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Mass. House Releases $30.4B 2012 State Budget Plan

By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press
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BOSTON (AP) – Massachusetts House leaders unveiled a $30.4 billion proposed state budget for the 2012 fiscal year on Wednesday that they say spends $94 million less than Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan, in part through additional cuts in state programs.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian Dempsey said the House budget agrees with Patrick’s proposed $65 million cut in local aid to cities and towns, and like Patrick’s plan would also take $200 million from the state’s rainy day fund.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Lana Jones reports.

The House plan includes $1.25 billion in cuts and savings and $337 million through other revenue initiatives, such as postponing for one year a tax deduction for certain businesses. Patrick and legislative leaders have both said they won’t raise taxes in the budget.

Dempsey called the House budget “a challenging one to put together” in the face of what House leaders said was a projected $1.9 billion spending gap for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The House plan includes the $800 million in cuts to MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, proposed by Patrick.

The budget plan also relies on $103 million that otherwise would be transferred into the rainy day fund on top of the $200 million they propose withdrawing from the dwindling account.

The House calls for the hiring of 200 new public defenders, less than the 1,000 proposed by Patrick. But House leaders said they would save more than Patrick by tightening eligibility requirements for free counsel.

The goal of both proposals is to reduce reliance on more expensive private attorneys.

The budget also includes a plan to cut employee health insurance costs for cities and towns.

Municipalities would be allowed to make changes in co-payments, deductibles and other aspects of health care plans without approval from unions. Cities and towns would also be allowed to transfer local employees into the health care plan for state employees if it would achieve a greater cost savings.

The proposal, however, would require municipalities to return 10 percent of any health care savings back to employees in the first year to help pay for workers’ added expenses.

The House budget increases spending above Patrick’s plan in a handful of areas including elder home care, community services for the blind, school based health programs, community-based adult day and work programs, and child and adolescent mental health.

Several Republicans on the Ways and Means panel either abstained or voted no on the spending proposal.

Rep. Vinny deMacedo, R-Plymouth, said he was encouraged that the House budget reduced spending from the levels proposed by the governor and included no new taxes. But he said Republicans would try to find additional savings.

“We still have to see if there are other ways to put our 2 cents in to save some revenues, make it a little tighter,” deMacedo said.

Patrick released his $30.5 billion budget plan in January. His plan includes a mix of cuts and one-time funds to help close what the administration has projected to be a $1.5 billion spending gap.

The full House must still debate and vote on the plan.

The Senate is traditionally the last to release its version of the budget. The House and Senate budgets, once approved by each chamber, must be reconciled by a House and Senate conference committee.

The final version must be sent to Gov. Deval Patrick for his signature before the end of the fiscal year on June. 30.

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Associated Press writer Bob Salsberg contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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