Gov. Patrick Unveils $36.4B Budget

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick delivered his final state budget plan to Beacon Hill lawmakers Wednesday, a $36.4 billion proposal that would increase spending by 4.9 percent over the current budget.

Patrick said his blueprint for the fiscal year starting in July seeks to expand early education, help close the achievement gap in schools, ensure affordable health care and address violence among young people and in urban areas.

"I'm proud of this budget," Patrick told reporters. "It's a good budget. It's a sensible budget."

Patrick opted not to revive a plan from last year's budget proposal that sought to hike the state's income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent, coupled with a reduction in the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent to help pay for long-term transportation needs.

Lawmakers rejected the proposal, adopting instead a 3 cent-per-gallon hike in the gasoline tax and a $1-per-pack cigarette tax increase.

"I don't think we can come back year after year asking for significant tax increases," Patrick said.

For the first time, the budget plan builds in expected gambling revenue from the state's 2011 casino law.

The budget anticipates about $20 million in revenue from the sole slots parlor allowed under the law. That license is expected to be awarded early this year and the venue could be up and running by the end of 2014, midway through the fiscal year.

Patrick said much of the new spending in his budget proposal is focused on education, including a $100 million increase in local education aid to cities and towns, bringing total so-called Chapter 70 funding to $4.4 billion.

The $100 million works out to about an extra $25 million for each the state's K-12 students.

Patrick also wants to spend an additional $15 million in early education programs to help close a stubborn achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and white students.

The budget also proposes an extra $32.6 million for the state Department of Children and Families, including more than $9 million to help the department move toward a 15-to-1 caseload ratio for the number of families each social worker is expected to help.

The state has come under fire following the disappearance of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy in the agency's care.

The budget also increases spending on the state Office of the Child Advocate, which is investigating the disappearance and feared death of the boy.

The budget would boost funding for the state transportation department and the MBTA by $141 million to end the practice of paying for transportation staff on the capital budget.

The budget plan also includes extra spending on helping inmates re-enter communities and discouraging youth recidivism.

There's about $97 million in additional taxes in the budget.

Patrick is again proposing $57 million in new revenue by applying the state's sales tax to candy and soda. That proposal has been rejected by lawmakers in the past, but Patrick again made the argument in favor of the tax saying the money would go to support public health and infrastructure projects.

The plan also includes another $40 million in taxes that Patrick has proposed before, including applying the room occupancy tax on transient rentals, like summer homes.

Besides taxes, the budget also relies on a $175 million withdrawal from the state's rainy day fund.

Massachusetts Secretary of Administration and Finance Glen Shor said the fund will likely remain at the level of $1.2 billion at the end of the fiscal year since 10 percent of capital gains dollars are automatically deposited in the fund.

Patrick's budget now heads to the House and Senate, who will craft and debate their own versions of the spending plan before delivering a single compromise budget to Patrick before the end of the current fiscal year June 30.

This article was originally published on January 22, 2014.


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