State closes out last fiscal year with big infusion of money for MassHealth

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, OCT. 6, 2016….Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday signed a $187.5 million spending bill closing the books on the 2016 fiscal year and authorizing a grab of up to $60 million in Convention Center Fund revenues to help balance last year’s budget.

Signed 98 days following the conclusion of a fiscal year where tax collections fell far short of overly optimistic assumptions, the supplemental budget includes $91 million of the $111 million in budget-balancing solutions recommended by Baker, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. The use of Convention Center Fund money for general purposes is the largest of those fixes and has sparked debate over whether Baker will remain dug in on his opposition to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center expansion.

In April 2015 Baker put the $1 billion expansion project on hold indefinitely, calling at the time for an analysis that would “determine how these resources can best benefit our economy, job creation, and the development of Boston’s Seaport District.” Supporters of the project, which was approved by the Legislature and former Gov. Deval Patrick, have pitched it as an economic driver that would create jobs and generate new state revenues.

Asked Thursday about any changes in Baker’s stance on the expansion, a spokesman told the News Service “the status hasn’t changed.”

The biggest spending item in the bill is $164 million for MassHealth, the insurance program that frequently needs supplemental appropriations.

Other appropriations in the bill include $3.8 million in new funding for elder home care services, $1.2 million to pay for operations at the new state office that will oversee the app-based ride-hailing industry, and $8.75 million for the in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, where officials are working to develop a new standardized test for Massachusetts students.

The supplemental budget, based on a bill Baker filed in July, hit the governor’s desk a week ago. It includes more than three dozen outside sections, including language relating to scholarships, preparation of the Nov. 8 election ballots, veterans agents and veterans housing.

“I appreciate the Legislature’s collaboration in enabling the Commonwealth to end fiscal year 2016 in balance and I am pleased to sign the vast majority of this bill into law, with the exception of two issues,” Baker wrote in a message to lawmakers explaining his veto of sections related to adult basic education and the Department of Public Safety’s retained revenue.

Baker vetoed $25,000 for Casa Dominicana Inc., an earmark within the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s adult basic education appropriation, writing that the earmark had “already been funded and paid out.”

The governor also rejected an outside section increasing both the revenue ceiling and authorized spending for the Department of Public Safety’s retained revenue appropriation. He said the increases were unnecessary.

The legislation renames a Brookline Avenue overpass in Boston as the “David Ortiz ‘Big Papi’ Bridge,” in honor of the retiring Red Sox slugger. Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo joined Red Sox players and fans at Fenway Park on Sunday to celebrate the bridge-naming and Ortiz’s career.

Copyright 2016 State House News Service