Council in the News
What is and isn’t in Healey’s budget
READING BETWEEN THE BUDGET LINES — Maura Healey’s first budget proposal is a $55.5 billion blueprint for how the new governor plans to make good on her promises to spend more on education, transportation, and energy and environmental agencies.
It’s also a roadmap for recalibrating state spending as the river of federal pandemic aid that helped expand programs from rental aid to Medicaid runs dry.
The phrase “off-ramp” appears throughout the Healey administration’s budget materials as the state prepares for the end of the federal Covid-19 emergencies in May.
Healey is adjusting spending on rental and foreclosure assistance to reflect changes in need and in federal aid. She expects to spend nearly $2 billion less on MassHealth as the state reassesses eligibility for its Medicaid program for the first time in years. And her plan to extend extra SNAP benefits is already moving through the Legislature, though not quickly enough to prevent a gap when federal payments end today.
“We do recognize that funding is running out from the federal government with respect to certain benefits, programs that so many families have been relying on,” Healey said. “We tried to approach it thoughtfully and create scenarios where people could have a more graduated glidepath, so to speak, as that funding was expiring.”
But the House and Senate still have to file their budgets. And House Speaker Ron Mariano sowed doubts in an interview with State House News Service about whether the state can afford to pick up the tab on everything the feds floated during the pandemic, even as his chamber sent the massive spending bill extending SNAP benefits and boosting emergency shelter aid on to the Senate.
One pandemic-era program not in Healey’s fiscal 2024 budget: universal free school meals. Massachusetts carried on the expanded school meal program last year after federal aid ran out. And Healey plans to file another supplemental budget “in the coming days” to extend it for the 2023-2024 school year, her team said. But she doesn’t plan, at least right now, to make universal free school meals permanent.
Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey presents her fiscal year 2024 budget on March 1, 2023, at the State House. | Lisa Kashinsky/POLITICO
GOOD THURSDAY MORNING, MASSACHUSETTS. Healey’s plans are all subject to change throughout the monthslong budget process she kicked off yesterday — including how she wants to divvy up money from the millionaires tax.
Healey is calling to funnel the new revenue into a trust fund, from which the money will be divided between education and transportation projects. The governor and lawmakers agreed to budget $1 billion in revenue from the new surtax in fiscal 2024, and Healey proposes splitting that almost evenly, with $510 million for education and $490 million for transportation. That includes:
— $20 million for her “MassReconnect” program to make community college free for those over age 25 who lack college degrees.
— $59 million to lock in tuition rates for in-state undergraduates entering UMass.
— $5 million to study means-tested public transit fares. Healey promised a “pathway to fare free buses” during her campaign. Her administration says this funding is a “potential to start” down that road.
TODAY — Healey speaks at the RIZE “Five Years of Fighting Together” Breakfast at 8 a.m. and addresses the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce at 9:45 a.m., both at Westin Copley Place. Healey is also on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio” at noon and makes several stops in Brockton beginning at 2 p.m. Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll joins for all events except GBH. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu signs a proclamation announcing Crispus Attucks Commemoration Day at 1:30 p.m. at City Hall.
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— CHEERS AND JEERS: Gov. Maura Healey won praise Wednesday for boosting spending for energy and environmental agencies in her budget. But she continues to face blowback over the tax-relief package she filed alongside it.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association, for instance, praised Healey for fully funding the Student Opportunity Act but slammed her “sizable giveaways to the very wealthy” through her proposed changes to the estate-tax threshold and short-term capital gains tax rate. The Massachusetts High Technology Council, on the other hand, thinks Healey’s proposed tax breaks don’t go far enough to improve the state’s economic competitiveness.
— FILING CABINET: The third piece of legislation Healey filed Wednesday was to establish her standalone housing secretariat, dubbed the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, for which she’s yet to hire a leader.
— BUDGET GUIDES: The Boston Globe’s Samantha J. Gross and Matt Stout dig into Healey’s housing and emergency shelter assistance plans. MassLive’s Alison Kuznitz has the details on the funding for western Massachusetts station improvements tied to realizing East-West rail.
And the Boston Herald’s Gayla Cawley tackles Healey’s transportation head-scratcher: the governor promised in her inaugural address to include money in her first budget to hire 1,000 MBTA workers, but said Wednesday that the T already has that money at its disposal and that “we are focused on new money that will go more on the improvement side.”
— “Healey proposes free phone calls for prisoners,” by Christian M. Wade, Eagle-Tribune: “Democratic Gov. Maura Healey is reviving a controversial plan, twice rejected by the Legislature, to make phone calls free for state prisoners. Tucked into an outside section of Healey’s $55.5 billion spending plan, unveiled on Wednesday, is a proposal to tap into $20 million in previously allocated funds to provide up to 1,000 minutes a month of free phone calls for inmates at state prisons and correctional facilities.”
— “POST Commission suspends police officers from 3 Mass. towns; ‘not certified’ list released,” by Chris Van Buskirk, MassLive: “The state agency tasked with regulating law enforcement in Massachusetts said Wednesday it suspended the policing licenses of three more police officers from Rowley, Hudson and Mendon, bringing the total number of law enforcement agents removed from service to 22. The new suspensions come as the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission also released a long-awaited list of officers who have been deemed ‘not certified’ because they are on excused leave, failed certain training requirements or due to a disciplinary matter.”
— “Boston’s police oversight office has yet to uphold a single civilian complaint,” by Adam Reilly, GBH News: “Nearly two years after its executive director was hired, and roughly one year after it began to operate in earnest, Boston’s Office of Police Accountability and Transparency has yet to sustain any civilian complaints against the Boston Police Department or to issue subsequent recommendations for disciplinary action, according to a review of city data by GBH News.”
— “Still no answers on BPD court overtime,” by Yawu Miller, Bay State Banner: “In September 2020, the Banner asked the Boston Police Department why their records appeared to show officers collecting overtime for court duty while simultaneously making arrests and traffic stops sometimes miles from the nearest courthouse. A spokesperson for BPD told the Banner at that time that the department was conducting an investigation into the instances, which appear to violate its overtime policies. Yet two years later, BPD officials have yet to disclose any results of their investigation and, as of last week, haven’t even confirmed an investigation is ongoing.”
— “NHL union job aside, what’s next for Marty Walsh?” by Gintautas Dumcius, Dorchester Reporter: “He was asked if this was the end of his political career. Walsh, who is known to closely follow political developments, texting and calling friends and allies, as he did in the race to succeed him in 2021, left it open-ended. ‘I’ve got two weeks left, so let’s see what happens.’”
— “New NCAA president says NIL rules could protect athletes,” by Ralph D. Russo, The Associated Press: “As Charlie Baker takes over as NCAA president, he brings a different way of thinking about one of the most important and polarizing issues in college athletics: regulating how student-athletes monetize their fame. To Baker, athletes such as quarterback recruit Jaden Rashada and Miami basketball players Hanna and Haley Cavinder are consumers who need help in a burgeoning name, image and likeness market. That market currently lacks transparency and uniformity, and the athletes would benefit from legal protections to ward off unqualified, unaccountable and even unscrupulous actors.”
— “Union drive: Uber, Lyft drivers rally for right to unionize,” by Lance Reynolds, Boston Herald: “Uber and Lyft drivers from across Massachusetts rallied outside of an Uber office in Saugus on Wednesday, urging state lawmakers to pass the Rideshare Drivers Justice Bill. The legislative package, filed in January, would go a long way in addressing what the drivers say is unfair treatment – low pay, and few workplace protections – by providing them with the ability to unionize.”
— “Senate confirms first Hispanic judge to Massachusetts federal court,” by Saraya Wintersmith, GBH News: “Margaret R. Guzman, a former public defender, will be the first Hispanic judge to sit on the federal U.S. District Court for Massachusetts. The U.S. Senate voted 49-48 Thursday to confirm Guzman, a state court judge, to the seat. Vice President Kamala Harris broke the tie vote which split along party lines. Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican and former governor of Massachusetts, voted against the nomination.”
— “Deepfake Video Shows Elizabeth Warren Saying Republicans Shouldn’t Vote,” by Aleks Phillips, Newsweek: “The video — made with artificial intelligence technology to make it appear as if the Democrat senator for Massachusetts is genuinely making the claims — racked up around 189,000 views on Twitter in a week.”
— “RFK killer Sirhan Sirhan denied parole by California board,” by Julie Watson, The Associated Press: “A California panel on Wednesday denied parole for Robert F. Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan, saying the 78-year-old prisoner still lacks insight into what caused him to shoot the senator and presidential candidate in 1968, Sirhan’s lawyer said.”
— “MIT takes steps to stop foreign espionage, but some faculty say it goes too far,” by Kirk Carapezza, GBH News: “Campus administrators at MIT are following new national security guidelines first announced under Trump and enacted by the Biden administration that are supposed to protect research labs from spying and international espionage. At MIT, that has meant not only on-campus briefings by the FBI, but a new requirement asking professors who receive federal funding to sign a disclosure form certifying that their students are not participating in suspicious activities. And while many MIT faculty aren’t happy about it, experts say it’s a sign of what’s to come at other U.S. research universities.”
— “Mass. state auditor plans to conduct audit into Worcester Cultural Academy’s financing,” by Kiernan Dunlop, MassLive: “Massachusetts State Auditor [Diana] DiZoglio is planning to conduct an audit into the financial arrangement among Old Sturbridge Village Inc., Old Sturbridge Academy Charter School and Worcester Cultural Academy Charter School.”
— “Passing of the torch: Banner changes hands,” by Brian Wright O’Connor, Bay State Banner.
TRANSITIONS — Kate Dineen has been appointed president and CEO of A Better City. Richard Dimino will be transitioning to the role of president emeritus of the board. Dineen, who is currently EVP and COO, transitions to her new role in April.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY — to former Rep. Brian Donnelly, Kevin Madden, Joseph Gravellese and John Krol.
NEW HORSE RACE ALERT: FEELING SPECIAL — Host Lisa Kashinsky breaks down Boston’s upcoming special state representative elections. The Boston Globe’s Diti Kohli joins host Steve Koczela to dig into why some Boston neighborhoods are recovering from the pandemic faster than others. Subscribe and listen on iTunes and Sound Cloud.
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