House approves $194 million spending bill

THINKSTOCK
THINKSTOCK

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 12, 2014….The House on Wednesday approved a compromise $194.4 million mid-year spending bill negotiated by a panel of House and Senate lawmakers that makes significant investments in programs like family shelters but defers decisions on policy issues such as unemployment insurance.

The final budget bill supplementing spending in fiscal 2014, which was filed Tuesday night in time for consideration on Wednesday, marked the first breakthrough for a slew of legislative conference committees charged with negotiating compromises on bills dealing with everything from welfare reform to election law changes.

The six-member committee began negotiations on March 6, but at the urging of officials such as the state comptroller resolved to settle the budgetary issues and divorce them from more thorny policy matters that remain unsettled.

“In order to get bills paid in a timely fashion, we needed to get the spending done,” said a spokeswoman for House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey. The House accepted the conference report (H 3947) on a voice vote without any explanation of the bill offered, and the Senate is expected to take it up on Thursday afternoon.

The bill’s bottom line does not account for a $52 million transfer to the Massachusetts Transportation Trust Fund or the $16 million in Group Insurance Commission payments, which are reimbursed to the state, according an aide.

The spending bill includes $30.1 million for snow and ice removal, $32.7 million for emergency assistance family shelters and $12.6 million for hotel and motel rooms used by the Department of House and Community Development to house homeless families.

A House plan to freeze unemployment insurance rates and help businesses avoid a spike in premiums was not included in the bill. After the Senate approved the freeze in a separate unemployment insurance reform bill, the House chose to attach the measure to its version of the spending bill. House Speaker Robert DeLeo is promising a more comprehensive unemployment insurance bill that will also deal with the minimum wage.

DeLeo is scheduled to deliver a speech on Thursday morning to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce where business leaders will likely be listening to see whether DeLeo has made any decisions on those two issues. A spokesman for the speaker declined to comment on the topic of DeLeo’s speech.

Other policy proposals excluded from the compromise budget bill include items relating net school spending, e-health records, mental health parity transparency, elevator inspection fines, emergency assistance termination standards, foster placements and a study on a Hampden County court complex.

The bill does include $8 million indigent defendant court costs, $10.7 million for a human services worker salary reserve, $4.8 million for the governor’s Safe and Successful Youth program and $2 million proposed by the House for the MassWorks infrastructure program.

If signed by the governor, another $310,910 would go toward the administering of special elections and $2.5 million would be set aside for the lease of facilities by the University of Massachusetts to relieve campus overcrowding.

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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