Senate prepares to debate FY18 budget

Debate on the $40.3-billion budget begins Tuesday

(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

BOSTON (WWLP)- State senators are cautious heading into this week’s budget debate, as they look to balance the state’s needs with a nearly half billion dollar current shortfall. The Massachusetts Senate will debate the state’s $40.3-billion budget for fiscal year 2018 this week.

With current tax collections coming in more than 460 million dollars below expectations, lawmakers are searching for new revenue sources next year. Senate President Stan Rosenberg, (D) Amherst, told 22News, the first step is closing loopholes.

“There’s literally billions of dollars worth of revenue tied up in these kind of loopholes,” said Rosenberg. “We can attack that first, before you start talking about broad-based tax increases.”

The Senate estimates the state could generate $18-million in new revenue by tacking on a five percent excise tax on short-term rentals.

“We ought to be fair to our hotel, motel industry by also taxing Airbnb,” Rosenberg told 22News.

Lawmakers are debating the budget at a time when state unemployment is on the rise, hitting western Massachusetts communities hard.

“In western Mass.we’re frankly struggling. We’re getting left behind from the economic growth you’re seeing in the eastern part of the state,” said State Sen. Eric Lesser, (D) Longmeadow. “The best way to solve that is to improve the connectivity.”

Lesser filed an amendment to study how to get high speed rail service from Springfield to Boston up and running. He told 22News he anticipates the study could be created with existing transportation staff and funding.

The high-speed rail amendment is just one of more than 1,000 amendments lawmakers will vote on later this week.