Mass. House OKs $58B budget, focusing on education, child care, public transit


BOSTON — The Massachusetts House voted 153-4 late Friday to pass a $58 billion fiscal 2025 budget that invests in K-12 education, child care and public transit, shifting debate on spending priorities to the Senate.

House Democrats were united in their support of the bill while there were divisions within the 25-member House Republican caucus, where four members voted against the budget. The budget does not call for tax increases, seeks to push overall state spending up by about 3.3%, or $2 billion, and aims to drive up the state rainy day fund balance to nearly $9 billion.

The vote came after three days of mostly quiet behind-the-scenes deliberations where representatives hammered out details of more than a half-dozen mega-amendments that added roughly $100 million to the bill. At least publicly, there was little in the way of passionate debate over tough choices like how to best spend taxpayer dollars and whether to raise or cut taxes.

After session, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Aaron Michlewitz defended the mostly behind-closed-doors approach, saying there are “many different processes,” including one-on-one meetings and off-floor discussions, that representatives go through to advocate for their priorities during the budget’s development.

“They have the opportunity to pull their amendments on the floor and debate if they choose to,” Michlewitz said.

In the vast majority of cases, representatives opt against putting their amendments up for debates and separate votes.

Representatives tacked on less spending via amendments than they did to last year’s budget, and a shade less than the $108.5 million average between fiscal years 2022 and 2024 as calculated by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

“We want to be cautious, but also want to be able to do the local investments as well that we have done in the past as much as we possibly could,” Michlewitz told reporters after the vote. “I think we landed on a good number to do both.”

In recent years, the Legislature has worked with former Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Democrat Gov. Maura Healey to oversee a major surge in state spending, but sluggish tax collections and new spending demands have changed the tenor of discussion.

“I think all in all, we’ve preached a pretty conservative message,” said Speaker Ron Mariano. “I think that took hold, and I think the members were respectful of concerns about where we were going to end up.”

Overly optimistic revenue estimates are partly to blame for uprooting the budget that House and Senate Democrats drew up for fiscal 2024, causing Healey in January to reach for spending cuts and new revenues as part of a major midyear budget-balancing act. Since then, the governor has imposed hiring controls as an added effort to control spending.

The Department of Revenue this week is scheduled to release tax collection data for April, a critical month for receipts, and Michlewitz said those numbers will be a “big determining factor in how we handle the remainder of the fiscal year.”

After Friday’s vote, Mariano mentioned efforts by top House Democrats to hold new spending down next fiscal year.

“We’ve taken extraordinary measures to diminish some of the expectations that members had about what the tax revenues were going to be,” he said.

The Republican leadership in the House voted for the fiscal 2025 budget, and the four minority party votes against the budget were cast by Reps. Nicholas Boldyga, David DeCoste, Marc Lombardo and Alyson Sullivan-Almeida.

With only a bit more than three months left for major business this term, Mariano said health care and housing legislation are close to the top of his near-term agenda.

“And whatever else comes up along the way, but those are a couple of the things that I know are gonna take my time next week,” Mariano said.

The Senate usually debates its annual budget bill the week before Memorial Day weekend.

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Mass. House OKs $58B budget

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