Massachusetts Legislative Session 2017: Budget Signed But Hot-Button Issues Face Legislators in September

Two weeks into FY 2018, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a $39.4 billion spending package that increases spending by 1.7% over the prior year. He vetoed $320 million from the budget, including $222 million in spending for MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program. Baker has proposed reforms to MassHealth including a “gate” which blocks eligibility for full-time workers who have access to affordable health coverage through their employers. The pared-down budget contains no new taxes or fees. Other features of the budget are listed as follows:

  • $3.5 million for new State Police division that focuses on homeland security, criminal intelligence and counter-terrorism
  • $6 million for gang-prevention initiatives called “Shannon Grants”
  • An increase in funding for the Department of Children and Families by $9.8 million to support 450 new employees.
  • Language to allow casinos to serve alcohol until 4 a.m.
  • Transfers $127 million in operating funds to MBTA and adds $60 million in new capital funding.

Session Highlights Through Sept. 1, 2017

The legislative session was scheduled to resume after Labor Day when legislators will tackle issues associated with MassHealth including eligibility and trimming Medicaid costs. Other issues include immigration and criminal justice reform. Legislation called the “Safe Communities Act” would impose sharp limits on cooperation between local police and federal immigration officers.

The Legislature will also take up criminal justice reform, AirBnB (online marketing and hospitality service) and issues regarding “distracted driving.” Lawmakers may also take up Baker’s vetoes in the FY18 budget.

Legislation Passed and Signed Into Law

Office of Technology Services and Security Will Be Part of Governor’s Cabinet

HB 3731 Filed by Gov. Charles Baker Pursuant to Article 87, Amendments to the Constitution.

An Act to Reorganize the Information Technology Function of the Commonwealth to Improve Data Security, Safeguard Privacy and Promote Better Service Delivery

Office of Information Technology (MassIT) to be re-established as the Executive Office of Technology Services and Security, led by a new secretary of technology who will be part of the governor’s cabinet.

Legalizing Marijuana

HB 3776   An Act to Ensure the Public Health and Safety of Patient and Consumer Access to Medical and Adult Use of Marijuana in the Commonwealth

Revises the ballot question that was approved by voters and sets a 10.75% state excise tax on recreational marijuana that would be assessed on top of the state’s regular 6.25% sales tax. Local communities can also tack on an additional 3% tax on pot sales, totaling a 20% tax. Medical marijuana would remain untaxed.

Working Conditions for Pregnant Workers

S 2093 An Act Establishing the Massachusetts Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act

Offers pregnant women reasonable accommodations, including more frequent or longer paid or unpaid breaks, time off to recover from childbirth with or without pay, acquisition or modification of equipment, seating, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, job restructuring, light duty, break time and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk, assistance with manual labor or modified work schedules.

Transportation Projects

H. 3648 An Act Providing for the Financing of Certain Improvements to Municipal Roads and Services

Authorizes $200 million in Chapter 90 transportation funds for municipalities across the Commonwealth in this construction season. Chapter 90 transportation funding supports reimbursement of municipalities for road-related construction projects and comes from general obligation bond issuances.

Opiates, Treatment, Education

H. 4056  An Act Relative to Substance Use, Treatment and Education

Includes numerous recommendations from the Governor’s Opioid Working Group, including prevention education for students and doctors. This is the first law in the nation to establish a seven-day limit on first-time opioid prescriptions.

Electric Cars

S. 2505    An Act Promoting Zero Vehicle Emission Adoption

Works to increase access to zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) charging stations for the general public by prohibiting owners of public charging stations from charging users a subscription or membership fee and requiring the use of payment options available to the general public. The legislation also allows municipalities and private businesses to restrict parking spaces specifically for ZEV use.

Economic Development

H. 4569    An Act Relative to Job Creation and Workforce Development

Provides tax credits to promote investments in new companies, creates a commission to examine online gaming in Massachusetts, and encourages workforce development by extending to families a new tax deduction tied to college savings plans. The SoarMA initiative makes 529 college savings accounts available to families of eligible seventh-graders from five pilot schools. Funded through public and private partnerships, every account will be seeded with $50, and families must save at least $100 in the first year to become eligible for matching funds up to $500 saved toward future college tuition payments. At the present time, funding for the program is in question and proponents hope to resolve the issue during the legislative session.

The bill also establishes an “angel investor tax credit” to encourage early investment in new companies. Investors would be able to receive an income tax credit of 20% of their investment in qualifying Massachusetts businesses that have no more than 20 full-time employees and $500,000 in revenues. For fledgling businesses located in the state’s 26 “gateway cities” where educational attainment and median income are below the state’s average, the credit totals 30% of the investment.

Additional Legislative Action

Millionaire’s Tax Approved, Measure Ready for November 2018 Election

On June 14, 2017, Massachusetts lawmakers voted to approve an amendment to the state Constitution, known as the Fair Share Amendment, which would impose a 4% surtax on millionaires. The measure will go on the 2018 November ballot. The surtax would apply only to portions of income over $1 million. The state’s current income tax rate is 5.1%. The 4% surtax would raise an estimated $2 billion per year for education and transportation.

K-12 Funding

The budget includes a 2% increase in funding or $4.74 billion in Chapter 70 aid to cities and towns, which reflects a minimum spending increase of $30 per pupil for 322 operating school districts. Overall Chapter 70 aid increases by $119 million. Also included in the budget is a $38.5 rate increase for Early Education Care. The budget level-funds charter schools reimbursement at $80.5 million.

Higher Education Funding

The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees raised tuition and fees by 3%. As a result, students will pay $416 more in the coming academic year. All five campuses will share a pot of $3.3 billion for FY18, which falls short of the requested amount.

The State University Incentive Grants (originally funded for $2.5 million in the House budget and $2.9 million in the Senate budget) were eliminated in the compromise budget.

Language was included in the final budget authorizing the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education to allow accredited, degree-granting institutions in Massachusetts to deliver distance-education programs to other states who are part of the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). SARA is a program of the New England Board of Higher Education.

Free College

Building on the Commonwealth Commitment program and the city of Boston’s Tuition Free Community College initiative, which were both established in 2016, a new pilot program called the Boston Bridge is available to all 2017 high school graduates who live in the city of Boston, including students from Boston Public Schools, charter schools and parochial schools. The city of Boston and the Commonwealth together will cover students’ tuition and fees, after taking into account federal Pell grants, from the time a student enters community college to when they graduate from a four-year public college or university. Students who enroll in Boston Bridge must major in one of the Mass Transfer pathways, which ensures that credits earned in any community college are accepted at any public four-year institution. Pathways include biology, chemistry, economics, history, political science and psychology.


Carolyn Morwick directs government and community relations at NEBHE and is former director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures. Visit here for summaries of the legislative sessions in other New England states.





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