Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick today signed the fiscal year 2014 budget into law and vetoed millions of dollars dedicated toward transportation and local aid in a bid to pressure lawmakers to accept his revisions to a still unresolved transportation finance bill.
Governor Patrick addressed reporters at a press conference after signing the $33.6 billion spending plan. He paid specific attention to programs that aim to close the achievement gap, reduce healthcare costs, and prevent youth violence.
In his initial budget proposal, the governor sought education investment. The fiscal year 2014 budget invests $130 million in additional funding for Chapter 70 school aid, to bring the amount to $4.3 billion.
Other education highlights include $97 million for public universities and colleges.
"That means no tuition and fee increases in the coming year," said Patrick.
The budget increases funding for early education by $15 million in an attempt to eliminate waitlists for early ed programs for more than 1,000 children in the next year.
The budget also contains $31.5 million for youth development and violence prevention programs.
The governor also made reassurances that the Massachusetts healthcare system will smoothly transition under changing federal regulations.
"MassHealth and the Health Connector are well positioned through this budget successfully to implement the Affordable Care Act in Massachusetts and continue our national leadership in affordable, high-quality healthcare," said Patrick.
The governor said the budget will expand Family Access Centers to provide healthcare services for low-income residents, and funding will also be used to promote affordable housing through rental vouchers and the so-called Housing Preservation and Stabilization Trust Fund.
Further investments will focus on workforce development including $19.5 million for the Massachusetts Life Science and more than $18 million for MassDevelopment’s Advanced Manufacturing Futures Program.
To balance the budget the governor authorized a $350 million withdrawal from the state’s Stabilization Fund, but also vetoed $240 million in transportation funding and $177 million in Unrestricted General Government Aid to cities and towns.
The governor said that he could not support the legislature’s planned investments in transportation due to the still incomplete transportation finance bill.
"We need to take the final step now to restore funding for reinvestment especially in communities outside of Greater Boston. The initial legislative proposal did not do that," said Patrick.
Patrick’s initial proposal called for $1.2 billion in investment in transportation, largely funded by an increase in the income tax. Legislative leaders responded with a smaller package that mainly focused on raising revenue through the gas tax and raising tolls and fees. The governor said he will accept a smaller package of $800 million to fund transportation, but warned that a way to raise the revenues must be cemented first before he can accept.
Currently lawmakers are debating ways to raise the money, with lawmakers arguing whether to extend or eliminate tolls on the West of Route 128 Mass Pike after 2017 when they are set to expire, as is currently written in law. The governor supports a bill that would extend the tolls.
"When we go out to finance transportation projects we need certainty," said Patrick. "Because without it we will be right back here in just a few years with our finances unfixed, regional projects undone, and the public's confidence in government further eroded."
A supplemental budget was also filed that would automatically restore the full funding to transportation and local aid if lawmakers accept the governor’s amendments to the transportation finance bill.