Negotiations continue on state budget for new fiscal year that began July 1

Laste modified: Tuesday, July 07, 2015
BOSTON — Nearly a week into the new fiscal year that began July 1, Democratic leaders in the state House and Senate are confident negotiators for both chambers are getting closer to resolving differences over the $38 billion spending plan.

“They are making really good progress, based on the last report I got,” Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said in a telephone interview Monday night.

Rosenberg added that committee members are taking the time they need to get the spending plan right. House Speaker Robert DeLeo also said Monday that negotiations are moving in the right direction

But Rosenberg acknowledged that the budget process is “taking a little longer this year.”

Two issues are causing the continued work by the six-member conference committee, meeting behind closed doors to hammer out a compromise state budget, Rosenberg said. First, as a newly elected leader, Gov. Charlie Baker had until March to file his budget proposal. Second, Senate and House representatives went to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court to determine whether the Senate had acted improperly in creating a “tax bill.” The SJC last month sided with the Senate, which created a budget plan that would stop an automatic decrease in the state income tax and add a new tax on some flavored tobacco products.

While negotiators have until the end of August to adopt the budget, Rosenberg said he does not expect it to take that long.

Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, is one of the six negotiators. In an email Monday night, Kulik echoed Rosenberg’s comments.

“The House and Senate budget conferees are working hard to reach an agreement as soon as possible,” Kulik said. “We are making progress.”

Rosenberg said higher education is a priority of the state budget, especially financial aid and tuition retention for the University of Massachusetts.

“We’re working hard to have as strong a budget for higher education as possible, especially given that UMass has approved a contingency plan for increasing student charges,” Rosenberg said.

Last month, the UMass board of trustees approved a 5 percent tuition increase, a $250 technology fee and higher room and board charges totaling $1,459 for students at the flagship campus in Amherst, bringing the total cost for an on-campus student to $25,674 for the coming academic year.

This remains a worst-case scenario. UMass requested $578.3 million from the state, with the House version of the budget providing $518.9 million, and the Senate version calling for $537.7 million.

Another key aspect being discussed in the budget negotiations relates to changes for the MBTA, Rosenberg said.

“There is a strong version of a control board, which the minority leader of the Senate, the transportation chair of the Senate and the governor’s staff negotiated,” Rosenberg said.

Other aspects in the budget that would affect the MBTA relate to potential privatization, various audits and other tools Baker is seeking to improve its management.

The state has been operating since July 1 on a $5.5 billion stopgap budget that will remain in place until the end of the month.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.