Targeted Increases, Widespread Austerity: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Senate Budget

Last week, we recommended 13 budget amendments for the Senate debate. What happened to them?

The Good

To start off with the good news, five of them were adopted. The Senate budget now includes greater funding for the Community Preservation Act--and thus more money for affordable housing and green and open space (Amendment 286), the Department of Environmental Protection (Amendment 790), workforce training to help those involved with the criminal justice system (Amendment 883), and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, which helps provide access to justice for more low-income residents (Amendment 896).

And in a unanimous vote of 38-0, the Senate passed Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz’s amendment (Amendment 75) to put the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations into statute, which puts the House of Representatives on notice of its support for the identical bill S.223, which is part of our 2017-2018 Legislative Agenda. The formula the state uses to provide local aid to schools relies on outdated assumptions from 1993, resulting in chronic underfunding. The music on the radio isn’t the same as it was in 1993; our assumptions about the cost of education shouldn’t be the same either. (You can read more about the bill at progressivemass.com/factsheet)

The Bad

But some of the results were less inspiring. The Senate rejected--without recorded votes-- amendments to expand the earned income tax credit (Amendment 16), to increase funding for family planning services (Amendment 507), to increase funding for affordable housing programs for those with disabilities (Amendment 641), and to increase funding for partnerships between universities and prisons that contribute vital reentry services (Amendment 906).

And then four amendments were withdrawn: Sen. Jamie Eldridge’s amendment (Amendment 23) to repeal a tax cut for the mutual fund industry (which could have brought in $143 million per year in additional revenue), Sen. Joan Lovely’s amendment (Amendment 389) to repeal the outdated, punitive law that prevents parents from receiving welfare assistance for children born after that parent started receiving assistance from the state, Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry’s amendment (Amendment 645) to increase assistance for individuals experiencing homelessness, and Sen. Eric Lesser’s amendment (Amendment 1025) to allow municipalities to put questions on the ballot to raise additional revenue for regional transportation projects.

The budget ultimately passed unanimously, as is both common and reflective of a lack of ambition, and will now go to conference.

The Ugly

Although we are grateful to see some of these targeted funding increases get into the budget, the pattern of chronic underinvestment we highlighted last week remains a problem. If we want our Commonwealth to work for all residents, then we need to grapple with the revenue shortfalls faced year after year and end the hold of conservative anti-tax dogma.

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