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Mass. Legislators Agree To $41.9 Billion Compromise Budget Plan

Eighteen days into the state's new fiscal year, House and Senate negotiators reached agreement Wednesday on a $41.9 billion budget, potentially ending an impasse that has left Massachusetts the only U.S. state without a permanent spending plan in place.

The compromise would increase the total size of the budget by more than $600 million over earlier versions of the plan, thanks to higher revenue projections after Massachusetts ended its most recent fiscal year with a more than $1 billion surplus.

The six-member conference committee that labored behind closed doors for weeks to arrive on the compromise dropped from the final agreement Senate-backed immigration language, angering immigrant advocacy groups that had pushed for stronger protections.

The chief House and Senate budget negotiators, Democratic Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, of Boston, and Democratic Sen. Karen Spilka, of Ashland, said in a joint statement that the budget deal "supports the most vulnerable amongst us, and ensures our economy grows for the benefit of all residents."

The compromise still faces up-or-down votes in the full House and Senate, after which Republican Gov. Charlie Baker would have 10 days to review the spending plan and issue any line-item vetoes.

The agreement allows for $330 million in spending above previously agreed upon levels, along with an additional $271 million deposit to the state's reserves, often called the rainy day fund.

The Baker administration had no immediate comment on the budget compromise.

The Senate immigration amendment called for placing sharp limits on cooperation between Massachusetts law enforcement agencies and federal immigration officials. It also would have largely prohibited local police from inquiring about an individual's immigration status.

Sanchez, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said there wasn't a meeting of the minds among lawmakers on the amendment.

"I'm a full supporter of it," he said. "At the same time ... it's up to me to make sure I try to find consensus and when it came to those provisions, none of us could find consensus."

The Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Coalition said it was "deeply disappointed" with the decision to exclude the language, blaming it on "political pressure" from Baker and conservative Democrats.

"We find it shocking that, with this agreement, the Legislature has tacitly accepted the notion that police should be able to ask people who `look foreign' to show their papers before they can report a crime, and that immigrants should be kept in the dark about their legal rights, so it's easier to deport them," Eva Millona, director of the coalition, said in a statement.

The compromise budget calls for an independent audit of the Massachusetts state police, which has been buffeted by allegations of overtime abuse and other disclosures, including the alteration of an arrest report for the daughter of a judge.

The proposed budget increases the state's earned income tax credit for low-income families and would eliminate on Jan. 1 the so-called "family cap," the longstanding practice of denying additional welfare benefits to children born to parents already on public assistance.

The agreement also would make daily fantasy sports permanently legal in Massachusetts, but without proposed regulations and taxes still being considered by lawmakers.

Sanchez said he could not point to any one issue that caused the lengthy delay in producing a budget agreement, though he did note the large number of proposed policy changes, many of which had little to do with state spending.

He also dismissed reports of any rift with Spilka, his Senate counterpart, who is expected to be elected by her colleagues as the next president of the Senate on July 26.

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