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Sizable shelter funding gap between projected costs and Mass. House lawmakers' proposed budget

Massachusetts House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz (right) brief the press on House leadership's fiscal 2025 budget bill, April 10, 2024.
Sam Doran
Massachusetts House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz (right) brief the press on House leadership's fiscal 2025 budget bill, April 10, 2024.

It’s Patriot's Day, and Boston Marathon Monday. The greater Boston area is set to get about a $200 million economic boost from the annual event, according to the student newspaper at Boston University.

Of course, we should note that this is one event that is not legal to bet on in Massachusetts. Chris Lisinski, a reporter at the State House News Service says he cheers runners on.

Chris Lisinski, SHNS: I live close enough to the marathon route that I am very much going to be looking forward to popping down there and offering some good cheer.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Oh, cool. Hey, speaking of the economy, Massachusetts House leaders unveiled their proposed $57.9 billion state budget for fiscal 2025. In it, is $500 million to fund the state's emergency shelter system. That's not a number I recall being mentioned before. What are lawmakers saying?

Right. This is a combination of two funding streams that the House is pursuing.

It's level funding $325 million through the regular line item for the emergency shelter system, the same as the current fiscal year budget, plus another $175 million that would be drawn down from a state savings account built up in past years with some surplus money and some federal aid.

As you mentioned, this is not anywhere close to what the Healey administration projects will be needed.

The administration has put a figure north of $900 million on the likely spend in fiscal 2025 on shelters, but House Democrats say that they don't want to go along with that number, because it's so far down the horizon that they don't actually know what the spend is going to be. They don't know how many people are going to continue to come to Massachusetts seeking shelter, how long they're going to be staying in shelters, as there's debate ongoing about capping time limits.

And so, we'll have to wait and see what the Senate comes up with, too?

Yes, of course. The Senate will not roll out its own annual budget until May, so there's still a month or so of waiting there, and keep in mind, we're still not sure what lawmakers are going to do about a fiscal 2024 funding injection for the shelter system.

Chris, I noticed another item in there. The House invests half as much money for snow and ice removal as called for in Governor Maura Healey's budget. Is it often that we see Massachusetts lawmakers banking on a warming climate to keep major snow removal and ice storm cleanup costs at bay?

No, I don't think there's too much climate change thought baked into that figure. I read it much more as lawmakers seeing this as an account that they could underfund to help free up some money elsewhere in the budget, given the tight fiscal circumstances, and they can always come back next winter and approve additional money in a midyear spending bill, should the need arise.

In western Mass, where school districts are finalizing their budgets, one business and finance professional in the Pittsfield Public Schools has found a technical error in a state formula, and there, an undercount of 11 low income students is sending more than $2 million back to that district. The Berkshire Eagle reports this undercount represents about 1500 low-income students across the state. Chris, doesn’t this means the legislature will need to adjust that budget item?

Apparently, according to the Eagle's reporting, and what's really interesting here is the first that I heard of it was in this story in the Berkshire Eagle. Legislative leaders, to my knowledge, have not been out in front and clear about this apparent error in the formula.

We do know that the House's budget would fund another year of the Student Opportunity Act and add a $37 million supplement to push the minimum aid per pupil up to $104 for districts.

But, you know, in terms of changing the formula to better count low income students, there's been pretty much silence up on Beacon Hill.

Finally Chris, a new police superintendent, was sworn in in Springfield last week. Lawrence Akers is less than a year away from the mandatory retirement age of 65, so a home rule petition seeking to allow Akers to serve past his 65th birthday was filed and is still pending before the legislature.

The bill was forwarded to the Joint Committee on Public Service about a month ago, and it's now mid-April. Should Springfield be concerned that this bill hasn't gotten scheduled for a hearing yet?

I don't think Springfield should be concerned that it hasn't gotten scheduled for a hearing. I think this is something that will get done eventually. It doesn't strike me as particularly likely that the Legislature will never touch this again. But their typical pattern of work is to wait until the very last minute, so it might just sit in limbo until one day Legislative leaders decide, "okay, it's finally time. Let's take care of that Springfield police issue and get it across the finish line."

And last minute would be sometime in July?

Sometime in July, maybe sometime in December. Really, anything is possible at this point.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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