MA House Passes Balanced FY21 Budget with Targeted Investments

Two weeks ago, I joined my colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in passing a Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget that invests in programs and services across the Commonwealth.

I'm grateful to the leadership, experience, and steady hand of Speaker DeLeo, House Ways and Means Chair Michlewitz, and Vice-Chair Garlick. Their engagement in understanding and meeting the necessities of our constituents during this extraordinary time enabled us to triage basic needs by expanding services to protect the hungry, the homeless, and those hurt by illness or economic hardship. The House FY21 budget prioritizes relief to vulnerable populations and includes provisions to boost economic recovery and support for students.

Funded at $46 billion, the House budget aims to address the sweeping effects of the global pandemic by making targeted investments in housing, food security, substance use addiction services, and domestic violence, sexual assault treatment, and prevention programs. The budget also invests in programs that provide COVID-related supports for students and increases funding for developmental services.

I heard from many of you who were not happy about my "no" vote on Representative Connolly's amendment #675, Raising the Tax Rate on Unearned Income. You rightfully believe in raising equitable revenue and decreasing the disproportionate tax burdens on low-income and middle-class families. So do I.

But Amendment #675 didn’t just tax billionaires. It didn’t just tax millionaires. It contained no progressive exemptions based on income unless you were over 65. I know a lot of people younger than 65 who lost their job and cannot afford a tax hike right now. It wasn’t well vetted. Doing tax policy on the fly doesn’t work.

Please consider some state tax policy context. According to MA Budget and Policy Center's March 2019 report, Income Tax Cuts Cost Massachusetts Over $4 Billion Annually, and Benefits Go Mostly to Highest Incomes,the large tax cuts enacted in Massachusetts during the last several decades -- affecting both state and local tax collections -- have significantly reduced our ability to invest in our communities.

"In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Legislature adopted a series of cuts to the state personal income tax. These cuts have played a major role in reducing the revenue available to fund the state budget and, as a consequence, have severely limited the capacity to fund essential services in the Commonwealth.

"Four of these income tax cuts have been and continue to be particularly costly to the Commonwealth:

  1. a cut from 5.95 percent to the current 5.05 percent in the tax rate applied to wage and salary income;

  2. a cut from 6.00 percent to the current 5.05 percent in the tax rate applied to long-term capital gains income (the profits people make when they sell real estate, art, stocks and bonds, etc.);

  3. a cut from 12 percent to the current 5.05 percent in the tax rate applied to dividend and interest income (income derived from savings accounts, annual distributions from stocks or mutual funds, etc.); and

  4. a doubling of the personal exemption, the amount people can deduct from their taxable income, from $2,200 to $4,400 for single filers and from $4,400 to $8,800 for married couples."

The FY22 state annual budget will be another chance to vote on many different approaches to raising revenue, as it's projected to be much tighter than this FY21 budget. To pass changes to our tax code and make sure everyone understands them well enough that we avoid a ballot repeal like the one in 2013, we'll need a coordinated, strategic plan to bring The House, the Senate, and the public to an agreement on much-needed changes and reforms to our tax codes.

Once the groundwork is appropriately laid, I am committed to taking the hard revenue votes needed to increase revenue in an equitable manner. I’ve done it before, and I will again.

The House continues to further its commitment to cities and towns by investing $1.1 billion in Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) and providing $5.3 billion in Chapter 70 education funding. The House budget education allocations include:

$53 million in COVID-related student supports;

$340 million for Circuit Breaker Special Education reimbursement;

$117 million for Charter School Reimbursement; and

$82 million for Regional School Transportation reimbursement.

The House budget continues its ongoing commitment to high-quality early education and care (EEC) and supporting the EEC workforce. The budget invests in those who work with children by increasing rates for early education providers by $20 million and supporting continuing education opportunities with community colleges. The House budget also includes the following EEC investments and initiatives:

$15 million for Head Start grants;

$10 million for sliding fee scale reserve for childcare subsidies;

$10 million for EEC Workforce Higher Education Opportunities;

$2.5 million in early childhood mental health grants;

$11 million for child care resource and referral agencies; and

Establishes the Early Education and care Economic review commission to review childcare funding and make recommendations on policy changes to expand access.

The House budget continues to dedicate substantial resources toward supporting public higher education and increases scholarship funding for students including:

$284 million for state universities;

$305 million for community colleges;

$560 million for the University of Massachusetts system;

$120 million in scholarship funding; and

$4.8 million for the STEM Starter Academy, to support underrepresented students in STEM fields at community colleges.

Due to the pandemic, access to safe and affordable housing for many families across the Commonwealth is threatened. The House budget represents its ongoing commitment to housing and homelessness funding. This year, the House makes targeted investments into rental and housing assistance to combat the eviction crisis by providing:

$50 million for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition Program (RAFT);

$135 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP);

$80 million for public housing subsidies;

$56 million for homeless individual shelters;

$13 million for homeless student transportation;

$11 million for Department of Mental Health Rental Subsidy Program; and

$8 million for unaccompanied homeless youth.

Keeping in mind the widespread economic effects of the COVID pandemic, the House makes specific investments in labor and economic development programs that provide opportunities for the Commonwealth’s workers and its businesses. The House maintains its support for the Massachusetts Manufacturing Partnership with an investment of $2 million – funding which has helped many Massachusetts manufacturers retrofit their businesses into the PPE market. Other investments include:

$50 million for economic development including;

- $15 million for local Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

- $15 million for community development financial institutions

- $10 million for matching grants for capital investments by small businesses

- $6 million for small business technical assistance grants

$ 46 million for Adult Basic Education Services;

$19 million for summer jobs for at-risk youth;

$7 million Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund;

$2.5 million in Urban Agenda Grants; and

$1.4 million for small business development.

This fiscal year funded at $19 billion, MassHealth is the largest investment the Commonwealth makes in its most vulnerable residents including the working poor and the homeless. In response to the threats to reproductive rights for women on the national level, House also voted to remove barriers to women’s reproductive health options and protect the concepts enshrined in Roe v. Wade.

Improved Access to Healthcare

The budget improves access to reproductive care by updating our laws to reflect over 40 years of judicial decisions and advances in the practice of medicine.

The budget adds new language to permit an abortion after 24 weeks in the event of a lethal fetal anomaly incompatible with sustained life outside the uterus and keeps an existing provision in the law that a post-24-week abortion otherwise be necessary for the preservation of the life or health of the pregnant woman.

The current law requires that a minor under the age of 18 obtain the consent of a parent for an abortion or, if they cannot or do not get parental consent, they must go in front of a judge in a process called "judicial bypass". The budget leaves this structure in place but lowers the age that a person is required to obtain parental or judicial consent from under 18 to under 16 and provides the minor with the option to have the judicial bypass hearing in person or by teleconference.

The budget also invests in critical health and human services agencies and providers including:

$307 million for the Department of Children and Families for social workers, family support and stabilization, and foster care and adopted fee waivers;

$30 million in emergency food assistance; and

$13 million for the Healthy Incentives Program.

I'm also proud to have sponsored and secured a $100 thousand amendment on behalf of the MA Federation of Farmer's Markets to allow for the continuation of outdoor winter's farmers markets in the Commonwealth.

Keeping in mind those affected by domestic violence, the House budget establishes a grant program to provide domestic violence advocacy services across the state to connect survivors with essential services.

In order to support programs for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the House budget increases funding for developmental services to $2.1 billion and includes $264 million for community day and work programs across the Commonwealth. The House budget also includes the following investments:

$236 million for state-operated residential services

$78 million for family respite services; and

$39 million for autism omnibus services.

The budget furthers the House’s ongoing commitment to fighting the opioid epidemic. To provide assistance to those who are battling substance addiction, the budget increased funding for the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services to $162 million while offering continued support for step-down recovery services, jail diversion programs, and expansion of access to life-saving medication.

The House budget includes funding for the judiciary and ongoing criminal justice reform, including a $761 million investment in the trial court and $20 million for criminal just reform implementation. The budget also includes:

$29 million for civil legal aid to provide representation for low-income individuals via the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation;

$9.6 million for a new community-based re-entry program; and

$4 million for a pre and post-release services grant program.

Additional highlights

$761.7 million, for the Trial Court, over $22 million above the FY20 budget, including:

  • $6,315,679 for specialty courts

  • $20,456,726 for the Juvenile Court Department, including $458,493 for Court Appointed Special Advocates programs across the Commonwealth

  • $29 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation

The FY21 House budget funds MLAC $5 million above the FY20 budget

  • $20 million for annualized criminal justice reform implementation

  • $6.56 million to implement the recommendations of the Council of State Governments’ report

  • $25,889,514 for the Office of Community Corrections

  • $6.52 million for a grant program for community based residential re-entry programs to reduce recidivism by providing transitional housing, workforce development and case management to individuals returning to the community from houses of correction and state prisons

  • $350,000 for a grant program to divert juveniles and young adults from the juvenile and criminal justice systems prior to arrest or arraignment through coordinated programs for prevention and intervention serving youths and their families

  • $4,050,000 for pre and post-release services grant program

  • $2,208,332 for Prisoners Legal Services

  • $2,085,321 for Mental Health Legal Advisors

  • $2,344,147 for the Social Law Library. The Social Law Library is the only one of its kind in the United States.

  • $70,647,321 for the Committee for Public Counsel Services

  • $150,455,738 for private assigned counsel compensation within the Committee for Public Counsel Services

Outside Sections:CPCS

The budget authorizes the committee for public counsel services (CPCS) to temporarily increase the rate of compensation for private counsel appointed or assigned to care and protection cases upon declaration of an emergency. The budget authorizes the chief counsel of CPCS, upon declaration of an emergency, to waive the annual cap on billable hours for private counsel appointed or assigned to care and protection cases up to 2,000 hours.

The House calls for $302 million in spending for environmental programs that aim to protect the Commonwealth’s natural resources. These investments include:

$50 million for state parks and recreation;

$40 million for the Department of Environmental Protection;

$16 million for fisheries and wildlife protection;

$8.1 million for agricultural resources;

$2.1 million for ecological restoration; and

$500,000 for the Commonwealth’s endangered specials program.

The Senate just completed their debate this week. Next, the two chambers' final versions, as amended, will be reconciled by a six-member conference committee and then sent to the governor for his approbation. Remember, the Governor has line-item veto power, and 9C cuts authority, meaning that state government funding is fluid and advocacy is required at each step of the way.


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