State Senate leaders unveiled a $33.92 billion annual budget Wednesday 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 child care and broadly expand the state’s aging transportation network.
Overall, the Senate plan would increase spending by 4.4 percent. Patrick’s plan 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 rejecting a crackdown on welfare fraud.
Senators will debate the blueprint next week and reconcile differences with the House, which approved its version of the budget last month. Patrick must act on the Legislature’s agreement by July 1, when the new budget year begins.
The Senate budget is, in some respects, a setback for Patrick’s ambitious education and transportation agenda. Patrick has pushed 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 child-care slots.
The House budget provided no increase for child-care services, with leaders arguing that the state agency that oversees child care has not managed money efficiently.
The Senate plan provides a $20 million increase for child care, but not on the order of what Patrick wants.
Senate leaders would provide a $35 million increase in higher education funding, far less than the $110 million boost 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 university president, Robert L. Caret, said he would push senators to provide more money for UMass. “The stakes are simply too high to do otherwise,” he said in a statement.
The Senate budget, like that of the House, cuts down the governor’s transportation agenda. Patrick has been pushing for a $1.9 billion tax hike, $1 billion for transportation and $900 million for education.
But both the House and Senate jettisoned that $1.9 billion increase in favor of $500 million in higher taxes on tobacco and gasoline, aimed at paying for a smaller expansion of transit projects.
The Senate tries to move closer to Patrick’s plan by providing more 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 $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 Stephen M. Brewer, a Barre Democrat and the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Senate President Therese Murray was traveling with the governor on a trade mission in Ireland when the Senate budget was released.
Patrick’s budget chief, Glen Shor, issued a statement saying that the governor would review the Senate plan with an eye to his goals of investing in transportation and education.
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 with a $114 million boost provided by the House.
Other areas would not see major increases. The Senate budget would not provide more money for unrestricted local aid, the key account that helps cities and towns pay for teachers, firefighters, and police officers.
The Senate also provides no additional money for public health inspectors despite complaints from Patrick officials that the state lacks sufficient staff to conduct inspections of everything from summer camps to food manufacturers.
The Senate rejected a House plan 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 at a welfare office in Holyoke, said the Senate is interested in overhauling the welfare system but not in ideas he called “just soundbites.”