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House budget makes small education gains

Late in the night, Friday, April 30, the House unanimously passed a $23.7 billion budget that increased state spending for FY06 by about $112 million over what had been proposed by the House Ways and Means Committee.  Some of these increases will benefit educators and students.

However, the House did not consider closing corporate tax loopholes that could have given the state approximately $170 million in additional revenue to put into programs that are still below their spending levels of FY02.  The House leadership has said that the bill to close loopholes will be considered later in the session.   The House did reject an attempt by Republicans to roll back the income tax to 5 percent, which would have taken $225 million out of the revenue stream in FY06 and $550 million in FY07.

When inflation is taken into account, the funding levels for pre-kindergarten through graduate school adopted by the House are still well below the levels of funding for public education in FY01 and FY02.
 
The budget process now moves to the Senate.  It is expected that the Senate will debate its version of the budget the week of May 23.

Several of the amendments that MTA supported were included in the budget.  Below is a summary of some of the amendments that were adopted.

PreK-12

  • Chapter 70 -- The House adopted an amendment by Rep. Steve Kulik (D-Worthington) to put an additional $28.4 million into Chapter 70.  This funding ensures that every school district will receive at least $50 per pupil aid from the state over what it received in FY05.  The districts that already received that amount  in the House Ways and Means proposal did not get additional funds additional funds from the amendment.
  • "Pothole" Account -- An amendment by Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick) restored $2.5 million to this account that gives funds to school districts for extraordinary expenses.
  • METCO -- $2 million was added to the account.
  • Regional School Transportation -- There were several amendments to increase funding.  $4.5 million additional funding was approved.
  • Charter Schools -- Rep. Tom O'Brien (D-Kingston) was successful in adding an amendment that fully reimburses sending districts for the facilities component of the charter tuition rate.

Higher Education

  • State Employee Health Insurance -- Rep. Martin Walsh (D-Dorchester) was successful in crafting an amendment to restore the premium split to 85/15 for state employees hired before July 1, 2003.  For those hired after that date the split was changed from 75/25 to 80/20. These new rates, if the Senate agrees, would take effect on Jan. 1, 2006.
  • Funding -- UMass will receive an increase of $3 million over the House Ways and Means budget.  This brings the increase over last year to $8 million.
    An amendment was added that increases funding for the community and state colleges of $1.1 million roughly evenly split.  This brings the total increase over last year to about $5 million for the state colleges and $7 million for the community colleges.
  • Contract Funding -- Rep. John Quinn (D-Dartmouth) had proposed an amendment to enable the UMass Board of Trustees and the Board of Higher Education to submit collect bargaining agreements directly to the Legislature for funding rather than going through the governor.  The House leadership stuck to its pledge not to include policy changes in the budget.  While this amendment was not adopted, an agreement was reached with the House chair of the Public Service Committee -- Rep. Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington) -- to hold a hearing on this bill June 9.  Rep. Kaufman has indicated his support for the bill.
  • In-State Tuition for Immigrant Students -- The House struck the provision in the Ways and Means version of the bill that provided in-state tuition for immigrant students.  There was an agreement to hold a hearing this week and seek to move this provision as a separate bill.