Metro, Politics

The Year Ahead

Although Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick delivered his State of the Commonwealth address on Jan. 28, some of the state’s most crucial information-the fiscal year budget-was revealed before the speech, when Patrick filed his Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) budget plan for the upcoming year on Jan.22. The plan displays the governor’s commitment to creating opportunities for the residents of the state while still maintaining the state’s fiscal health.

The budget promises to expand education opportunities for the children of Massachusetts, and supports the governor’s four main priorities-growing jobs, closing schools’ achievement gap, ensuring affordable health care, and confronting youth and urban violence. As of now, the budget is estimated at $36.374 billon, which is a 4.9 percent increase from the last fiscal year, according to the governor’s website.

“This budget is a balanced, responsible budget that supports our growth strategy of investing in education, innovation, and infrastructure to create jobs and opportunity in the near term and strengthen our Commonwealth in the long term,” Patrick said in a statement.

Patrick chose not to follow the plan from last year’s budget, which proposed an increase in the state’s income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent. Instead, lawmakers chose a 3 cent-per-gallon increase in gas prices, along with a $1 per-pack cigarette tax increase.

This year, the budget will incorporate gambling revenue from the state’s 2011 casino law for the first time.

Patrick said much of the new spending in his budget is directed toward education, including $204.9 million in increased education funding allocated to providing a higher level of education from the earliest ages to college.

Within the education budget, Patrick proposes a record $100 million increase in Chapter 70 local education aid. This will bring Chapter 70 spending to $4.4 billion, the highest in the state’s history. This is guaranteed to increase spending by $25 per each individual student in the Boston school district.

Patrick also plans to invest an additional $15 million in early education programs in an effort to help close the achievement gap between minority students and their white peers.

The governor’s FY15 plan includes investments that will also increase employment opportunities across the state, connecting job seekers to firms growing in Massachusetts. For example, Patrick recognizes the need for a reliable transportation system in Boston. The FY15 budget increases funding for the MassDot and MBTA by $141 million in the hopes of improving the transportation systems in order to create room to build better roads, rails, and bridges across the Commonwealth. Patrick’s administration also plans to provide $25 million in funds for the Mass Life Sciences Center to provide research grants and loans in the area of life and natural sciences.

Along with that spending throughout the year, Patrick hopes to gain revenue from the citizens of Massachusetts by proposing about $97 million in additional taxes in the FY15 budget.

Patrick is proposing $57 million in new revenue by applying the state’s sales tax to candy and soda. This plan will affect schools and public vending machines statewide.

Although this proposal has been rejected in the past, Patrick is arguing in favor of the tax, saying that the money earned from the tax will go toward supporting public health and infrastructure projects.

“I am proud of the progress we have made by working together and governing for the long term over the past seven years,” Patrick said in a statement. “Let’s continue this work, inspired by our shared commitment to leave to others a better Commonwealth than we found.”

On Jan. 28, Patrick gave his final State of the Commonwealth address, where he was able to highlight some of his budget’s goals. The governor argued that he is leaving Massachusetts in better shape than when he took office in 2007.

Throughout his address, Patrick discussed the state’s success in education and innovation. He echoed the phrase, “Let’s keep going.”

Patrick’s FY15 plan now heads to the House and Senate, where members will discuss and propose their own versions of the spending plan for the year and deliver a compromise to the governor before the end of the fiscal year in June.


January 29, 2014