Conference committee to consider state budget

Senate and House versions of a $34 billion budget for fiscal 2014 head to a conference committee of House and Senate members that will start meeting at the beginning of June to resolve differing funding priorities.

The bottom lines of the House and Senate budgets are virtually the same, as is their use of monies from the “rainy day fund” and from the yet to be enacted transportation bill to balance the budget. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Both the governor and House had proposed large investments in higher education. Unfortunately, the Senate did not follow suit when it passed its version on May 23. The MTA supported an amendment strategy to increase higher education funding in the Senate by $68 million, which would have matched House levels. The sponsor of the amendments assessed the situation and made the decision to withdraw the amendments rather than risk a close vote in the Senate, however, leaving the MTA in a stronger position to advocate for increased funding in conference.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee's version of the budget did not contain either the MTA-supported higher education funding commission or a foundation budget review commission. However, an amendment submitted by Senator Eileen Donoghue (D-Lowell) to set up a Special Commission on Higher Education Quality, Efficiencies and Finance was adopted, and Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz successfully added the Foundation Budget Review Commission to the budget on a vote of 38-0.

A number of other amendments adding funding for specific programs that MTA supported were successful. They affected local aid, regional school transportation, English language learners, METCO and school-based clinics, as well as increasing a reserve fund to boost early educators' salaries.

An amendment by Senator Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) that would in effect have allowed state services to be privatized without any review for contracts below $2 million was defeated on a vote of 30-8.

Once the Legislature passes the conference report, the budget will be sent to the governor, who has 10 days to accept or reject its provisions.

When House and Senate versions of the budget are analyzed more closely, the MTA will ask members to urge legislators to weigh in with members of the conference committee on key priorities.

Click here to learn more about the differences between the budget proposals passed by the House and Senate. Check out the MTA's Education Funding News section for additional resources.