House, Senate Stamp Approval on $32.5 Billion State Budget
Michael Norton & Matt Murphy, State House News Service, June 28, 2012
Boston - The $32.5 billion state budget bill agreed to Wednesday night by a conference committee attracted bipartisan support Thursday afternoon in the House and Senate, where it was approved on votes of 147-3 and 38-0, respectively.
Many of the budget's supporters applauded its increase in local aid to cities and towns.
The budget increases spending on the judiciary by 7.2 percent, to $760 million, with the Trial Court receiving a 7.9 percent spending bump. Spending on the state's environmental agencies rises $20 million under the budget, which also increases Chapter 70 school aid to $4.2 billion, a 5.3 percent increase.
Senate budget chief Stephen Brewer said $58.7 million was added to the budget in conference, saying the added appropriations are affordable due to updated projections.
The budget spends $350 million from the rainy day fund, but leaves that fund with more than $1 billion, according to Brewer.
Governor Deval Patrick has 10 days to review the budget, sign it and announce any vetoes or amendments. A $1.25 billion temporary budget is in place to cover spending since the new fiscal year begins on Sunday, July 1.
Patrick budget chief Jay Gonzalez issued a statement as the budget was sent to the governor’s desk.
“We’re encouraged that the legislature passed the FY 2013 budget today,” Gonzalez said. “We have just started to review it and are encouraged that it appears the legislature is taking steps in the direction the Governor wants on reforming community colleges. We will continue to review the details in the coming days.”
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, who voted for the budget, said he appreciated the commitment to spending on priorities such as local aid, but remained concerned about growing MassHealth costs and the continued reliance on one-time reserves to balance the budget.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones said the budget had been improved by efforts of House Republicans, including passage of electronic benefit transfer card reform, an enhancement of the Community Preservation Act, and other initiatives derived from the GOP jobs package.
“While if left to the devices of House Republicans this budget might look different, this document demonstrates to the residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that we as a governing body are committed to jobs, government transparency and local aid,” Jones said in a statement.
Senator Marc Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat, urged Patrick not to veto funding and language in the budget that would preserve 45 mental health beds at Taunton State Hospital.
The governor, in his budget proposal, had recommended closing Taunton Hospital in order to shift patients to a new facility in Worcester or to community-based care settings. Pacheco said Patrick should keep the limited number of beds in Taunton until the completion of an independent study on the mental health needs across Massachusetts.
Pacheco also said that while the Legislature has been debating the future of Taunton Hospital, the Department of Mental Health has been shifting patients to community homes. He said he learned today that at least one of those patients had died, another might lose a leg because of a lack of treatment, and a third patient has escaped multiple times from the facility he had been moved to.
“This is the beginning of a new story on this journey to get to the right place on mental health services. The independent study is what is needed and would ask the governor to not veto this study and leave these beds where they are until we get an independent analysis,” Pacheco said.
Senator Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth) highlighted the inclusion of an anti-illegal immigration measure included in the budget requiring any person that registers a car to hold a license social security number, or other proof of legal residence.
“This is one of the more practical yet simple initiatives we have passed in recent years in Beacon Hill,” Hedlund said in a statement. “This is a concrete measure that strikes at the heart of the support structure that allows illegal immigrants to register and operate motor vehicles all while avoiding prosecution for immigration violations.”
Current law only requires applicants to provide a name date of birth and proof of insurance for a so-called “X” registration.
One item not include in the compromise budget was a proposed ban on shock therapy for disabled people in Massachusetts.
“It’s despicable. We’re harming innocent children,” said Senator Brian Joyce (D-Milton), who called the shock therapy a “barbaric practice.”
The proposed legislation targeted the Judge Rotenberg Center, a Canton-based education center, which is the only place in the country that uses shocks to the skin as treatment for the developmentally disabled.
Joyce said that two amendments – one that would have codified an administrative move to stop allowing shock therapy on new students to the Judge Rotenberg Center and another to ban the practice outright – were left out of the final version even though they had passed the Senate. That left Joyce searching for reasons why the House would not go along with the ban.
“I can only suggest that the underlying motivation for an awful lot of actions related to the [Judge Rotenberg Center] is money,” Joyce said. “There’s an extraordinary amount of money involved. It’s taxpayer money.”
Gregory Miller, a former teacher’s assistant at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, started an online petition at change.org, gathering 255,000 signatures, including 10,000 from Massachusetts, in support of banning the practice.
“Despite this setback, we will continue to push for basic human rights of the disabled to be respected in Massachusetts,” Miller said in a statement.
Representatives James Lyons, Paul Adams and Steven Levy, all freshman Republicans, were the lone votes against the bill, which was assembled by a six-member conference co-chaired by Representative Brian Dempsey of Haverhill and Senator Stephen Brewer of Barre.
Andy Metzger contributed reporting.