State Budget Includes Provision Blocking State Funds for Olympics
Legislative leaders on Beacon Hill have hammered out a $38.1 billion compromise budget for 2016 that includes a significant MBTA reform package, an expansion of the earned income tax credit, a block on taxpayer funds going to proposed 2024 Summer Olympics, and new initiatives to battle the state’s opioid crisis.
The MBTA reform package proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker and strongly supported by House Speaker Robert DeLeo made it through the Beacon Hill sausage-making machine mostly intact, with a revised provision that exempts the MBTA from the powers of the Pacheco Law for three years. The original House version called for a five-year exemption, while the Senate version did not at all address the controversial law that makes it very difficult for public agencies to contract out services to private agencies. The proposed fiscal and management control board for the troubled public transportation agency also made their way into the final budget ,along with an expansion of the MassDOT board.
“This bill includes a very promising start to the overall effort of fixing the MBTA,” said Baker in a statement.
The MBTA reforms come at a time when the system is still recovering from a winter that brought it to its knees and exposed nearly all of its flaws.
“I am proud that this budget begins the process of bringing meaningful reforms to the MBTA, to ensure that the system failures brought on by the storms during the winter of 2015 will not be repeated,” said House Ways and Means Chair Brian S. Dempsey in a statement.
Dempsey’s counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Karen Spilka, echoed his comments on Baker’s MBTA reform package.
“To improve public transit we have given Governor Baker the tools he needs to get the MBTA back on track. We have protected riders from excessive fare increases and kept our commitment to financial investments in the T,” said Spilka in a statement.
The expansion of the earned income tax credit from 15 percent to 23 percent, a hope of progressives on the Hill, was accomplished through an impressive feat of compromise on how to fund it. Baker wanted to end the film tax credit while the Senate wanted to freeze the rollback of the personal income tax rate, both were non starters in the House. In the end the budget calls for the elimination of an obscure corporate tax deduction known as FAS-109. Bruce Mohl has a pretty solid rundown on how this all came to be over at Commonwealth magazine. The expansion of earned income tax credit should affect over 400,000 residents.
The rollback of the state income tax from 5.75 to 5.0 percent was enacted by the voters at the ballot box back in 2000. The legislature altered the rollback in 2002 when they froze the tax rate at 5.3 percent due to a budget crisis and pegged future decreases to fiscal benchmarks.
The compromise budget contains an overall increase of 3.5 percent, or $1.3 billion, in state spending over 2015.
The budget includes a provision that essentially blocks state funding from going to the 2024 Summer Olympics without a special hearing and vote by the legislature. This is yet another major signal from Beacon Hill leaders that they are less than thrilled with the prospect of bringing the 2024 Summer Olympics to Boston. Leadership’s interest in bringing the games here has been lukewarm at best, and they’ve shown even less of appetite for any public expenditures on the Olympics.
A total of $115.6 million in the budget is dedicated to fighting the ongoing opioid epidemic in the state. Part of that money will go to opening two new recovery high schools for teens battling addiction, a Narcan bulk-buying program for municipalities, and a new Vivitrol pilot program. An additional $3 million is earmarked for over 250 new clinical stabilization beds for those in recovery across the state.