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House, Senate Send Baker $46.2 Billion Budget

The Legislature sent its compromise $46.2 billion budget for the fiscal year that started five months ago to Gov. Charlie Baker's desk Friday afternoon, shifting attention to whether the governor might veto a policy section dealing with abortion access.

The House voted 147-10 to accept the budget that emerged Thursday from negotiations that began Nov. 23 and the Senate then accepted the budget unanimously. By the time lawmakers left Beacon Hill or logged off their computers for what one negotiator said was a much-needed weekend, the spending plan was out of the Legislature's hands and into the governor's for a review that can last up to 10 days.

"The $46 billion budget agreement that is before you today relies on a series of one-time revenue options to close a $3.6 billion shortfall while making targeted investments into key elements including education, housing, food security, and combating domestic violence and substance addiction," House Ways and Means Chair Rep. Aaron Michlewitz said. "We were able to confront all these challenges and all without any additional federal stimulus package, that we will still gladly accept when Washington decides to get its act together."

In the Senate, Minority Leader Bruce Tarr questioned why the withdrawal from the state reserve account had grown to $1.7 billion during conference talks. Senate Ways and Means Chair Sen. Michael Rodrigues explained that the increase was to fund programs that help people through the pandemic and said he thinks the increase did not compromise the budget's prudence.

Rodrigues also told senators Friday that, because of work Treasurer Deborah Goldberg's office did to refinance existing state debt, the budget calls for $2.48 billion in debt service, a savings of $140 million from the previous year's budget.

The budget contains numerous policy sections, including one that codifies the right to an abortion in state law and expands access to abortions in certain cases. Baker has said previously that he supports existing state laws on abortion, but not "late-term" abortions.

While legislative leaders like Rodrigues have been referring to the budget as a $46.2 billion spending bill, the bill text itself notes the total appropriation is for almost $46.46 billion. The discrepancy, according to a Senate budget official, has to do with accounting practices and whether certain budget transfers, like a transfer of funds to MassHealth from the Medical Assistance Trust Fund, are counted toward the bottom line.

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