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House budget includes increases for education, ex-offenders

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
House budget includes increases for education, ex-offenders
House Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez and House Speaker Robert DeLeo brief reporters on the fiscal year 2019 budget.

Massachusetts House members released a $40.9 billion budget proposal last week with modest investments in education spending and new investments in drug treatment programs, funding for housing and homeless services and funding for re-entry programs aimed at helping ex-offenders find work.

“This budget is all about people, and meeting people where they’re at in their own lives and figuring out with them how they can be successful in the commonwealth and participate in this booming state economy,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez during a meeting with reporters and House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

The House budget is $78 million higher than that proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker and represents a 3.1 percent increase over last year’s budget.

The budget does not address the more than $1 billion in education funding the Legislature’s Foundation Review Commission said would be needed to adequately fund Massachusetts schools under the state’s Education Reform Act of 1993. Nor does it factor in funding that would come from a ballot question aimed at increasing education funding.

Raise Up Massachusetts, a labor-backed coalition of community groups and unions, is advancing a ballot measure that would increase the tax rate on annual income above $1 million by four percent, a move proponents say would raise an additional $2 billion in revenue. Under the ballot question, The Fair Share Amendment, the funds would be dedicated to education and transportation.

At the same time, business groups are advancing a ballot question that would lower the state’s sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent, a change that could cut as much as $600 million from state revenue. Additional ballot questions advanced by labor groups include a measure to raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour and a measure to mandate paid sick time for workers.

Sanchez said the Legislature is having conversations aimed at finding compromises with business groups and labor and community groups around their respective ballot initiatives.

“There’s five petitions that are out there,” he said. “They’re pretty sweeping. We’re trying to see if something can come out of it so we can avoid the ballot.”

Education

The House budget increases Chapter 70 spending, which supports K-12 education, by $21 million. Additional education funding, including funding for homeless students, charter schools and Puerto Rican students displaced by Hurricane Maria, increases the total K-12 education spending to $54 million.

The House budget also includes a $2.5 million funding increase for adult basic education and a $1.5 million increase for the METCO voluntary desegregation program.

Public higher education funding sees a less substantial 1 percent increase under the House budget.

Criminal justice reform

The House budget includes $3.5 million for five new addiction treatment centers and $8 million for diversion programs aimed at providing treatment and counseling for low-level drug offenders, among other such investments. The new funding comes as Baker has signed into law the Legislature’s sweeping criminal justice reform bill, aimed at reducing recidivism and steering people struggling with drug addiction away from prison.

“We’re making front-end investments to make sure that the system as a whole is able to live up to the legislation,” Sanchez said. “We knew, working on that piece of legislation, that we had to be thoughtful not only in telling the system what to do, but to also make sure that there are resources available to do the job.”

DeLeo said the state would not likely see reductions in spending on incarceration until programs aimed at reducing recidivism take effect.

“When we’re talking about letting folks out of prison without giving them proper help with housing, without giving them proper advice in terms of job opportunities, we have to make those investments, which we have in this budget, before we can talk about savings,” he said.

Other investments

The House budget also includes a 100 percent increase in the state’s Supplier Diversity Office, which certifies minority and women-owned businesses and helps them compete for public contracts. The budget rejects a proposal from the Baker administration to fold the office into the state’s Operational Services Division.

The budget also includes a $1.2 million increase for youth summer jobs.

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