BOSTON (SHNS) – House Democrats will roll out a $56.2 billion state budget bill on Wednesday, proposing less local aid than the governor did in a few key programs, authorization of online lottery sales and new funding injections for child care and transportation.
The House Ways and Means Committee’s fiscal year 2024 spending plan is about $700 million larger than the spending blueprint Gov. Maura Healey filed (H 1). It would reflect an increase of nearly $3.74 billion or 7.1 percent over the fiscal 2023 state budget enacted last summer.
Their plan, which will hit the floor for debate the week of April 24, factors in a $587 million cost next fiscal year from a tax relief proposal that House Democrats unveiled on Tuesday and plan to advance on Thursday.
“Much like our proposal for tax relief, our FY24 budget proposal focuses on fiscal responsibility by balancing the current strength of revenue with the uncertain economic future brought on by inflation and external financial issues,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano. “The one thing I want to stress is we’ve tried to be consistent in the legacy of fiscally responsible leadership to show that we want to keep a balanced and competitive state and our economy strong.”
Like Healey, House leaders in their budget move to spend $1 billion in revenue from a new surtax on high earners, though they called for an even 50-50 split between education and transportation investments rather than the 51-49 division in the governor’s plan.
Both bills would segregate surtax revenues into an Education and Transportation Fund, and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Aaron Michlewitz said his panel’s budget proposal would deploy that money “100 percent on top of existing appropriations” rather than use it to replace other spending levels.
On the transportation side, the House budget would steer $250 million in surtax money toward MBTA capital investments and $65 million toward a T workforce and safety reserve while also deploying $5 million toward the rollout of means-tested fares.
The House budget proposal would use $161 million in surtax revenue to fund a permanent universal school meals program, which state leaders have continued to offer on a temporary basis after the federal pandemic-era program expired.
House leaders also proposed $490 million in Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) grants to continue to stabilize the early education and care sector, an area especially hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis.
That funding is built in part on a major policy push the House will once again make via its budget: authorizing the online sale of Massachusetts Lottery products, expanding gambling onto another front in the era of mobile and in-person sports betting.
House officials project the “iLottery” will generate enough revenue to cover $200 million worth of C3 grants.
The House approved online Lottery sales in an economic development bill last year, but it did not survive in the final version negotiated with the Senate.
“We thought it was the time last year. I think we feel it’s been the time for a little while now,” Michlewitz said. “C3 being a new initiative, we figured find a new revenue source to help offset that new initiative, help pay for that new initiative. Also, in the world now with mobile sports betting being so popular, we feel that it’s time for our lottery system to also have a competitive advantage or an equal playing field.”
House leaders recommended about $6.58 billion in Chapter 70 aid for schools, which they said would fully fund the third year of the K-12 funding reform law known as the Student Opportunity Act, plus a $7.86 million supplement to provide a minimum aid increase of $60 per pupil.
On unrestricted general government aid (UGGA) that state government steers to cities and towns, House Democrats proposed $1.25 billion, or about $5 million less than Healey proposed.
The House’s UGGA proposal reflects a 1.6 percent increase over the current fiscal year, mirroring the projected growth in state tax revenues next year.
House officials say 1.25 percent of their budget would go toward state environmental agencies, a new spending milestone in the wake of several major climate and clean energy bills that have won approval on Beacon Hill in recent years.
The largest chunk of the budget, MassHealth, would be funded at $19.8 billion, a decrease of $1.9 billion or about 8.8 percent from FY23. Like the Healey administration, House Democrats are expecting the process of redetermining MassHealth eligibility for the first time since COVID-19 began to significantly reduce enrollment in the state’s Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The House’s budget would also revive and make permanent an expired pandemic-era policy known as Chapter 257, pausing eviction cases while a tenant has a pending application for rental aid.
The House budget committee planned to use an electronic poll to move the bill forward Wednesday. The timing of the poll, and the result was not available.
House Democrats are meeting privately in a noontime caucus.