Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and House Minority Leader Brad Jones, however, questioned how the final budget wound up with a larger bottom line than either the budget passed by the House or Senate.
“Both the House and Senate adopted revenue initiatives from the other branch,” said Senate Ways and Means Chairman Stephen Brewer, in explaining the $75 million increase over the House and Senate. Brewer said the budget was able to fund a number of areas at higher levels than in past years, including $10 million for a rental assistance program that was previously funded at $500,000, and aid to local schools that will ensure all districts receive an increase.
Jones also expressed his disappointment that the budget dropped some key House-approved reforms to save money, such as changes to the state law that would have made it easier to privatize the delivery of some state services. “This budget is short of what it could or should be,” Jones said.
On the issue of welfare reform, Dempsey said the conference committee budget and the supplemental budget together included the welfare reforms first proposed by the Ways and Means Committee back in April, including a requirement that photo identification be added to EBT cards to cut down on trafficking. Opponents have criticized the cost of implementing photo IDs and whether it will root out enough fraud to justify the expense.
The budget also creates a bureau of program integrity and a task force to develop a common eligibility verification process across state agencies for public services and benefits.
Dempsey said the House would consider Senate President Therese Murray’s comprehensive welfare reform bill before October, and in the fall the House will also address non-pension retiree benefit reform. Based on the recommendation of a bipartisan commission, Gov. Patrick has proposed to increase the age and years of service required for a state employee to be eligible for health care coverage in retirement.