Lawmakers move to restore budget items vetoed by Baker
BOSTON (AP) — Lawmakers moved Wednesday to restore nearly $100 million in spending vetoed from the state budget by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, including funds for full-day kindergarten programs and for the University of Massachusetts system.
Baker used his line-item veto power to shave $162 million from the more than $38 billion budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, saying that while the overall spending plan approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature was a responsible one with no new taxes, the cuts were required to assure a balanced budget “and maintain fiscal stability.”
Baker said upon taking office in January that he had inherited from the administration of former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick a budget deficit for the fiscal year that ended last month, along with a potential $1.8 billion shortfall in the current year.
House leaders said earlier Wednesday that they hoped to restore $97 million of the $162 million in vetoes, targeting education and economic development among other areas.
In the first of dozens of expected overrides, the House voted 155-0 to restore nearly $17.6 million in kindergarten expansion grants. The grants are designed to increase access to full-day kindergarten with preference given to school districts in lower-income communities where students average lower scores on standardized tests.
The Senate later voted 38-0 to restore the funds as well.
Supporters said the program helps prepare disadvantaged children to enter school, especially those who were not able to attend quality pre-school programs.
Republicans backed the override but urged Democrats to review the kindergarten grants in the future, suggesting they may have gone beyond their original purpose of expanding the programs and could overlap with traditional state funding that is provided each year for public schools.
Baker, in a letter to lawmakers explaining his vetoes, said he reduced the appropriation to $1 million because that was the amount projected to be needed for the program.
Most of the vetoes were overridden with little or no debate, including one that restored a $5 million cut by Baker from the $531 million in state funding provided to the five-campus University of Massachusetts system.
“By overriding the governor’s ill-advised education vetoes, we’re helping middle class kids get the tools they will need to prosper in a demanding and competitive economy,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, in a statement.
The House voted 136-18 and the Senate 38-0 to restore the UMass funding. Newly named UMass president Martin Meehan, who had criticized the reduction by Baker, called the override a victory for students, faculty and staff.
Legislators also restored prior levels of funding in the budget for a range of other programs, including ones that support homeless families, arts programs and prostate cancer research.
Additional override votes were expected Thursday in both chambers.
This story has been corrected to show the original UMass funding was $531 million, not $526 million.