts July 1.

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