Legislature Passes Fiscal Year 2014 Budget
(BOSTON) – On Monday, the Massachusetts Legislature enacted a $34.06 billion state budget for fiscal year 2014 (FY14). The spending plan makes important investments to rebuild the Commonwealth’s essential services and programs, including local aid, education, housing, public safety, and health and human services, and supports the ongoing recovery of the local economy.
The budget reflects the priorities of the Commonwealth and the needs of cities, towns and residents, while also maintaining the highest level of fiscal responsibility and accountability, leaving the state’s rainy day fund at $1.46 billion.
“This budget makes thoughtful investments in local aid, education, mental health, and care for the elderly,” said Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “This spending plan demonstrates our commitment to those most in need of assistance while advancing our state’s fiscal health, economic growth, and governmental accountability.”
The budget represents the Legislature’s continuing commitment to cities and towns, boosting investments in Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), Chapter 70, and the Special Education Circuit Breaker. For the first time since FY10 UGGA funding will increase to $920 million, an increase of more than $21 million.
This year’s spending bill underscores Massachusetts’ ongoing commitment to strengthening its educational systems through both new and updated provisions. The budget increases key areas of local education funding including $4.31 billion for Chapter 70, full funding for educating high-needs special education students and $51.5 million for Regional School Transportation. The budget also allocates a $15 million investment in early education that will take approximately 2,000 children off the waitlist for income-eligible child care. It also includes $11.5 million to increase reimbursement rates for subsidized early care and education to be used to increase workers’ salaries, benefits and training and for program quality improvements.
“Local aid is key priority of mine, and I was pleased to see it reflected in the budget,” said Spilka. “ Every town received a 2.25% increase in unrestricted aid and all saw an increase in Chapter 70 education funding as well.”
The budget also takes decisive action to increase funding for the University of Massachusetts, state universities and community colleges, including funds to prevent tuition and fee increases in the upcoming school year.
There is also strong effort to increase the number of students at all levels that are interested in and prepared for further education and careers in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). It creates a STEM Starter Academy program at community colleges to provide help to students who have expressed a high level of interest in STEM majors and careers. An longtime priority of Senator Spilka’s, the STEM Pipeline Fund, was funded at $1.5 Million. These funds are used to implement the statewide plan to improve STEM programming in schools, increase the number of qualified STEM teachers, and boost the number of students in programs supporting careers in the STEM fields.
The budget provides numerous health and human services provisions including crucial funding for mental health services through an increase of $8.4 million and increasing substance abuse services by $6.7 million. This funding will maintain at least 626 inpatient mental health beds, including 45 beds at Taunton State Hospital and for child, adolescent and emergency mental health services.
It also includes an investment led by Spilka as the first step in the statewide implementation of the new FACES law, also known as CHINS reform, creating Family Resource centers to help children and families across the Commonwealth and funding a 211 hot line for use by courts, schools and families. The appropriation puts in place the beginning stages of Spilka’s landmark 2012 CHINS Reform Bill, providing resources to allow Health and Human services agencies to begin coordinating services to families, helping them receive assistance in their communities instead of going to the courts.
“This critical reform has the potential give the thousands of children and families who need assistance each year a clearer path to accessing the services and supports they need without exacerbating their situation and before it becomes dire. This funding continues our commitment to make sure that path is built,” said Spilka.
Additionally, the spending bill allocates $187.2 million to elder home care services, an increase of $6.2 million that will eliminate the 1,500 person waitlist for elder home care services, and increases funding for housing programs by $18.2 million to ensure safe and sustainable housing options. The majority of this increase will allow for more than 1,000 new housing vouchers.
Continuing their obligations to the state’s most vulnerable; the legislature included an $11.5 million salary reserve for human services workers, championed by Spilka. The fund provides a modest salary increase to over 19,000 low-paid direct care workers who are currently making less than $40,000 per year.
“I am pleased a human service salary reserve was included in this budget to help stabilize our human service workforce,” said Spilka. “As a former social worker, I understand the importance of maintaining a strong human services safety net to provide quality care for residents with complex medical needs, disabilities, and mental illness.”
In addition to those mentioned above, Spilka advocated for a number of provisions that were incorporated into the final budget agreement, including:
- $250,000 for a layoff aversion program to assist struggling manufacturing companies by providing managerial and financial consulting on a dollar for dollar matching basis
- $850,000 for Regional Economic Development Organizations, which serve as centralized points of contact to support their communities by helping existing businesses grow and attracting new investment to their regions
- Increased funding for the state’s 11 independent living centers dedicated to helping people move out of nursing homes and become productive members of their communities
- $15,000 to help fund the Vietnam Moving Wall’s visit to the Town of Medway for its 300th anniversary
- $30,000 for the Natick Veterans Oral History Project
- $25,000 to expand the Best Buddies program to expand to more schools and promote inclusion programming for students with intellectual disabilities
The budget also maintains the Legislature’s commitment to government efficiency and transparency by implementing key reforms to the Department of Transitional Assistance and including funding to examine the state’s early education, public health and criminal justice programs to determine how efficiency can be improved within these programs.
Lastly, the budget expands and funds numerous economic development initiatives, including more than $20 million to a variety of manufacturing-related programs.
The budget now goes to the Governor for his approval.