AS GOV. CHARLIE BAKER well knows, you don’t always get what you want – even in a state awash in money. The House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday released a significantly pared down version of a supplemental budget bill that Baker introduced last month.
Since Massachusetts has been benefiting from high tax revenues and an influx of federal recovery money, a pattern has emerged of the Republican Baker pushing the Democratic-led Legislature to spend more money more quickly.
Last month, Baker released a proposal to spend $2.4 billion taken from surplus revenues, with a cost to the state of $1.6 billion after accounting for federal reimbursements. The new House bill cuts spending to $1.6 billion, with a state cost of $842 million.
The House bill would also extend state authorization for two popular pandemic-era programs – outdoor dining and cocktails-to-go – until April 1, 2023. Lawmakers made it easier for restaurants to obtain outdoor dining permits due to COVID, and that authorization expires April 1, 2022. They also let restaurants sell beer, wine, and cocktails to go, and that authorization expires May 1, 2022.
Both the governor’s and the House committee’s proposals incorporate $700 million of direct COVID-related costs, much of which will be reimbursed by the federal government. These are things like conducting COVID testing, buying protective equipment, providing access to COVID treatments, and doing vaccine outreach. Both proposals also include $140 million for special education schools to address their staffing needs, and contain at least $100 million to fund collective bargaining agreements.
Both proposals would use state dollars to continue providing rental assistance as federal housing money dries up, though Baker would allocate $60 million and the House would spend $100 million.
But several of Baker’s large proposed expenditures are absent from the House plan. Baker would spend $450 million to extend grants for childcare providers through fiscal 2023; the House bill leaves this out. The House also leaves out $100 million in construction grants for youth-focused nonprofits and $60 million for victim assistance grants.
Baker proposed a policy shift that would require a guardian ad litem be appointed to represent the interest of any child who is the subject of a Juvenile Court case in which it is alleged that the child has been subjected to abuse or neglect. “The GAL will provide children in the custody of the Department of Children and Families an independent advocate responsible for considering only the child’s best interests,” Baker wrote in a filing letter. His bill included $50 million to hire and pay these additional guardians. The House left this policy out.
Both bills include $100 million to fix road damage caused by the winter weather, but Baker would add an additional $100 million to the general road repair funding formula and another $150 million for climate change preparedness grants.
With the war in Ukraine breaking out after Baker filed his bill, the legislative version includes $10 million for refugee resettlement, with special mention of future Ukrainian refugees.
The House could vote on the bill as soon as Wednesday.