Gov. Maura Healey signed a $56 billion state budget on Wednesday, officially adding a handful of significant new education policies to the Massachusetts law books.
The budget funds new programs that will make community college free for students 25 and older without degrees and for nursing students. It extends in-state college tuition rates to undocumented immigrants who attended Massachusetts high schools for at least three years and graduated or got their GEDs here.
The first annual state budget to bear Healey’s signature sticks closely to the version lawmakers sent her last week and increases spending by roughly 6% over last year’s budget. Healey vetoed $205 million in spending, and returned eight out of 112 policy sections to the Legislature with recommended amendments.
More than a month after the new fiscal year began, Healey signed the budget in her ceremonial office and afterwards handed out some of the 60 pens that had been lined up in her desk to the legislative leaders, cabinet secretaries and finance staff who assembled in the room for the event.
The governor said the final spending plan “makes the kind of investments in our people and in our state that are really going to power us forward” and provides “a major boost” to higher education access.
House Speaker Ron Mariano described the budget as “transformative,” and Senate President Karen Spilka said it would make the state “more competitive, more inclusive and more affordable as well as more equitable.”
Two pandemic-era programs — one making school meals free for all students, and another providing eviction protections for tenants with pending applications for rental aid — are now permanent under the new law.
Matt Gorzkowicz, Healey’s administration and finance secretary, said the final budget “shows that Massachusetts can address critical needs like housing, college affordability and hunger while also remaining fiscally responsible.”
Continuing an effort they started under former Gov. Charlie Baker, lawmakers sent Healey language making phone calls free for people incarcerated in state prisons and county jails. One of Healey’s amendments would delay the start of the free phone calls until December, which she said would provide time for corrections officials to effectively manage their vendor contracts.
Lawmakers had proposed using $205 million from an escrow account to support some of their spending. Healey struck that section from the budget, and cut the same amount of spending from across various accounts.
“We took this action because we felt like at this time it was the right thing to do — to not use one-time funding for programs that would have a longer shelf life,” she said.
She said officials in her budget office identified “ways where we could make cuts within programs, trim things that were redundant and where there was otherwise funding available.”
In reducing funding for grants to local boards of health by $5 million, for instance, Healey wrote that $197 million is available in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to achieve the same objectives. She cut $1 million for the suicide-prevention organization Samaritans to operate a text help line for young people, writing that the program’s “goals are sufficiently funded through an expansion” in a separate suicide prevention and intervention line item.
Lawmakers will have the option to override any vetoes they disagree with, a move that requires a two-thirds majority vote within each branch.