Budget season is underway on Beacon Hill — House lawmakers and aides are churning out amendments and preparing for debate later this month, reporters are scouring the House’s fiscal year 2022 proposal (H 4000) for the newsy nuggets not highlighted by budget writers, and advocacy groups are making their thoughts known and hoping to shape the final product.
Within minutes of the House budget being released Wednesday, people and groups weighed in with likes, dislikes and analysis of the $47.65 billion spending plan. Some focused on the bill as a whole while others zoomed in on specific line items important to them.
Here’s a sampling of what’s being said about the House budget plan:
Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation: The business-backed group released a 13-page analysis of the House’s bill Wednesday, diving into the fine details of the spending plan. The organization concluded:
“The HWM budget responds well to three important elements of a changing fiscal landscape. First, the budget does not make use of ARP [American Rescue Plan] funding to balance the budget or support unsustainable spending. Second, the budget avoids unilaterally adjusting next year’s tax estimates. Finally, the HWM budget appropriately accounts for projected MassHealth spending needs given the extension of the federal Public Health Emergency. In each of these areas, the decisions made in the HWM budget are consistent with a fiscal approach that has served the state well since the start of the pandemic.
The HWM budget increases the draw on the Rainy Fund and uses a large reversion assumption to help balance the budget; both of these strategies are problematic if they are included in the final FY 2022 conference report. Both the House and Senate may view these resources as short-term placeholders as we await clarity on federal guidance on the ARP and further tax collection information, but starting the next fiscal year with a strategy to rebuild reserves and reduce the structural deficit is vital for the state to sustainably emerge from this crisis.”
Marie-Frances Rivera, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center: “Massachusetts remains in the midst of a health and economic crisis that the House Ways and Means (HWM) budget proposal does not fully address. The HWM Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 budget lacks a vision for how the Commonwealth plans to make sustainable investments over time after billions in COVID-19 federal relief runs out. The pandemic and recession have laid bare the inequalities that exist in our state, and this budget is not doing nearly enough to begin building racial and economic equity. …
There are billions in federal aid coming to Massachusetts, and the Legislature has said it will wait until June to consider how to spend these funds at a time when the need is now. We must ensure the state is spending its dollars in ways that most benefit our communities that are struggling to make ends meet. The Legislature should allow for a transparent process that includes the community to ensure that the money goes to where the need is greatest.”
Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy: “The House budget released today does a better job than Governor Charlie Baker’s fiscal 2021-2022 spending proposal in terms of hitting the targets set forth by the Student Opportunity Act, but still leaves our students in preK-12 schools vulnerable to underfunding because of inadequate accounting of enrollment. It is important that the final budget provide one-sixth of the full investment called for by the Student Opportunity Act, as the House has done.
At the same time, the House budget fails to begin the reinvestment in public higher education that is desperately needed and is called for in the Cherish Act. The essentially level-funded budgeting for public higher education is inadequate for addressing major issues such as student debt and pay equity and benefits for adjunct faculty.
With so many students of color and students from working families dropping out of public colleges and universities during the pandemic, our Commonwealth faces a growing crisis. Investing in public higher education is vital to knock down the financial barriers confronting students trying to enter our colleges and universities — and for ensuring that the staff and programs are in place to support student success.”
Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance Executive Director Vatsady Sivongxay: “As Massachusetts receives historic levels of federal aid, there is no excuse for failing to fully fund the K-12 Student Opportunity Act, and also failing to support vulnerable students amid the crisis in public higher education enrollment.
During the pandemic, many K-12 school districts experienced temporary dips in enrollment, but those students are widely expected to return to the classroom this fall. At the same time, enrollment of Black and Latinx students in our community colleges has fallen by 28 percent as many students struggle to pay for tuition, housing, childcare, food and other necessities.
Rather than basing K-12 funding on pre-pandemic enrollment figures, the House budget undercounts the number of students expected to attend school in September, and then creates an inadequate pool of money for districts to address this undercount. The result will be thousands of students across the state in classrooms without the resources needed to support them.”
Jen Benson of the Alliance for Business Leadership and Amber Hewett of the National Wildlife Federation, co-chairs of the Massachusetts State Committee of New England for Offshore Wind: “We applaud Speaker Mariano and Chairman Michlewitz for the inclusion of Sections 5 and 33, aiming to commit $10 million to a fund within the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center for job-training programs for offshore wind project construction. Responsibly developed offshore wind power offers immense environmental and economic benefits to the Commonwealth. Of course, the details matter, and one of those critical details is ensuring that the local workforce has access to the thousands of high-quality jobs offshore wind development will create. Investing in training is a mark of the foresight this moment demands.”
Casey Bowers of the Environmental League of Massachusetts and the Green Budget Coalition: “The Green Budget Coalition applauds Chairman Michlewitz for the strong environmental budget again this cycle. We appreciate the House’s on-going support of critical Green Budget priorities that protect the environment, public health, and jobs across the Commonwealth. At a time when weâ€™re asking more of our agencies to address climate change, these much-needed increases will help safeguard us all.”
Bethann Steiner, public affairs director for Mass Cultural Council: “Simply put, we can only say THANK YOU to Speaker Ron Mariano, House Ways & Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz, Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development Chair Carole Fiola, and all the House Members who support the power of culture and embraced our request to support the Agency’s programming and services with an investment of $20 million in FY22. Today’s investment by the House Ways & Means Committee represents the highest level of funding proposed for Mass Cultural Council, and by extension, the cultural sector, by the state in decades. It is cause for celebration and gratitude, and an acknowledgement of the important role the cultural sector will play as we move towards economic recovery post-COVID. …
Each year the Commonwealth’s major investment into the cultural sector is made through Mass Cultural Council during the annual state budget process. To alleviate the devastating economic impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic across the cultural sector, the Agency recently unveiled the Power of Culture Advocacy Campaign, which calls for robust public investments made in 2021-2022 through budget spending, bond authorizations, and bills to stabilize, rebuild, and provide COVID relief to the cultural sector. Today’s recommendation by the House Committee on Ways & Means is a major endorsement of our campaign.”
Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation: “We are extremely grateful to House Speaker Ronald Mariano and House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz for their leadership in providing critical increased funding for civil legal aid, an essential service that safeguards vulnerable people at risk of losing their housing, income, benefits, and other necessary protections.”
The House budget proposes $35 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, an increase of $6 million over the current budget.
“COVID-19 has not just threatened the lives and livelihood of the most vulnerable people in our communities. In many cases it has also limited their ability to reach out for civil legal aid protections and use the technology necessary to participate in remote court proceedings. Legal aid organizations have been engaged and innovative in responding to this urgent need.”
Kevin Smith, president of the Home Care Aide Council and Patricia Kelleher, executive director of the Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts: “We are grateful to House Speaker Ron Mariano and House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz for including over $27 million in funding to support the vital services provided by our home care workforce in the House Ways and Means budget … The House investment elevates and recognizes the dedicated home care aides who have worked tirelessly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This investment in our essential home care workforce makes sense, saves lives, provides jobs and will yield savings for the Commonwealth by keeping our seniors safe and healthy at home and in the community.”