Massachusetts lawmakers approve compromise $36.5B state budget for new fiscal year


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BOSTON — Massachusetts lawmakers approved a compromise $36.5 billion state budget on Monday, the final day of the state's fiscal year.

The House voted 144-7 vote in favor of the spending plan and the Senate later gave final approval to the budget on a 38-1 vote. Gov. Deval Patrick has 10 days to act on the proposal.

The budget factors in about $73 million in casino licensing and slot parlor revenues despite a ballot question that could repeal the 2011 casino law in November.

Anti-casino activists who are pushing the ballot question had called on lawmakers to exclude the casino licensing and slot parlor revenues, arguing that the money will disappear if voters repeal the law that allows the state to license up to three casinos and a slots parlor.

The budget proposed did not include an item that would have expanded the state's bottle deposit law to include sports drinks and other beverages. That all but guarantees that a question that would expand the law will be heading to voters in November.

The budget also relies on about $140 million in one-time "rainy day" funds from the state's main reserve account to help balance the budget.

"That's $210 million less than we drew from that stabilization account in FY14, and it is a $35 million less draw than the governor had in his version of the bill," Senate Ways and Means Chairman Stephen Brewer said during the Senate debate Monday, while also adding that the Senate is mindful "that we cannot support investments that are not sustainable."

Several Senate priorities were included in the spending plan including substance abuse prevention, education, local aid, mental health services, veterans, public safety and child welfare, said Brewer, D-Barre.

The spending includes $18 million in new spending on substance abuse programs and a $50 million increase the state's troubled family welfare agency.

The final budget also includes $72.4 million in new funding for public higher education campuses.

University of Massachusetts President Robert Caret said the higher education funding is enough to allow the university system to institute a second consecutive freeze of tuition and mandatory fees for in-state undergraduate students.

Monday was the last day of the fiscal year, although a bill has already passed to continue the operations of state government.

Patrick said the fact that the budget funds a number of his administration's priorities — including education and the Department of Children and Families — is "further evidence of a very constructive working relationship between the administration and the Legislature."

Patrick — who was scheduled to leave the state Monday for Panama to attend the inauguration of President-elect Juan Carlos Varela — said he planned to take as much time as he needs to review the budget before signing it and issuing any vetoes. He is due back in the state on Wednesday.

"Obviously, we want to do the line by line analysis," Patrick said.

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