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Massachusetts Senate Unveils Nearly $56B State Budget Plan

The Massachusetts Senate unveiled a $55.8 billion state budget proposal for the new fiscal year Tuesday even as tax collections for April fell more than $2 billion below collections for the same month last year.

The Senate budget would let all Massachusetts students, regardless of immigration status, qualify for in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities, provided they attended a Massachusetts high school for at least three years and graduated or obtained a GED.

The budget would also create a free community college program for nursing students.

Like the Massachusetts House, the Senate’s budget plan would also split the anticipated $1 billion in added revenue from the state’s new “millionaire’s tax” between education and transportation initiatives.

Of the $500 dedicated to transportation, the Senate plan would include $190 million for the beleagered Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and another $100 for roads and bridges.

Unlike the House budget, the Senate plan doesn’t include money for universal free school meals. Senate leaders say they hope to take up the issue in a separate supplemental budget.

The Senate also breaks with the House on the issue on online lottery sales. While the House would allow the online lottery games, the Senate plan doesn’t address the issue.

Both budget proposals would funnel money into the state’s stabilization, or “rainy day,” fund. The account currently has about $7.1 billion. Both budget plans would bring the total to just over $9 billion.

The House approved its $56.2 billion state budget plan last month. Gov. Maura Healey unveiled her budget plan earlier in the year.

The budget debate comes as April tax revenues plummeted more than $2.1 billion below collections for last April and more than $1.4 billion below predictions for the month.

Healey downplayed the gloomy numbers.

“Unemployment is incredibly low. We’re in a very strong financial position here in the state. We recently had an increase to our bond rating and April’s numbers, while lower than last year in April, are still the highest recorded revenue in the commonwealth’s history,” she said Monday.

The House last month also approved a separate $654 million tax relief package.

The bill is aimed at helping seniors, renters, businesses and wealthier homeowners while rewriting the law that sent about $3 billion back to taxpayers last year.

The House measure would also raise the state’s estate tax threshold from $1 million to $2 million. Democratic Gov. Maura Healey, who released her own $742 million tax relief package in February, would eliminate the tax for estates valued up to $3 million.

Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka said the Senate plans to take up its own tax cut proposal after the budget.

“I said last spring. I said again in the summer. I said again in the fall and then in January that we should have permanent progressive tax relief that is smart and sustainable and the Senate is taking a look at doing that,” she said.

The Senate expects to debate and pass their budget plan before the end of the month.

A final compromise budget, approved by both chambers, must be in place by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

Source: US News