Mass. Senate approves $32.4b budget that includes immigration crackdown, keeps Taunton hospital open

The Massachusetts Senate approved a $32.4 billion budget at midday that increases money for local schools, keeps the Taunton State Hospital for the mentally ill open, and includes new provisions intended to crack down on illegal immigration.

The wide-ranging budget bill will now be reconciled with the House, which has already approved its own version of the annual state spending plan, before the Legislature delivers a compromise to Governor Deval Patrick for his signature.

Like the House budget, the Senate spending plan includes no new taxes or fees, something lawmakers are loath to impose during an election year. The new budget year begins July 1.

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“It’s a fiscally conservative budget,” said Senate President Therese Murray, a Democrat from Plymouth. “But we were able to do some things in some areas where we haven’t been able to do in the past. The most compassionate piece of that is the fact that we now have some mental health beds and facilities in southeastern Massachusetts. We’re not abandoning the mentally ill there.”

Both the House and the governor had agreed to close the hospital. The Senate budget would keep it open at about half its current capacity.

Over three days of debate, senators added about $74 million in spending, including $5 million for community preservation, and a host of new policy initiatives, including a provision requiring mutual companies to provide fuller disclosure of compensation to chief executive officers and establishes an independent compensation committee to review and approve compensation levels based on a completed evaluation.

The Globe has reported in recent weeks that Liberty Mutual’s recently retired top executive, Edmund F. Kelly, has taken compensation of nearly $50 million while maintaining a fleet of five corporate jets.

The Senate budget approved today also contains a crackdown on immigration, including a requirement that companies doing business with the state use a federal database to verify the immigration status of their employees. The measure also includes new checks and criminal penalties aimed at preventing illegal immigrants from getting driver licenses or public housing.

Similar measures have been approved for the last two years in the Senate, but were stripped out before reaching the governor’s desk.

Proponents said the measures will ensure that the law is enforced, tax dollars are not used to propagate illegal immigration, and that legal residents are not unfairly denied state services. Critics said the law would add unnecessary costs and red tape for small businesses, and unwittingly penalize legal residents and citizens because the federal E-Verify system is rife with inaccuracies.

During legislative action, Senate Republicans were thwarted in their effort to introduce tax cut amendments when Murray ruled Wednesday that the budget is not technically a “money bill,” and the tax rate cannot therefore be changed.

Their Senate budget would give $20 million more than the House plan to local elementary and secondary school aid, even as it would cut $11.3 million that the House had devoted to help cities and towns transport homeless children to school. Funding for special education would increase by $20 million over the House plan.

Local aid, which pays for municipal services such as police officers and firefighters, would see a $275 million increase over the current budget year, the same bump that the House approved.

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