OVER THE COURSE of two weeks, the Legislature overrode the majority of Gov. Maura Healey’s vetoes from her first budget, restoring about $80 million across 24 overrides targeting child care, early education, suicide prevention, and anti-poverty funding. Current revenue levels, plus the recently signed tax cut package, make the package of overrides fiscally sound, lawmakers said.
The budget passed by lawmakers, House Ways and Means chair Aaron Michlewitz told representatives in late September, “was fiscally responsible, while also making sure we protected the programs our most vulnerable populations relied on.”
Gov. Maura Healey used a light touch with the veto pen in her first budget cycle, but legislators in both chambers made quick work of several vetoes that had caused public consternation.
The governor made 35 vetoes, slicing about $270 million in total spending from the $56 billion budget for fiscal year 2024. Most of the cuts, she said, left programs at necessary levels or removed redundancies.
“While we understand the governor’s actions and value the collaborative working relationship we have fostered over these last nine months, we respectfully disagree with some of these vetoes,” Michlewitz said as the House took up the overrides last month. “With the savings we have accumulated and with $580 million we set aside for tax relief, we believe that we can afford to override” the two dozen vetoes before the chamber.
The House voted in late September and the Senate voted last week to restore $1.4 million for suicide prevention services, including the youth suicide prevention hotline “Hey Sam;” $1 million to the state civics education trust fund; $1 million for Head Start programs; $2.5 million for the Home and Healthy Good program; and $2.5 million for a nonprofit security grant pilot program.
With another override vote, the full $35 million veto of a center-based child care rate increase will make it back into the budget. The funding is aimed at assisting the early education workforce with personal child care costs and increasing reimbursement rates at center-based child care providers. Healey’s veto letter said sufficient funding existed elsewhere and this provision excluded family child care centers. “Excluding family child care centers creates inequity across different segments of the child care system,” she wrote.
Other restored child care items include about $6 million in funding for family resource centers and $950,000 in funding for children’s advocacy centers. Both have been “priority” areas for the Senate, Ways and Means chair Michael Rodrigues said in explaining the overrides on the Senate floor. The resource centers offer “a crucial gateway to state and local services for families,” and the advocacy centers “provide critical services to victims of child abuse and law enforcement agencies agents investigating cases of abuse and trafficking,” Rodrigues said.
Lawmakers technically have about another month to take up override votes, though they’re required to keep the budget in balance.
All told, the state budget commits $1.5 billion to early education and care. Child care and education advocacy groups like the Children’s League of Massachusetts cheered the overrides. Lauren Kennedy, co-president of Boston-based early education nonprofit Neighborhood Villages, said the budget is “a positive step forward and sets a precedent for a future where quality child care is accessible and equitable for families.”
Community action agencies will see $7.7 million of funding restored. The money offers the state’s 23 community action agencies flexibility to invest in antipoverty programs, and its loss would have prompted programming cuts and “disastrous” staff layoffs, an official at the Community Action Agency of Somerville said in August. Healey wrote that she vetoed the line item because its “original purpose was specifically tied to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Both chambers also rejected a move by the governor to delay implementation of the much-debated budget item allowing unlimited free phone calls for incarcerated individuals.
“Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters from my district have been waiting years, decades, and sometimes maybe even a whole generation for the opportunity to connect with their loved ones – untethered from their ability to actually pay,” Sen. Liz Miranda, of Roxbury, said as the body took up the override. “Incarceration for so many families has a destabilizing impact on financial security. We can’t as a state delay this any further.”