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Massachusetts Senate unveils $47.6B state budget proposal

May 11, 2021 GMT

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Senate leaders on Tuesday unveiled their version of the state budget for the 2022 fiscal year that begins July 1 — a spending plan they say will help the state emerge stronger and fairer from the coronavirus pandemic.

Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka said the $47.6 billion budget plan maintains fiscal responsibility and targets spending to address emerging needs, while safeguarding the health of the state’s most vulnerable populations and making sure all residents can benefit equitably in a post-pandemic era.

“If the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic aftershocks have frayed the fabric of our commonwealth, this budget takes on the important, but sometimes invisible, work of stitching that fabric back together,” Spilka said. “There’s a whole lot of good in this budget.”

One new program in the Senate proposal is intended to help students who have struggled with the restrictions of the past year, which for many included remote learning and distance from friends. The program would dedicate about $6 million to address the social and emotional learning challenges facing students returning to classrooms.

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“Our students will not be able to catch up academically if they can’t catch up socially and emotionally,” Spilka said.

The budget also includes $1 million to support the development of a pilot program for universal mental health screenings in schools, she said.

The pandemic has also revealed the role affordable housing plays in the state’s economic recovery, according to Spilka and other Senate leaders. The Senate plan includes $572 million with the aim of helping to keep families in their homes and supporting tenants and property owners as the state makes a transition to a post-pandemic economy.

The Senate budget plan contains no new broad-based tax increases, according to Democratic Sen. Michael Rodrigues, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, charged with writing the budget.

Investing in areas like education, mental health and public health while working to combat poverty and expand opportunity are key goals of the budget, he said.

“We cannot build back our economy without prioritizing equity,” Rodrigues said.

The budget plan also draws $1.55 billion from the state’s Stabilization Fund — also known as the “rainy day” fund. The sum ensures the state maintains healthy reserves for years beyond the pandemic, according to Rodrigues.

Legislative leaders are planning to decide how to spend the $4.5 billion in federal pandemic aid separately, rather than lump that money into the state’s 2022 fiscal year budget plan.

“We have not even had the time to dig into that,” Rodrigues said. “There is plenty of time to spend that money.”

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Once the Senate debates and approves its version of the budget, both the House and Senate versions will be handed over to a six-member conference committee made up of three House and three Senate members tasked with hammering out a single, compromise budget document.

That version will head back to each chamber for a final up or down vote, at which point the budget heads to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk for his signature.

Baker can also issue any vetoes he wants, which lawmakers would have the option of trying to override. That’s generally not too high a hill to climb, given the hefty Democratic majorities in both chambers.