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Lawmakers reach $46 billion budget deal that would expand abortion access in Mass.

The Massachusetts State House.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Massachusetts legislative leaders late Thursday filed a $46.2 billion budget accord they said would drain the state’s emergency savings beyond what lawmakers had initially approved and expand abortion access, including allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to get an abortion without a parent’s consent.

The spending agreement hatched between a six-member committee is expected to surface Friday in the House and Senate, leaving lawmakers less than a day to digest the sprawling document.

The long overdue spending plan lands more than five months into the current fiscal year and amid a lame-duck legislative session, made possible after legislators voted to extend formal lawmaking and give themselves more time to assess the pandemic’s economic damage.


The proposal does not include any broad-based tax increases, officials said, a move Legislative leaders eschewed last month in the face of an estimated $3.6 billion revenue shortfall wrought by the spread of COVID-19.

Instead, the package proposes leaning on up to $1.7 billion from the state’s emergency savings account, well above the roughly $1.5 billion both chambers initially approved last month. The newly proposed draw would consume nearly half of the state’s $3.5 billion Rainy Day Fund, leaving it with about $1.8 billion after the fiscal year ends in June.

State Senator Michael J. Rodrigues, the chamber’s budget chairman, said Thursday he’s optimistic the state’s finances can endure the newly resurging pandemic, with doses of vaccines expected to arrive as early as this month and the prospect of more federal aid that’s yet to materialize.

But he said the extra money from the state’s savings would help ensure it covers tens of millions of dollars in extra spending lawmakers want to funnel toward rental assistance and early education, among other things, to help the state’s residents weather the months ahead.

“We’re in the middle of the pandemic. There are areas that require additional investments,” Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat, said. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but we still need to get through this tunnel.”


The budget agreement also would dedicate $46 million toward new grants for small businesses, or about half of what Governor Charlie Baker had sought in his own budget proposal. “We only had so much money to spend,” Rodrigues said.

The state’s tax receipts have largely held firm since the fiscal year began in July. State revenue officials reported Thursday that, including November, tax receipts are running about 1 percent above what they collected at the same point last year.

But the coronavirus is again coursing through Massachusetts, running up new daily records for cases — 6,477 cases were reported Thursday alone — and raising fears the state’s economy could again begin to sag under the weight of the surge. Baker, for his part, said earlier this week that he wasn’t planning to implement any additional restrictions or business closures.

“Obviously, there could still be a collapse ahead — and April returns are especially hard to predict,” Evan Horowitz, the executive director of Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University, said of tax revenues. “But these monthly numbers tell a surprising story.”

The state has for months operated on bare-bones temporary budgets, designed to keep state government funded until a full-year plan was finalized.

The budget proposal that surfaced Thursday also included a prominent policy measure: language that would expand access to abortion in Massachusetts by lowering the age limit from 18 to 16 without parental consent.


Officials said the proposal, versions of which the House and Senate both approved, also would allow abortions after 24 weeks in cases in which a fetus has been diagnosed with a fatal anomaly. Massachusetts currently allows abortions after that point only if necessary to save the patient’s life, or if continuing pregnancy would threaten the patient’s physical or mental health.

The language is similar to a bill, dubbed the Roe Act, that advocates have pushed since early 2019. It received a boost in late-session momentum when House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and Senate President Karen E. Spilka vowed to expand abortion access days after Justice Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in to the Supreme Court.

Her addition solidified the court’s conservative majority, and spurred concerns among liberal Democrats and activists that the court could in the future reverse the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion legal nationwide.

Top Catholic leaders have balked at the Massachusetts proposal.

Spilka, in a statement Thursday, said she was “thrilled” with the provision’s inclusion, adding that Massachusetts “will be taking a vital step to protect reproductive rights.”

Baker, who supports a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion, has previously aired concerns about changing the state law. He has not said whether he would veto the language, but he chided Democratic leaders last month for including the language after they told rank-and-file lawmakers they wanted to avoid including major policy initiatives in the budget process.


“It’s pretty hard to argue that this isn’t a major policy initiative,” Baker said last month.

State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, the House’s budget chairman, said lawmakers prefer not to use the budget to pass polices of “that magnitude, but the timing called for us to act quickly.”

“This was a unique year with unique challenges and circumstances,” the North End Democrat said. “And one of those unique circumstances that got thrown at us was the death of [justice] Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett.”

The emergence of the budget compromise adds to a week of fast-moving developments on Beacon Hill, where lawmakers on Tuesday passed a hotly debated bill tightening accountability of police months after leaders began negotiating it. Both chambers are preparing for another formal session Friday, where they could whisk the budget deal to Baker’s desk with the most recent stopgap state spending measure slated to expire soon.

Massachusetts entered the fall as one of a handful of states without a full-year budget for the current fiscal year after lawmakers held off for months on finalizing a plan, citing uncertainty about the scope of the pandemic’s economic strain and the potential for an additional round of federal help.

The House and Senate both sought to bridge the revenue shortfall with more than a $1 billion in federal funds, and lawmakers said Thursday’s agreement features a version of a Baker proposal to accelerate how the state receives sales taxes, a move that could generate hundreds of millions in one-time revenue.


Matt Stout can be reached at Follow him @mattpstout.