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Gov. Maura Healey testifies about state budget before House and Senate lawmakers

The Joint Committee on Ways and Means' budget hearing on March 7, 2023 was the first in-person budget hearing in 3 years.

Says she is "proud of this budget"

The themes were “collaboration” and “partnership” at the first legislative hearing into the fiscal 2024 Massachusetts state budget.

Governor Maura Healey appeared in person before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Ways and Means Tuesday to outline her first budget recommendation – a $55.5 billion spending plan that includes dramatic increases for higher education, energy and environmental initiatives, and workforce development.

“I’m proud of this budget,” Healey said.

The Democratic governor said she wanted to come in-person to the committee to show her desire for a partnership with the Democratic-dominated legislature when it comes to producing the next state budget.

“Now that our budget is filed, I look forward to working with all of you and making this a reality,” Healey said.

For about 90 minutes, legislators questioned Healey and Administration and Finance Secretary Matthew Gorzkowicz and signaled some areas of potential disagreement.

Along with the budget, Healey is asking for a series of revisions to the income tax code. These include a new $600 child credit, increasing existing offsets for renters and senior homeowners, reducing the short-term capital gains tax rate, and raising to $3 million the threshold for an estate to be taxed.

Senator Cindy Friedman of Arlington, questioned if the tax relief proposals will really help address the state’s affordability crisis. She pointed to her chief-of-staff who she said is paying $33,000 per year for one child in daycare and won’t benefit from the tax proposals.

“We have a workforce that we are desperate to keep,” Friedman said.

Healey answered that she supports universal pre-school, but that it needs to come about incrementally.

The budget’s impact in western Massachusetts was spotlighted in questioning by Senator Jo Comerford of Northampton, the committee’s assistant vice chair.

“These largely rural communities that are struggling to make ends meet have fixed costs like every other community but may have only 400 people to pay them,” Comerford said. “We can’t count per capita as much as we have to count the lift-all-boats-type of investment.”

Higher spending proposed on education and workforce development will benefit western Massachusetts, Healey said.

“Also mindful that in our rural communities live some of the poorest among us and we need to be sure we’re doing what we can to protect those folks as well,” Healey said.

This is the first state budget that will include revenue from the so-called millionaire’s tax – the voter approved measure that adds a 4 percent surtax to incomes over $1 million. Healey has proposed putting the $1 billion the tax is projected to raise into trust funds for education and transportation projects.

Budget-writers must also account for the fallout from the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency and the loss of additional federal funding in several areas as a result. Already, a supplemental budget has been proposed to make up for a reduction in SNAP benefits and for an end to federally-funded universal school lunches.

More than 200,000 people could be knocked off MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, as a result of the federal changes.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.