Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker agreed to a major increase in state spending Thursday, signing a $52.7 billion annual budget, vetoing less than half a million dollars of spending, and returning 41 sections to the Legislature with amendments.
Among Baker's amendments is to attach what his office says are "the most important provisions" of the governor's dangerousness bill that the Legislature recently spiked. Baker attached his amendment onto the budget section that would provide free phone calls to inmates.
He said Thursday that what he returned was a "narrow" version of his original bill, which his administration had proposed to lawmakers in recent days. Baker also proposed requiring the Health Connector to study the Legislature's two-year pilot program that lawmakers said "significantly expands" ConnectorCare, the state's subsidized insurance program, to an estimated 37,000 additional Massachusetts residents.
In total, Baker used his veto pen to strike just $475,000 from a budget that represents one of the largest spending increases in recent years. The fiscal 2023 budget as passed by the Legislature represented an increase of $5.1 billion or 10.7 percent over the $47.6 billion annual budget passed for fiscal 2022. During a signing ceremony in his State House office and in a press release from his administration, Baker focused almost entirely on the parts of the budget that he signed and supported, and had a lot of good to say about the spending plan, including that its "affordable" and "appropriate" given the steep rise in state tax collections.
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"We're pleased to be signing the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which supports tax relief efforts and delivers investments in a variety of key areas of state government including significant increases in education funding in both the K through 12 and higher ed level, child care investments, and big increases in local aid to our cities and towns," Baker, who will leave office about halfway through the budget year, said Thursday morning. "Over the past seven years, we've always spent less than we raised in taxes and that's made a big difference in getting our budget structurally balanced. When we took office, we started with a budget deficit of varying proportions, depending upon how you do the math, and the Rainy Day Fund had somewhere around a billion dollars in it. At this point in time, the Rainy Day Fund has almost $7 billion in it and we've been in structural balance now for the past four or five years."
Secretary of Administration and Finance said the budget includes deposits to bring the Rainy Day Fund north of $8 billion by the end of fiscal 2023
The Republican governor had a Friday deadline to act on the $52.7 billion annual budget that legislators sent last week.
The budget plan approved by lawmakers last Monday includes $1.2 billion in unrestricted aid to cities and towns, nearly $6 billion for local school aid and more than $110 million to increase access to school meals.
The plan also sets aside $266 million to help the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority address safety concerns spotlighted in a recent review of the transit agency by the Federal Transit Administration.
In addition, the budget creates a two-year pilot program aimed at providing individuals and families who earn up to 500 percent of the federal poverty level — about $68,000 a year for an individual and $139,000 for a family of four — access to subsidized health care coverage with reduced premiums, co-pays and deductibles.
The signing is scheduled for 8:45 a.m. at the State House. Afterwards, Governor Baker is scheduled to head to Washington D.C., where he is expected to federal officials about energy and healthcare.