Baker signs $38.1 billion state budget
Vetoes some spending for education programs
Governor Charlie Baker, who faced a significant fiscal crunch when he took office six months ago, signed a $38.1 billion state budget Friday that largely adhered to his thrifty vision for balancing the books: reining in spending on a health care program for the poor and holding the line on taxes.
The budget, approved by the Legislature last week, also delivered modified versions of key MBTA reforms the governor had sought: a new T oversight panel and freedom, if only for three years, from a law that puts up hurdles to privatizing services at the public transit agency.
“Signing today’s budget is an important moment for taxpayers, businesses, and cities and towns here in the Commonwealth,” Baker said at a State House press conference. “Our administration will continue to focus on making government work, fixing those things that are broken, and making sure that the hard-earned taxpayer dollars are used as efficiently as possible.”
Baker, a Republican, also vetoed about $160 million in spending, drawing a swift rebuke from Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, who suggested overrides could be coming.
“We have serious concerns about many of the governor’s vetoes, particularly related to education, where he has cut programs ranging from early childhood to colleges and universities,” the Democrat said in a statement. “Given the increasing importance of education in closing the income gap and giving kids a decent chance in a highly competitive economy, cuts to these programs are short-sighted at best.”
But while Baker trimmed back the Legislature’s education spending in several areas, the budget still represents a funding increase over last year for some early education programs and the University of Massachusetts, a point emphasized by Baker spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton in a statement Friday evening.
Baker budget chief Kristen Lepore said the governor’s broader budget trims, which included $38 million in earmarks for local projects such as a bike path in Billerica and a theater program in Pittsfield, were necessary, in part, because some nontax revenues, such as fees, are coming in at lower-than-expected levels.
What the governor vetoed made up only a small part of the massive spending plan, which works to slow the growth of state costs related to Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor and disabled, and boost aid to municipalities.
Baker promised to increase local aid during the gubernatorial campaign last year. And Geoffrey C. Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, which represents communities across the state, lavished praise on the spending plan, saying it is “an excellent budget for cities and towns.”
The budget calls for some layoffs, Lepore said, including about 20 at the Department of Public Safety. But she characterized the total number throughout state government as scores rather than hundreds — a small number compared with the more than 42,000 people working under the governor.
The spending plan also incorporates savings from an early retirement incentive program that drew about 2,475 workers.
The signing of the budget marked something of political shift, with Baker set to take full ownership of state government.
When discussing the estimated $1.8 billion shortfall he faced after taking office, the Republican often said it’s something “we inherited,” making reference to the administration of his predecessor, Democrat Deval Patrick, though not by name. Now the budget, its embedded policies and its impact, will be Baker’s, for better or for worse.
The governor, while vetoing some items outright, is proposing revisions to others.
One change, already agreed to by legislative leadership, is a shift in how to pay for the expansion of the earned income tax credit for hundreds of thousands of low-income working people.
The budget passed by the Legislature last week eliminated a corporate tax break, which had never actually been implemented, to finance the expansion. The move prompted an outcry from business groups and Baker, Rosenberg, and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo agreed to put the break back on the books, while delaying its implementation for another five years.
Although Baker repeatedly pledged on the campaign trail not to raise fees, the budget he signed into law Friday included a small one added in by the Legislature.
It appends a $1 surcharge to fees for admission to, and parking in, the Douglas State Forest and can be used to boost emergency personnel in the town, about a half-hour drive south of Worcester.
Asked about the discrepancy between Baker’s pledge and what he signed into law, the governor’s spokesman, Tim Buckley, noted that the Legislature proposed the measure and said “the governor adopted it at the request of local officials in a responsible, bipartisan budget package that avoids across-the-board fee increases.”
The governor also filed a supplemental budget Friday to close the books on the fiscal year that ended June 30. It includes additional funding for snow and ice costs left over from the winter and money to address the opioid addiction crisis that has torn through the state. Legislators are expected to take up the supplemental budget later this summer.
Baker, after signing the budget, appointed members of the newly created fiscal and management control board designed to right the troubled Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
Joseph Aiello, a former T official and partner at international transit investment firm Meridiam Infrastructure, will be chairman of the panel.
Other members include Lisa Calise, chief financial officer at Perkins School for the Blind; Brian Lang, president of the UNITE HERE Local 26 union; Steve Poftak, executive director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government; and Monica Tibbits-Nutt, executive director of the 128 Business Council, which offers shuttle service connecting major employers, educational institutions, and neighborhoods in the Route 128 corridor to public transit.
The panel will have its first meeting Tuesday.
“Starting next week, the show is yours,” Baker told some of the board members after swearing them in at his ceremonial office.
The larger show — a sprawling state government — is now Baker’s.