Signing his eighth and final budget as the state’s chief executive, Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday agreed to a major increase in state spending as he approved the vast majority of a $52.7 billion annual budget, vetoed less than half a million dollars of outlays, and returned 41 sections to the Legislature with proposed amendments.
The fiscal year 2023 budget represents an increase of $5.1 billion or 10.7% over the $47.6 billion annual budget passed for fiscal 2022. It is also represents an increase of $14.6 billion or 38.3% over the first budget that Baker signed, a $38.1 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2016.
During a signing ceremony in his State House office and in a press release from his administration, Baker focused almost entirely on the parts of the budget that he supported and signed, and had a lot of good to say about the spending plan, including that it is “affordable” and “appropriate” given the steep rise in state tax collections over the last two years.
“We’re pleased to be signing the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which supports tax relief efforts and delivers investments in a variety of key areas of state government including significant increases in education funding in both the K through 12 and higher ed level, child care investments, and big increases in local aid to our cities and towns,” Baker, who will leave office about halfway through the budget year, said Thursday morning.
“Over the past seven years, we’ve always spent less than we raised in taxes and that’s made a big difference in getting our budget structurally balanced. When we took office, we started with a budget deficit of varying proportions, depending upon how you do the math, and the Rainy Day Fund had somewhere around a billion dollars in it. At this point in time, the Rainy Day Fund has almost $7 billion in it and we’ve been in structural balance now for the past four or five years,” he added.
The budget fully funds the ongoing implementation of the Student Opportunity Act school financing law and makes “record investments” in early education and child care, housing and homeownership, college financial aid, economic and workforce development, behavioral health care and local aid, Baker said.
It provides almost $6 billion in Chapter 70 local school funding, a $495 million increase over fiscal 2022 that keeps the state on track to fully implement the Student Opportunity Act by fiscal year 2027, and doubles the minimum Chapter 70 aid per pupil from $30 to $60. And there’s $110 million for a one-year extension of free school meals for all students.
It also dedicates a total of $1.23 billion for unrestricted general government aid to cities and towns — a $63.1 million increase that was a priority for the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
The fiscal 2023 budget works towards the recommendations of the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission with $250 million in Commonwealth Cares for Children stabilization grants, $60 million for a rate reserve to increase salaries for teachers and others at subsidized providers, and $31.5 million in grants to Head Start programs across the state.