News from the State House — May 5, 2023

Dear Cambridge and Somerville Constituents —

Last week the House unanimously passed our Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24) state budget. Typically, the House considers revenue changes and spending allocations in the same budget bill, but not this year.

Earlier in April, we debated a $1.1 billion tax cut proposal. I voted No on that tax cut package because it included a 58% cut to the tax rate on short-term capital gains plus more tax breaks for big corporations. In case you missed it, check out my extended floor speech offering a progressive critique of the tax cut bill.

This past week, the state's revenue numbers took a nosedive. We went from running a $870 million annual surplus to being $703 million behind benchmark for FY23 after April revenues came in $2.163 billion below what we collected in April of last year. With less than two months remaining in FY23, this creates a significant deficit. That being the case, I now feel even more certain that my push to pare back the big tax cut package is both progressive and prudent.

While we were debating and voting on that tax cut package, we were simultaneously reviewing the House Ways and Means Budget and drafting and co-sponsoring amendments to the annual spending plan.

Last week, after all 1,566 amendments had been drafted, filed, and categorized, we spent the better part of three days discussing the budget and these amendments. We voted on 7 consolidated amendments and 3 floor amendments before unanimously passing our engrossed version of the FY24 state budget on Wednesday evening.

Thank you to the many constituents who met with me or reached out to advocate for certain line items, programs, or policies. Because there is so much material to cover in the annual budget, I make a point of emphasizing my support for the line items and amendments that Cambridge and Somerville residents ask me to prioritize.

Funded at $56.2 billion, the House budget provides support for the Commonwealth’s cities and towns and makes many critical investments, including additional funding for education, transportation, health care, housing, and workforce development.

The budget also includes several policy changes, the permanent extension of several pandemic-era programs (including my top policy priority — eviction protections for those seeking rental assistance), the inclusion of two of my local funding priorities (Cambridge HEART and Somerville Green Jobs), and the first-round of investments made possible by Fair Share Amendment revenues. Highlights include:

  • No Cost Calls. The House budget removes barriers to communication services for incarcerated persons and their loved ones. The Department of Correction (DOC) and sheriffs must provide phone calls at no cost to persons receiving and initiating phone calls, without a cap on the number of minutes or calls. As part of this initiative, DOC and sheriffs must maximize purchasing power and seek to consolidate voice communication services contracts.
  • Universal Free School Meals. The House budget includes a provision requiring public schools to provide universal school meals to all students free of charge, making Massachusetts the sixth state in the country to make the program permanent. Due to this program, which the House has extended each year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 56,000 additional children ate school lunch daily in October 2022 compared to October 2019.
  • Eviction Protection. The House budget makes permanent a pandemic-era eviction protection for renters with pending applications for emergency rental assistance under RAFT or any other program administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development, a municipality, or a nonprofit entity. Under the program, a judge cannot execute an eviction before an emergency rental assistance application has been considered. You can read more about this policy here on my blog.
  • Cambridge HEART and Somerville Green Jobs programs. The House budget includes two of my local funding priorities. $30,000 will be appropriated to help launch a green jobs training program for non-traditional students in Somerville and $30,000 will be appropriated to help build Cambridge HEART’s capacity to offer 24/7 emergency response alternatives.

Additionally, many constituents and advocacy organizations called and sent emails about their priorities. Thanks again to everyone who reached out! The following is a sample of that advocacy and each account's outcome in the final House version:

Line Item Description Governor's Proposal

House Ask

House Final
0321-1600 MLAC (Civil Legal Aid) $49 million $49 million $49 million
7004-9316 RAFT (Rental Assistance) $162.5 million $250 million $180.6 million
7004-9024 MRVP (Rental Assistance) $168.2 million $250 million $173.2 million
7061-9634 Mentoring Matching Grants $1.5 million $1.8 million $1.2 million
3000-1042 Early Education Rate Reimbursement $20 million $100 million $80 million
3000-1045 Commonwealth Cares for Children Grants $375 million $472 million $490* million
3000-5000 Head Start $15 million $17.5 million $17.5 million
3000-6025 Commonwealth Preschool Partnership $15 million $30 million $15 million
4401-1000 Employment Support Services for Immigrants Not included $3 million $1.5 million
7035-0002 Adult Language Learners $60 million $70 million $65.325 million
4003-0122 Citizenship for New Americans Program $1.04 million $1.76 million $1.04 million

*the House's proposed boost to Commonwealth Cares for Children ("C3") Grants depends in part on $200 million in new revenue from proposed future online lottery sales (a.k.a. "iLottery").

The budget also uses $1 billion in anticipated Fair Share Amendment revenue, with resulting funding spilt evenly between education and transportation initiatives. This revenue will supplement existing funding and will be directed to a new Education and Transportation Fund, then distributed to the following programs:

Education Transportation
Universal School Meals $161,000,000 MBTA Capital Investments $250,000,000
Green School Works $100,000,000 Highway Bridge Preservation $100,000,000
MassGrant+ $84,000,000 Regional Transit Funding & Grants Electrification $70,000,000
High Demand Targeted Scholarships $50,000,000 MBTA Workforce/Safety Reserve $65,000,000
C3 Stabilization Grants $40,000,000 Water Transportation $10,000,000
Income Eligible Waitlist $25,000,000 MBTA Means-Tested Fares $5,000,000
MassReconnect $20,000,000 _ _
Endowment Match $20,000,000 _ _

MBTA Safety Spending. To address the ongoing safety disaster at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, as identified by the Federal Transit Administration’s Safety Management Inspection, this budget allocates $65 million in additional funding, as well as $250 million for safety capital projects, and $5 million to explore the feasibility of implementing a means-tested fare program.

I continue to be engaged on a daily basis in advocating for improvements at the MBTA. In case you missed it, check out this segment on WBUR's RadioBoston where I join with TransitMatters to outline what the MBTA's new General Manager must do to rescue the system from ongoing disaster.

Overview of the Budget Process. The House Committee on Ways & Means introduced their FY24 budget proposal on April 12, 2023, following a review of the Governor’s initial proposal and a series of public hearings across the state. The budget unanimously passed the House of Representatives last week, and it now goes to the Senate for further consideration this month (their draft spending plan is expected next week).

A conference committee will be appointed to resolve differences between the House and Senate budgets next month. Fiscal Year 2024 begins on July 1, 2023 and that is when the new budget is supposed to be in place. Nevertheless, the House and Senate are typically still busy negotiating the final budget well into the month of July, and so a supplemental budget is usually adopted until a final accord can be reached. It would be nice if that wasn't necessary this year!

For an even longer recap of the House's spending and policy provisions by category, click here to read the complete summary on my State House blog.

If you have any questions about a particular item, or a concern about any other matter, please don't hesitate to reach out.

Yours in service,