It’s been a week and change since Gov. Maura Healey signed the $56 billion state budget for fiscal year 2024. The Democratic governor signed her first budget flanked by Democratic leaders in the Legislature, a sign of executive and legislative branch harmony not always present under her Republican predecessor, Charlie Baker. House Speaker Ron Mariano called it a new precedent.
All the one-party comity notwithstanding, the Legislature and its Democratic supermajority are usually eager to have the last word. And some legislators are already starting to push for veto overrides.
A youth-oriented suicide-prevention helpline has become an early flashpoint. Healey cut down a budget item funding suicide-prevention organization Samaritans, Inc. by $1.4 million, eliminating $1 million in funds for the “Hey Sam” help line.
“I was a bit surprised and certainly concerned about the cut to Hey Sam,” said Democratic Sen. Becca Rausch of Needham, where the program began. Hey Sam allows young people to text trained peers for help dealing with suicidality, and “has been a 100 percent successful program,” Rausch said on The Horse Race podcast.
Since its launch last year, about 1,700 young people in Massachusetts texted the hotline. Samaritans CEO Kathleen Marchi told GBH News that she hopes lawmakers will vote this fall to put the money back in the budget for the Hey Sam program.
“In order to balance the budget without one-time revenue sources, we needed to reduce spending and make sure important programs and services were funded with ongoing resources,” a Healey spokesperson said in a statement. “We strategically chose areas where we could reduce spending without impacting service levels or utilize other funding sources to support the same mission.”
After Hey Sam launched, the state began offering the 988 suicide prevention and mental health hotline, a 24/7 operation required by the federal government, which connects callers to national suicide prevention services. According to the Healey administration, having the Hey Sam text line operating in parallel with the 988 text line could create confusion.
Proponents of the texting hotline say it is not duplicative of existing services, as it is staffed by locals who can refer callers to local services, and the peer-to-peer structure makes it more accessible to young people who may be reluctant to reach out for help through other channels.
Rep. Ted Philips, a Sharon Democrat, in a letter to House Ways and Means chairman Aaron Michlewitz reported by the State House News Service, called the cut “needlessly cruel.”
Though Rausch said Healey “had a very light pen overall, as far as the vetoes are concerned” in her first budget, many of the cuts targeted programs that “support children and families.” Rausch ticked off several examples of particular concern: about $2.8 million cut from substance use supports, $1 million from civics education, another $400,000 cut from Samaritans, and $1 million cut from Head Start, which provides early education and care programs and services for low-income families.
In many of these cases, Healey’s notes accompanying the veto say the remaining funding will be “sufficient to meet projected demand” and alternative funding sources are available.
Rausch is not the only Senate progressive looking askance at the vetoes. Sen. Jason Lewis, who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Education, said he is hoping for overrides on the Head Start cut and a $35 million item to assist the early education workforce with personal child care costs and increase reimbursement rates at center-based child care providers.
These represent “critical funding that we need for the sector, which has been under tremendous stress,” Lewis said. “Those amounts being cut from the budget would be very unfortunate if they were not restored.”
A spokesperson for Mariano said the governor’s vetoes and amendments are under review in the House, where any overrides have to originate. Veto discussion may begin in earnest once legislators return from their August recess, with a November 15 deadline to take up veto overrides.
“Each individual dollar amount in the grand scheme of a $56.2 billion budget is not that much,” Rausch said. “But to each of those individual line items, each of those individual programs, each of those grant recipients under the nonprofit security grant program, it’s a huge hit. So I am very much looking forward to override season.”
Attorney General Andrea Campbell and 18 other AGs penned a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urging the federal government to expedite work authorizations for migrants arriving in huge numbers to states across the country.
–The AGs said most migrants are eager to get on their feet and support their families, something that would be a big help to strained support systems in states. “A significant portion of the recent migrant population – many of whom are seeking asylum – have been paroled into the country and are therefore immediately eligible for work permits, but processing delays leave too many waiting ten months or more for authorization,” the letter reads. “These delays are placing an increasing burden on states to support families who would be able to support themselves immediately if given the opportunity to do so.”
Paul Hattis, in the second installment of a two-part essay, lays out a turnaround plan for beleaguered Tufts Medicine. He says stabilizing the health system, which has the second lowest commercial insurance payment rates of any academic medical center in the state, “will likely take legislative involvement to craft a set of rules that either incorporate a global budget system, or guide a private market negotiation system that can result in fairer prices being paid to high value providers like Tufts Medicine.” Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
The lawyer for embattled Boston City Councilor Kendra Lara is asking a judge to dismiss the litany of charges she’s faces in connection with crashing a car into a Jamaica Plain home on a technicality – arguing that Lara was not given a citation by police, as required, “at the time and place of the offense.” (Boston Globe) Meanwhile, Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden has appointed a special prosecutor from Worcester County to handle the case because the wife of one of Lara’s opponents in the September preliminary election works in his office. (Boston Herald)
Swampscott is mapping out its MBTA Communities zoning proposal. (The Daily Item)
A Texas woman was arrested and charged with threatening to kill Tanya Chutkun, the federal judge in Washington overseeing former president Donald Trump’s trial on charges of trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election. (New York Times)
The rancor within the Massachusetts Republican Party never seems to end, as former party chairman Jim Lyons has filed suit against his successor, Amy Carnevale, for her move to drop a lawsuit against the party’s treasurer, with whom Lyons had been feuding. (Boston Globe)
Former Framingham mayor Yvonne Spicer is taking the executive director reins at the life science non-profit Life Science Cares Boston. (MetroWest Daily News)
A multimillion-dollar pitch for New Bedford State Pier redevelopment will not go forward, and MassDevelopment will seek new proposals for the site. (New Bedford Standard-Times)
Boston school officials say they have a full complement of school bus drivers ready for the fall, setting a high bar for on-time performance, which has been a focus of state scrutiny. (WBUR)
The Diocese of Worcester’s new policy prohibits school staff and students in the diocese from using pronouns, clothing, or gender-segregated facilities that do not align with their sex assigned at birth. (Worcester Telegram)
East-West rail is “absolutely vital” to smaller communities and communities along the project line, says Anne Gobi, the new rural affairs director. (MassLive)
The Air Force Civil Engineer Center at Joint Base Cape Cod has determined an out-of-use practice hand grenade range at the base no longer poses a risk to human health or the environment. (Cape Cod Times)
A Worcester police officer is threatening to sue the city over an alleged pattern of harassment and road rage incident involving Chief Steven Sargent. (Worcester Telegram)
Police say a series of break-ins and burglaries across Middlesex County are targeting people of Indian and South Asian descent. (MetroWest Daily News)
A Pittsfield mother has filed a civil lawsuit against General Electric Co. and Bayer AG, which purchased PCB manufacturer Monsanto in 2018, alleging that exposure to PCBs at home and at school caused her son’s leukemia. (Berkshire Eagle)