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Massachusetts Gov. Healey's priorities to be highlighted in 1st state budget

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
State House News Service
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

Every candidate talks big about their spending priorities. This week, we get to see how many of Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey's proposals actually make it in her budget.

Healey is filing her first annual state budget by March 1 and all eyes will be on her following through with the funding on the priorities and promises that she highlighted while on the campaign trail. Last week, local officials got a peek at some of the funding that will come back to communities across the state. Chris Lisinksi of the State House News Service highlights some takeaways.

Chris Lisinski, State House News Service: The top line takeaway, of course, is the governor's budget proposal has about $8.36 Billion total for local aid programs, broken up into things like unrestricted government aid all the way over to school and regional transportation aid.

In terms of unrestricted general government aid, which city and towns call ‘UGGA,’ the governor is proposing a roughly 2% increase, which is just a bit more than the projected state tax revenue increase for the year, after cities and towns said that just a mere increase would not cut it for the year ahead. There's also substantial money in the governor's budget proposal for K-12 public education funding as she sets out to fully fund the 2019 Student Opportunity Act.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Well, the governor has made commitments to do something that western Massachusetts lawmakers have pushed for and that is to increase reimbursements for school transportation. So, what are some of the early details there? And what has been some of the early reaction from lawmakers or officials?

Absolutely. There is a proposal in her budget bill to increase regional school transportation. The bill that she laid out would boost the state's share of reimbursement from about 80% to now 90% of local costs, with a $97 million total appropriation for regional schools. It would also increase funding for school transportation reimbursement programs by 24% over the existing FY 23 budget. And like you said, you know, municipal leaders are really happy about this, but what we're still waiting to see is how lawmakers are going to react, since there is, of course, quite a long process ahead before any of these ideas will actually make it into state law.

This is a proposal that's put forward by the governor, certainly not a done deal. What is ahead for the budget process after she files this by Wednesday?

Well, typically see one month for review, the House will do its own budget bill rollout and then debate in April. The Senate will then do its version of a budget bill and debate in May, after which the bill is going to head into private conference committee negotiations between the House and Senate. And from there, it's kind of a closed book. We wind up just waiting around for that panel of negotiators to reach a final deal. In recent years, it's taken them quite a long time, sometimes even into July, when the new fiscal year has already started before we find out what's actually going to be in the bill that lands on Healey's desk.

Shifting gears a bit, we'll find out soon enough if a change of leadership in the Mass GOP can turn around a dire financial situation for that party. Jim Lyons was replaced by Amy Carnevale last month, and Carnevale says Lyons left a whole mess of the state GOP's books, including some questionable expenditures. Does this look like a normal and manageable amount of debt, or is that party looking at a financial scandal?

It certainly looks like an enormous mess has fallen to Carnevale. Now the party has as much as north of $600,000 in unpaid invoices at this point, which is a huge increase over what party officials had been grappling with previously.

Some big questions at this point are just how many of those invoices are actually party responsibilities and which of them are misreported and not something that the party itself will actually need to pay. They're trying to unwind this. Carnevale has hired a compliance firm and a high-profile attorneys try and work their way through these issues. But untangling it is going to take some serious effort.

So even though she wasn't leading the organization when these charges happened, will Carnevale actually end up responsible for these bills?

For now, yeah. She's taken over the party and she's the one who is going to have to chart a path forward for the Mass GOP, however much of that roughly $600,000 in unpaid invoices... really, the big question at this point is just how much of that is the Mass GOP going to owe and how much of that is bad bookkeeping that makes it look like it's a party debt when in fact the party's not responsible for it?

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.