The Massachusetts House of Representatives is going along with most of the budget plan put forward by Gov. Charlie Baker last month, which uses one-third of the state's rainy day savings to balance state finances ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz said his committee will present to the rest of the House membership a spending plan that concentrates on the neediest constituents while avoiding any drastic cuts, which he said "was unthinkable back in the spring."
"This is a budget that pays bills, but concentrates on those who are most in need of our help," House Speaker Robert DeLeo said at a press briefing on the $46.02 billion spending plan, which would increase spending by .4 percent over what Baker laid out last month and 5.3 percent over last year's spending.
"It directs the largest increases to COVID student support [and] food security, while also emphasizing community day and work programs, substance addiction services, domestic violence and sexual assault treatment and prevention and legal assistance," DeLeo said.
The House budget plan, delayed since the spring while lawmakers and the Baker administration wrangled falling revenues and inconsistent federal support, would spend $188 million more than the plan put forward by Baker and use slightly more of the state's "rainy day" stabilization fund to make ends meet.
After previously rejecting Baker's idea to move up the monthly date when retail businesses remit taxes to the state — which would result in a one-time surge of $267 million — the House has now embraced the idea.
"It's one of those 'break glass in case of emergency' kind of conversations, and this is obviously a fiscal emergency," Michlewitz said of the sales tax change. "So we think that it's the appropriate year to be doing this."
The budget plan would provide around $180 million more for K-12 education than last year's spending to keep up with inflation, but it would not implement the Student Opportunity Act passed last year, which, when implemented, will increase school funding by $1.5 billion over seven years.
Michlewitz said lawmakers were very eager to make this large investment but the pandemic has put it on hold.
"Fortunately, the Student Opportunity Act has a seven-year implementation period and we will be doing our best to implement that in the years to come," Michlewitz said.
DeLeo said he expects to meet Baker's timeline of getting a finished budget plan to his desk by Thanksgiving — in three weeks. To achieve what would be a new record for the Legislature's bicameral budget negotiations. Michlewitz said he has worked closely with Senate counterpart Sen. Michael Rodrigues and Baker's budget team to keep things consistent. Still, Michlewitz expects some differences in spending priorities between the House and Senate.
"We're both under the understanding, and I think a lot of members are under the understanding, that time is of the essence related to this need to get this done in a relatively quick manner," Michlewitz said.