BOSTON (AP) — The Massachusetts Senate released a state budget proposal and the House debated its own version Thursday as lawmakers races to approve a spending plan that has been long delayed by the coronavirus.
The $46 billion Senate plan — a 5.5% increase over the prior fiscal year — ensures fiscal stability and recommends targeted investments to protect essential services and support an economic recovery in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Senate budget writers said.
The budget is largely similar to the House proposal.
Like the House plan, the Senate version avoids any major new tax increases. The Senate budget also proposes drawing $1.5 billion from the state’s rainy day fund. The House and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker have proposed drawing money from the fund to help balance the budget.
“Massachusetts is a Commonwealth — which means that we take care of each other — and that’s what this budget does,” Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka said in a statement Thursday.
The budget protects Massachusetts students and schools, solidifies the state’s leadership in affordable health care, addresses the challenges of food insecurity and recognizes the importance of housing to the recovery effort, according to Spilka.
Senators have until 10 p.m. Friday to file proposed amendments to the budget plan. The Senate is scheduled to debate the budget next week.
Action on a new state budget was delayed by the onset of the coronavirus in the spring. Typically the new state budget is approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor by the start of the new fiscal year July 1.
But efforts to rein in the spread of the virus pushed back work on the budget and forced the state to rely on temporary interim budgets until a final spending plan is approved.
Baker restarted the budget process last month by submitting a new spending plan for the current 2021 fiscal year that started July 1. Baker said he hopes to have a budget plan back from lawmakers by Thanksgiving.
Still unclear is whether the Senate will approve as an amendment to the budget a proposal to codify abortion rights into state law.
The measure would let women obtain an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases of “fatal fetal anomalies.” Current state law allows abortions after 24 weeks only to preserve the life or health of the mother. It would also establish a process for teens under 16 to obtain an abortion without the permission of a parent.
Spika and Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo support the proposal. An aide to Spilka said Thursday the Senate will consider the measure as a budget amendment next week.
Senate Republicans have urged the amendment not be debated as part of the budget.
Baker has said he opposes late-term abortions and supports current Massachusetts abortion laws.
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