WHEN GOV. CHARLIE BAKER made his $45.6 billion budget proposal Wednesday, he highlighted the things he is funding: education, economic recovery, mental health services, and local aid.
Left unsaid was the other story the numbers tell: With non-MassHealth spending increasing by just 1 percent – and an increase in education spending and COVID-recovery-related expenses – most line items will be level funded or cut. According to an analysis by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, Baker’s budget cuts or eliminates 243 items, level funds 399, and increases funding for 126.
Advocates spent the day digging through line items to figure out what exactly the governor is cutting.
This year’s state budget gave a 10 percent bump in cash assistance payments to impoverished families and elders. Baker would eliminate that bump next year.
MASSCreative is unhappy that Baker is proposing a 10 percent cut for the Mass Cultural Council. The cultural advocacy organization notes that the cultural sector has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue since last March. “As we move forward with policy prescriptions for the post-pandemic world, community connections that foster well-being will be critical,” MASSCreative said. “And the non-profit arts and cultural sector will be key to those efforts.”
While Baker touted a $15 million increase to emergency shelters serving families, he cut $3 million from shelters serving individuals. Massachusetts is required by law to house all homeless families with children but not all individuals. “Our shelters are already struggling to make ends meet as the number of homeless individuals continues to increase and our staff battle the COVID-19 pandemic,” a spokesperson for the Coalition Homeless Individuals said in a statement. “A $3 million, 5 percent budget cut jeopardizes the safety and wellness of the most vulnerable among us in addition to the frontline staff supporting them.”
Lew Finfer, who heads Massachusetts Communities Action Network, highlighted cuts in youth jobs programs, at-risk youth programs, and adult basic education.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association is unhappy about a $31.1 million decrease for public colleges and universities (except UMass, which is level funded).
On early education, administration officials note that the $758.5 million Baker is allocating is 43 percent more than was being spent when he took office. Left out is the fact that it represents a significant decrease from the $834.1 million 2021 budget. The biggest differences: there is no rate increase being proposed for early educators next year and there is no money to pay parent fees, as was done to help low-income parents this year.
Amy O’Leary, director of Early Education for All, an early education advocacy campaign, said the governor seems to think it makes sense that some relief put in place this year will no longer be needed next year, and federal money may alleviate the state cut. Baker officials say early education will get $130 million in federal COVID-19 funding, along with state money left unused this year. But O’Leary thinks the funding drop is problematic, since childcare is already underfunded, and some expenses like personal protective equipment may not disappear. O’Leary said this is not a time for “business as usual,” but to think about “how we use this opportunity to transform the way we think about funding in the future.”
The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation identified more than $200 million in new spending and initiatives in the fiscal 2021 budget that Baker cut for fiscal 2022. Some programs were needed for COVID recovery this year, like school grants and economic recovery planning, which may no longer be necessary. Others include an affordable housing trust fund, a community college “SUCCESS fund,” and “community empowerment grants.”
Baker officials point out that some of the apparent cuts may be offset with federal dollars – for example, state universities and community colleges will get $164 million in federal money. Other cuts are programs that are no longer necessary – for example, the early education money was to cover parent fees for days the child could not attend school (for example, if a child was sick). Requiring parents to pay the fees during the pandemic was infeasible, but the fees will return post-pandemic.
Patrick Marvin, a spokesperson for the Executive Office of Administration and Finance said in a statement, “The Administration’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget proposal ensures continued investments in key areas including implementation of the landmark Student Opportunity Act, housing assistance, and support for workers and small businesses. Comparisons to the Fiscal Year 2021 budget may be misleading because that spending plan relied on significant one-time funding related to COVID-19, including federal dollars, and the FY22 budget will guide the Commonwealth as it recovers from the pandemic and moves away from these one-time revenues.”
It is now up to the Legislature whether to fund these items – and where to find the money.
O’Leary’s quote has been corrected. Information was added from the Executive Office of Administration and Finance.