STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
IT LOOKS A LOT DIFFERENT from the bill he proposed, but Gov. Charlie Baker finally has on his desk a version of legislation doling out billions of dollars in federal economic relief funds and surplus state tax revenue.
The Legislature took final votes Friday on a $4 billion American Rescue Plan Act spending package (H 4629) that grew beyond the governor’s original $2.8 billion proposal he filed in June. Baker now has 10 days to review the bill, which he is expected to sign although people will be on the lookout for any amendments he files or spending he vetoes.
“I speak for so many other organizations and individuals here in the commonwealth when I say how much I appreciate the fact that the Legislature got this thing to our desk. We’ve been waiting for this for a very long time,” Baker said at an event in Brockton on Friday. “I’m glad it’s here. We’ll take a good look at it over the course of the next several days and make some decisions about how to move forward.”
The bill before Baker uses $2.55 billion in ARPA funds, $1.45 billion in fiscal 2021 surplus tax revenue, and leaves about $2.3 billion in federal funds remaining.
Legislative leaders announced a compromise earlier this week that included about $180 million more in spending than either of the House and Senate’s original proposals. Officials said there was no real dispute between the two branches, but the House and Senate didn’t resolve their differences before the holiday recess, which meant the compromise legislation, when it finally emerged, had to be approved during sparsely attended informal sessions this week. Lawmakers have taken flak for giving final approval to the bill in such an opaque fashion.
The legislation allocates $500 million for up to $2,000 in premium bonus pay for essential workers, $500 million for the Unemployment Insurance Trust fund, $150 million for supportive housing, and $400 million for mental and behavioral health programs. Lawmakers also included $90 million for marine port infrastructure investments focused on offshore wind development.
“I am particularly proud of the significant investments we have made in our mental health care system that will begin to address the growing need for access to care across the Commonwealth. with the goal of transforming the delivery of mental health care in our state — a need felt in every corner of our Commonwealth,” Senate President Karen Spilka said in a statement.
Prior to the Senate’s vote Friday to approve the bill, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Michael Rodrigues said state budget writers will turn to the fiscal 2023 budget process in less than three weeks, with a hearing on revenue projections planned for Tuesday, December 21.