New Budget Promises To Fix Deficit, Spend More On Social Services

Charlie Baker
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (Photo: Wikipedia)
Written by Carly Sitrin

Governor Charlie Baker announced his Fiscal Year 2017 budget plan on Wednesday, which focuses on reducing the $635 million spending gap while funneling more money into local aid, substance abuse and child welfare.

Baker’s plan proposes spending $39.5 billion dollars — 3.5 percent more than last year — but with a reduction in the state income tax, ultimately leaving the state with $150 million less than last year.

“We believe this budget makes great progress in our effort to bring the deficit that’s been beleaguering the commonwealth for the past few years into balance,” Baker said. “Getting state spending under control to the point where state spending grows at a rate that’s similar to the rate of the economy is essential to the state’s economic health going forward.”

In the new budget, over $100 million would be dedicated to fund charter school contributions, advancements in STEM education initiatives and technical schools. An additional $40 million would be set aside for substance-abuse treatment, including establishing new treatment beds at Taunton State Hospital. Baker also said $30 million would go to funding the Department of Children and Families, creating 281 new jobs for social workers and other child welfare staff.

“Keeping kids safe is the mission of this department, and this administration is committed to supplying and supporting and finding the resources they need to protect many of our commonwealth’s most vulnerable kids,” Baker said.

To allocate funds, Baker intends to curb MassHealth spending by managing enrollment growth and other adjustments. The belt-tightening will also involve reassessing and streamlining administrative costs, such as fuel spending.

The budget would also reduce reliance on one-time revenue solutions (lump sums distributed once as opposed to yearly sustained funding) and would add money back into the Stabilization Fund. It would also avoid tax increases.

The Legislature will offer final recommendations before the proposal becomes law.

“We still have work to do,” Administration and Finance Secretary Kristen Lepore said. “Although it is not as large as previous years we still have a budget gap of $635 million that needs to be closed and this budget accomplishes that.”

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