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Budget bill moves on after Senate gives OK

The state Senate voted 36 to 3 Thursday night to approve a $33.99 billion budget for fiscal 2014, adding $68.4 million in spending to the plan over two days of debate.

The budget now heads to conference committee, where six members of the House and Senate will negotiate the differences between their two versions, which had virtually identical bottom lines but diverged in several critical areas.

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Those areas included state spending and lawmakers’ backing for the University of Massachusetts, where school officials say increased support is necessary to avoid tuition and fee hikes for the next academic year.

The Senate also deferred ­action on reforms to public ­assistance programs in anticipation of a comprehensive welfare reform bill Senate President Therese Murray is expected to roll out in coming weeks.

In two long days of ­debate, the Senate dispensed with 725 amendments and adopted 195 amendments, which included a series of proposals to overhaul the management of the Sex ­Offender Registry and expand the bottle bill.

In addition, the amendments adopted included making nearly $40 million from the distressed hospital fund available to increase reimbursement rates to community and safety net hospitals that provide a disproportionate amount of care to Medicaid patients.

“Many hospitals are hanging on by their fingernails, and we’re trying to throw a lifeline to keep some of them operating,” said Senate Ways and Means chairman Stephen Brewer, a Barre Democrat.

Senator Michael Knapik, a Westfield Republican, was the only member of the GOP to vote in favor of the budget, while ­minority leader Bruce Tarr and Senators Robert Hedlund and Richard Ross vote against the bill.

“It’s based on what I consider to be an unsustainable amount of spending,” Tarr said after the vote.

Tarr said he was concerned that the budget is based on nearly $500 million in tax ­increases on tobacco, gasoline, and businesses included in a transportation financing bill still being negotiated in conference committee.

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