State Senate approves $420m supplemental budget
Elderly, disabled would benefit
After adopting a pair of Republican amendments aimed at compelling the Patrick administration to disclose additional budget details, the Senate passed a $420 million supplemental budget yesterday that funds surging Medicaid costs and services for the elderly and disabled, shores up the State Police, and is aimed at preventing the closing of corrections facilities.
During a session attended by just two members, Senator Bruce Tarr, Republican of Gloucester, said Republicans never intended to block funding for vital human services programs, but hoped to get answers from the Patrick administration about the need for increased spending just three months into a new budget year. The other member on hand was Ken Donnelly, Democrat of Arlington.
“We’ve got some answers that have been less than clear,’’ Tarr told reporters after the session. “There were some accounts that needed to be funded. Some of the human services were going to need this assistance. We weren’t going to stand in the way of providing those needed services.’’
Tarr said fluctuating budgets are not uncommon in “recessionary times.’’
He added that the budget approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor in June anticipated a 3 percent climb in Medicaid rolls, but the rolls actually climbed 5 percent, a big difference in a program that costs billions of dollars.
Although the bill still needs final enactment in each branch to reach Governor Deval Patrick’s desk, Senate President Therese Murray expressed relief that the bill cleared the Senate after days of delays.
“It’s about time,’’ she said, pointing out that letters were supposed to go out yesterday to alert people of the closing of group homes, the canceling of adult day services, and the shutdown of mental health facility beds. At the urging of Senate leaders, she said, the letters were not sent.
“This is progress,’’ she said.
The proposal spends $203 million in one-time federal funds on Medicaid programs for the low-income and disabled and uses another $195 million in federal funds to replace planned spending from the state’s rainy day fund. The bill also includes $5 million for State Police and about $25 million for the Department of Correction.
The House, which meets Tuesday, will have to consider the Senate amendments before deciding whether to give the bill final approval.
Before it arrived in the Senate, the spending bill had stalled in the House for a week, as Representative Karyn Polito, a Republican candidate for state treasurer, blocked its passage. Polito said that more of the funds should be put into savings, that the proposal should be cut in half and revisited in January, and that collectively bargained raises funded in the bill should be put on hold.
The proposal passed the House Monday, with the blessing of Republican leadership, after Polito arrived late to the morning session and missed a chance to block it. It was unclear yesterday if she intended to continue her hold on the bill when the House gavels back in at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Asked whether he would urge his House colleagues to support the bill, Tarr said: “I think the House has to do its due diligence. The members of the House need to feel comfortable.’’
One amendment, offered by Tarr and adopted by the Senate, requires the Department of Correction to issue a report on the reason it needs new funding and to describe the potential for any additional spending needs, as well as the potential for any facility closings or inmate releases.
A second Tarr amendment requires Patrick’s budget chief to report the amount of revenue necessary to support the proposed spending, as well as any further spending that might be required as a result.
Both reports would be due within 30 days after the bill passes.
The Senate also adopted an amendment offered by Senator Stephen Brewer, Democrat of Barre, that included language for foster care and moved funds among various Medicaid accounts.
An amendment offered by Senator Robert O’Leary, Democrat of Barnstable, and backed by the business community, intended to alter a provision dealing with ambulance care, was rejected.
Senate Republicans lifted their hold on the bill shortly after receiving a letter from Patrick’s budget chief, Jay Gonzalez, who questioned the GOP’s “motivation’’ for blocking the spending proposal.
In his letter, Gonzalez wrote that in June lawmakers sent Patrick a budget that “did not adequately fund’’ the state prison system. Patrick, in response, vetoed other spending and proposed redirecting it to the Department of Correction.
The governor also said, at the time, that without a pair of prison reform proposals — consolidated procurement and early parole eligibility for certain nonviolent drug offenders — additional funding could be necessary.
Gonzalez added that “no additional level of state revenue’’ would be necessary to support spending provided for in the bill.