State Senate leaders unveiled a $33.92 billion annual budget today that boosts spending on services for the elderly and special education, but falls well short of Governor Deval Patrick’s plan to provide universal access to childcare and broadly expand the state’s aging transportation network.
Overall, the Senate plan would increase spending by 4.4 percent, compared to Patrick’s plan, which would hike spending by 6.9 percent.
Compared with the House proposal, the Senate provides more money for K-12 education, but not as much for higher education, while also rejecting House plans to crack down on welfare fraud.
Senators will debate the blueprint next week, and then reconcile their differences with the House, which approved its version of the state budget last month. Patrick must then act on the Legislature’s agreement by July 1, when the new budget year begins.
The Senate budget is, in some respects, another setback for Patrick’s ambitious education and transportation agenda. Patrick has been pushing for an additional $131 million for subsidized day care for children from birth to age 5, a plan he says would eliminate the list of 30,000 children waiting for childcare slots.
The House budget provided no increase for childcare services, with House leaders arguing the state agency that oversees childcare has not been managing its money efficiently. The Senate plan released today provides a $20 million increase for childcare—a boost but not on the order of what Patrick wanted.
Senate leaders would also provide a $35 million increase in higher education funding, far less than he $110 million boost that Patrick wanted and the House approved. The House and the governor have said that anything less than a $110 million increase could cause tuition and fees to rise at the University of Massachusetts.
The Senate, like the House, also cuts down the governor’s sweeping transportation agenda. Patrick has been pushing for a $1.9 billion tax hike — $1 billion for transportation and $900 million for education. The Senate, like the House, jettisons that in favor of $500 million in higher taxes on tobacco and gasoline, aimed at paying for a smaller expansion of transit projects.
The Senate, however, tries to move a bit closer to Patrick’s plan by providing some additional revenue for transportation. It would raise another $40 million by requiring utility companies to pay for infrastructure, such as light poles, on state highways, and take another $80 million for transportation from an underground storage tank cleanup fund.
“Our differences with the governor are not in the direction, but in the extent,” said Senator Stephen M. Brewer, a Barre Democrat and the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Brewer said the highlights of the Senate budget include a $6.5 million increase for home-care services for the elderly, which he said would allow about 1,500 additional seniors to receive services at home and potentially avoid having to move into nursing homes.
The Senate budget also pumps an additional $19.6 million into rental assistance for the poor, in an effort to prevent them from having to move into costlier state-subsidized motel rooms for the homeless. Special education would be boosted by $22.4 million, Senate leaders said.
Overall funding for K-12 education would be boosted by $130 million, compared to a $114 million boost provided by the House.
Other areas would not see major increases. The Senate budget would not provide any more money for unrestricted local aid, the key account that helps cities and towns pay for teachers, firefighters, and police officers.
The Senate also rejected a House plan aimed at cracking down on welfare fraud. And the Senate budget ignored the House’s plans to set up a $300,000 Bureau of Program Integrity to root out welfare fraud and to require photos on Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, to prevent trafficking of the cards.
Brewer, who recently spent five hours visiting a welfare office in Holyoke, said the Senate is interested in overhauling the welfare system but not in ideas that he characterized as “just soundbites.”