Mass. lawmakers approve bill to close budget gap

(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker praised House and Senate lawmakers for approving his proposal to close a projected $768 million state budget shortfall for the current fiscal year.

The Senate passed the measure on a voice vote Thursday a day after the House overwhelming backed the proposal, which closely mirrors the plan offered by Baker. In one change, the House and Senate eliminated a Baker provision that lawmakers said would have given the administration more power to restructure benefits for some Medicaid recipients.

The plan includes a $40 million cut in state transportation spending, of which $14 million would come from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Officials said the cut isn’t expected to effect service for the hard-hit transit agency.

Baker had already moved to trim $145 million in executive branch spending, cuts that did not require legislative approval.

The governor and legislative leaders had ruled out new taxes or local aid cuts to cities and towns to bridge the budget gap.

“I’m thankful for the hard work of the Senate and House and am encouraged we will be able to move forward on next year’s budget and the issues that matter to the people of Massachusetts,” Baker said in a written statement.

The bill would also create a tax amnesty program for Massachusetts businesses with overdue tax debts and use $131 million in anticipated capital gains tax revenue to reduce the deficit. Those funds would otherwise have been deposited into the state’s rainy day fund.

The swift passage of the bill is the Republican governor’s first victory with the Democrat-controlled Legislature after he was sworn into office last month. But Baker doesn’t have time to savor the moment. He has until March 4 to submit his proposed state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The spending plan will serve as a blueprint for the House and Senate, which must write and approve their own versions of the 2016 fiscal year budget before crafting a single bill and sending it to Baker for his signature.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press

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