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House Leaders Propose $46 Billion To Mass. State Budget

House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz adopted many of the same one-time revenue sources that Gov. Charlie Baker relied on in his revised budget submission. (Sam Doran/SHNS)
House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz adopted many of the same one-time revenue sources that Gov. Charlie Baker relied on in his revised budget submission. (Sam Doran/SHNS)

The House next week will debate a $46 billion state budget that Democrats will release Thursday, proposing to spend close to $200 million more than Gov. Charlie Baker in areas like education, food security and substance addiction services, but eschewing new broad-based taxes in favor of a larger withdrawal from the state's reserve fund.

The budget also proposes to restrict courts from finalizing evictions if a tenant has an active application for rental assistance pending with the administration, and would boost funding for a critical rent support program by $50 million.

"This is a budget that pays the bills by concentrating on those who are most in need of our help," House Speaker Robert DeLeo said Thursday morning.

DeLeo and House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz plan to present the pandemic budget proposal to Democrats on a phone call Thursday morning as members gather in the State House for the first time in months for a formal session to deal with a separate spending bill. The budget will be publicly released at noon.

Michlewitz adopted many of the same one-time revenue sources that Baker relied on in his revised budget submission, including a $267 million plan to accelerate sales tax collections from larger businesses that collect and remit to the state more than $150,000 from consumers in sales taxes a year.

The budget also relies on $550 million in federal CARES Act funding, $834 million in enhanced Medicaid reimbursements for MassHealth and a $1.55 billion withdrawal from the state's "rainy day" fund, which would leave the reserve account with just under $2 billion for future years.

The withdrawal from the reserve fund is $200 million more than recommended by Baker.

DeLeo said he brought his experiences having dealt with financial crises in 2008 and 2009, the dot-com bust and the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorists attacks to the process of putting the budget together. He said those years the state made its largest draw from the stabilization account in the first year of the crisis.

"We built it and we protected it for times just like these," DeLeo said.

DeLeo and Michlewitz said the goal is to pass the budget through the House next week, beginning debate on Tuesday, and DeLeo said he hopes to have a finalized budget on the governor's desk by the end of the month.

Michlewitz said the framework of the bill has been discussed with Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues, and the two chairmen intended to make a joint statement later Thursday. While the budget is expected to change through the amendment process, DeLeo said the House must be "careful" to consider the limited resources available.

Like Baker, the House budget assumed $3.2 billion less in tax revenue for the budget than projected back in January due to the pandemic. Tax revenues over the first four months of the fiscal year are up over last year.

But unlike the governor's budget, the House plan does not rely on any anticipated revenue from sports betting, which is not yet legal, and excluded the governor's proposal to increase per-ride fees on Uber and Lyft.

One of the largest increases in spending in the House budget compared to the governor's plan is the $33 million in additional funding House leaders want to put into the Rental Assistance for Families in Transition program.

The House Ways and Means budget also puts more money into food security programs, community day and work programs, substance addiction services, domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and legal assistance.

While leaders admitted being unable in the budget to fully fund the Student Opportunity Act, DeLeo said the House bill would increase Chapter 70 by $108 million, consistent with the agreement with the Senate and governor, and spend $80 million more on educational support programs, including a new $50 million COVID student support fund to help districts with low-income student.

The governor last month proposed a spending plan that his administration said totaled $45.5 billion in spending. House leaders said Thursday that Baker's plan proposes to spending $45.83 billion.

The state has been operating since the July 1 start of the fiscal year based on interim budgets, the latest of which carries state spending through November.

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