The Senate has passed, by a vote of 37-0, a $24.01 billion budget for FY06. The Senate completed action on 700 amendments on May 24, after less than two days of debate.
As was the case in the House, virtually no amendments that changed policy were adopted. Increases in funding amounted to only $25 million over what had been proposed by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
There are few funding differences for preK-12 between the House and Senate budgets. Plans for Chapter 70 funding and distribution are identical. The Senate added a $55 million "reserve fund" to be used only when a bill is enacted that includes changes in the way funding is distributed and provides funding for school improvement efforts. The MTA supports the efforts to improve funding, but believes that a comprehensive resources assessment needs to be done before permanent changes are made. Such an assessment would help ensure that funding is adequate for all students to meet state standards.
In addition, the Senate added money to regional school transportation while rejecting an MTA-backed amendment by Sen. Steve Buoniconti (D-Springfield) to provide money for school transportation, which has been unfunded for three years.
The higher education budget was increased by $31 million over FY05 and $22 million over House-passed levels -- to a total of $944 million. No additional funding was included beyond the Senate Ways and Means proposal.
The budgets passed by the House and the Senate go to a conference committee that will iron out the differences between the two versions. The conference committee is made up of three House members and three Senate members. The conference committee will issue a report that will be voted on by the House and Senate before going to the governor, who has 10 days to veto sections of the budget. The Legislature, by a two-thirds vote of each body, can override the governors vetoes. The new fiscal year begins on July 1.
Below is a summary of Senate action and changes from the plan proposed by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
The Republicans offered three amendments that would have scaled back the income tax rate to 5 percent. Had any of these passed, it would have taken $225 million out of the revenue stream in FY06 and $550 million in FY07. These amendments were ruled out of order, so no votes were taken.
- MTA worked with Sen. Steve Buoniconti (D- Springfield) to draft an amendment to restore funds to reimburse about 10 percent of school districts' eligible transportation costs. This amendment was supported by 20 other senators. Non-regional school transportation reimbursement has not been funded since FY03. The amendment was not adopted.
- Two amendments were offered, one by Sen. Tom McGee (D-Lynn) and another by Sen. Richard Tisei (R-Wakefield) to add $2 million to the full-day kindergarten grant program to match what the House had appropriated. The Senate voted to have this item studied.
- The Senate voted to add $15.5 million more in reimbursements for regional school transportation over the Senate Ways and Means proposal. The Senate approval brings the total for regional transportation to $58 million.
- Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) proposed two amendments to increase Chapter 70 funding. Both amendments were rejected.
- Sen. Robert Antonioni (D-Leominster) earmarked $1 million of targeted intervention funds to be used to provide planning and implementation grants to school districts to expand learning time. The language ensures that implementation plans will not be approved without support from affected teachers, administrators, parents and collective bargaining units.
- 85/15 Health Insurance Premium Split -- The Senate Ways and Means Committee had included the same language the House adopted. This was unchanged. As of Jan. 1, 2006, all employees who are currently paying 20 percent will be paying 15 percent. State employees who are now paying 25 percent will pay 20 percent, as will new employees.
- Tuition Retention -- The Senate Ways and Means budget included an outside section that said that all tuition and fees received by the University and the state and community colleges would be retained by each respective board. Sen. Robert O'Leary (D-Barnstable) had proposed an amendment to essentially have tuition retention apply only to out-of-state-students at UMass-Amherst. That amendment was redrafted and passed. This leaves current tuition retention in place and asks the Higher Education Committee to study the issue.
- In-State Tuition -- Sen. Brian Lees (R-East Longmeadow) had offered an amendment that provided "that only those holding official status as a citizen or permanent resident of the United States and resident of the Commonwealth shall be eligible for in-state tuition and fees..." This amendment was defeated.
- Higher Education Endowment -- Sen. Jim Timilty (D-Walpole) offered an amendment for $5 million to go to state and community colleges to use for matching grants to encourage private fundraising. The amendment was not adopted.
- The total increase for higher education is $31 million over FY05 including supplemental appropriations made during the year. In inflation-adjusted (FY05) dollars, the Senate budget (like the Senate Ways and Means proposal) leaves the total higher education funding about $138 million below what it was in FY01.
- The UMass budget is $18.4 million over FY05 when tuition retention is included. This is an increase of $10 million over the House-passed budget.
- State colleges received an increase of $10.88 million over FY05. This is an increase of $6 million over the House-passed budget.
- Community colleges' funding increased $11.6 million over FY05. This is approximately $4.6 million over the House-passed budget.
The total funding for all campuses has increased approximately $41 million over FY05.
- Mortality Table Correction -- Permits public employees who retired between 6/30/04 and 12/31/04 to change their election of a retirement option. Due to the adoption of more up-to-date and favorable mortality tables, those eligible would be afforded a one-time opportunity to change their election of a retirement option. The option would have to be exercised within 180 days beginning July 1, 2005.
- Medicare Part B Reimbursement -- Reinstates the previously repealed Medicare Part B subsidy for Medicare-eligible retired state employees and their survivors. The refund would be the same percentage as that paid by the Commonwealth toward the retiree's health insurance coverage, depending on one's date of retirement.