Joyce votes for prudent budget, continuing on the path to reform and focusing on small business relief

The Massachusetts Senate last Friday passed a $28.4 billion balanced budget for the 2011 fiscal year that focuses on prudent expenditures, reforms and economic development. In a conscious effort to unburden residents and keep the Commonwealth on solid fiscal footing, the Senate’s budget does not contain any earmarks or rely on any additional taxes or withdrawals from the stabilization fund. The Senate used a combination of spending reductions and legislative reforms to close the $2.85 billion budget gap.
The overall budget increases spending by approximately 1.7 percent from fiscal year 2010 estimated spending, the majority of which goes toward healthcare and other non-discretionary spending areas.
“We passed a balanced budget that does not raise taxes or put new burdens on our municipalities,” said Senator Joyce. “Now we need to continue focusing on job creation and small business relief to get Massachusetts back to work.”
Utilizing the most up-to-date revenue numbers, the Senate was able to provide targeted increases to areas of the budget that help cities and towns, schools and families.
These targeted investments include an increase of $13.5 million for the Special Education funding for local schools, which Joyce co-sponsored, bringing the total funding to $146.4 million. This Senate proposal would increase the amount local districts are reimbursed to 44 percent, providing some much needed relief to school districts for the cost of educating students with special needs.
The Senate included another Joyce amendment for an additional $6.7 million for Kindergarten Development Grants that expands classroom time from half day to full day. The amendment will make grant funding available in 2011 for those school districts who received the grants in 2010.
In addition to increasing support for important programs, the Senate budget includes important reforms in the areas of probation, illegal immigration and municipal plan design.
The Senate proposes significant changes to the state’s probation department. The final Senate budget limits the probation commissioner’s term to five years and requires all appointments to the trial court to be approved by the Chief Justice, stripping the exclusive authority from the Commissioner of Probation. The Senate budget also establishes a task force that is charged will making recommendations on placing the department in the executive branch or elsewhere.
In an effort to reform and codify state regulations relative to illegal immigrants, the final Senate budget includes a comprehensive bipartisan amendment that will bar illegal immigrants from public health care, housing, and higher education benefits.
The amendment will require state contractors to verify citizenship status of their employees and any contractors found in violation of federal law will be debarred from public projects. It also includes new penalties for falsifying state IDs and driver's licenses, denies illegal immigrants access to in-state tuition rates at state colleges and gives priority to eligible housing applicants over non-legal residents.
Finally, the Senate budget addresses rising municipal health care costs by giving cities and towns health care plan design authority. This measure will result in substantial savings in those communities which choose to adopt it, while protecting municipal employees from substantial cost increases or coverage limitations. The Senate’s plan design approach strikes a balance that will help our municipalities meet fiscal challenges without sacrificing quality of care.
The budget will now go to conference committee with the House of Representatives. The new fiscal year begins July 1.