The following piece was provided by State Sen. Will Brownsberger, whose district includes Watertown, Belmont and parts of Boston.
Monday, the House and Senate finalized the Fiscal 2024 Budget. I’m including some highlights of the items that were important advocacy priorities for me. I’m also sharing the Senate President’s Press Release on the agreement for a broader overview. Overall, I am very pleased with this year’s budget and I feel that it reflects many of my stated priorities.
Local school and road funding
Statewide, the budget includes continued increases in school aid pursuant to the “Student Opportunity Act.” All my communities will benefit from that increased assistance.
Additionally, the budget fully funds the special education circuit-breaker. Full funding of the circuit-breaker is very important to all of my communities.
For roads, an additional $100,000,000 was added to Chapter 90 highway funding; this should result in a 50% increase in each community’s state road support.
Both Belmont and Watertown have faced special financial pressures on their schools this year. For Watertown, the budget includes (a) authorizing language and funds that will yield $5.6 million to cover cost escalation in the high school construction project; (b) language that is expected to result in $250,000 in special education cost relief based on Watertown’s uniquely high rate of out-of-district placements. For Belmont, the budget includes a $400,000 special appropriation intended to help plug the town’s budget gap to which the state contributed by increasing the rates for out of district placement. This appropriation exceeds the impact of the increased rates.
The legislature is still considering a state-wide relief package to offset the increased out-of-district special education rates. The extent and terms of that relief are still in flux and will likely be resolved in the fall. This may provide additional support to all my communities.
The final budget agreement includes a total of $392.8 million in funding for the MBTA.
Of this amount, $187 million is a continuation of a long standing annual “contractual support” payment.
The amount also includes three items which are components of the new funds allocated to transportation under the terms of the recent ballot initiative raising funds for transportation and education.
- First, $180.8 million will go to support MBTA infrastructure investments: $20M for commuter rail, $50M for bridges, $70M for accessibility upgrades, $30M for subway track & signal upgrades, $10.8M for red blue connector design.
- Second, $5 million will go for study of means tested fare feasibility.
- Third, $20 million will go to support hiring and retention.
These funds are a material contribution to the MBTA’s resources. The MBTA has budgeted expenses of $2.7 billion in Fiscal 2024. However, none these appropriations will alter the MBTA’s immediate investment plans or current service levels. They are examples of the legislature’s commitments to funding the MBTA and to complying with the terms of the ballot question.
It is certain that we will need to appropriate additional support over the years to come, and I will continue to support all funding requests that the MBTA makes. Getting the T back on track is a top priority.
Supporting and improving our parks has been a central advocacy priority for me. This year, we were able to increase DCR‘s main operating account from $85.0 million in FY2023 to $105.6m in FY2024. Including all accounts, state funding for DCR increased from $134.0 million to $157.3 million. Additionally, we increased the cap on DCR positions to 1300, assuring that the funds could be used to hire permanent employees.
Prison phone calls free
Outside sections of the budget include language making prison phone calls free and also prohibiting unreasonable markups of commissary items (snacks, toiletries, etc., sold to prisoners). The language covers calls from state prisons, county houses of corrections, and jails.
I filed the free phone calls bill in 2019 and I’m very glad to see it come to fruition in this vehicle. For me, this represents one more step in towards assuring that our criminal justice system is never about squeezing money from the poorest people in Massachusetts. We have previously eliminated fees on probationers, fees on parolees, and reduced the number of cases in which people lose their drivers licenses and/or have to pay registry fees related to criminal court proceedings.
The budget includes language which I have sponsored over the past few years expanding funding and eligibility for prison re-entry services through the Office of Community Corrections.
In state tuition for immigrants
After 20 years of advocacy, immigrants who go to high school in Massachusetts will finally be eligible for in-state tuition in Massachusetts state schools regardless of their immigration status. This fight goes back to the era of Governor Mitt Romney who opposed the proposal. It will mean more young people going to school in Massachusetts and some advocates have viewed it as revenue positive for the state university system.
Universal free school meals
Non-public schools were included in the continuation of the universal school meals program that was finally made a regular annual budget item in the FY24 budget.
Other major budget initiatives
The budget includes several other major initiatives that are important to me and were broadly supported:
- Lowering costs for community college attendance — supporting nursing and other high demand fields and moving towards free community college
- Increasing support for early education and care
- Increasing support for low-income tenants
- Increasing support for mental health and family care
See the original post, and the official State Senate announcement by clicking here.