Rosenberg: Baker's education budget reveals some 'gaping holes'

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BOSTON >> Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, boxed out by Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo on the issue of taxes, appears to be agitating for additional revenues nonetheless.

"The governor couldn't fund education at the level he thought we needed to fund it at. So it just suggests to me that as hard as he and the Legislature work to craft a balanced budget that meets our needs, there are some big, gaping holes," Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, told New England Cable News, according to a transcript of an interview that will air on Sunday.

Alleging "underinvestment" in education and transportation, Rosenberg said state officials in recent years, which have featured both tax cuts and increases, had on net "choked off the revenue stream."

On the campaign trail, Baker pledged to increase total education aid in lockstep with growth in state revenues during his second year in office. While tax collections are projected to grow by 4.3 percent next fiscal year, Baker this week released a $39.55 billion annual budget that increases overall spending by 3.5 percent and boosts Chapter 70 education aid to cities and towns by 1.6 percent and budgetary support for public higher education by about 1 percent. Baker recommended a $42 million increase in unrestricted aid to cities and towns, an investment that matches growth in state revenues.

If Chapter 70 aid grew at a 4.3 percent clip, it would increase next fiscal year by $194 million, rather than the $72.1 million increase recommended in Baker's budget, which is about to undergo a lengthy review starting with a hearing next Tuesday at the State House. Baker also recommended a $20.5 million increase in reimbursements to public school districts who lose students who choose public charter schools.

Outlining his budget on Wednesday, Baker touted investments in education and transportation, saying Massachusetts was "home to great schools," while emphasizing his goal of sharply reducing the use of one-time revenues that paper over fiscal problems.

Baker said a state budget where spending rises at roughly the same level as economic growth is "essential to the state's economic health going forward" and highlighted the lack of new taxes or fees in his spending plan.

In the interview with "This Week in Business" host Mike Nikitas, a transcript of which the cable station provided to the News Service, Rosenberg discussed Senate efforts to advance a public records law overhaul, pay equity legislation and a climate change adaptation bill.

But he tied the importance of investing in education and transportation - targets for funding under a proposed surtax on millionaires - to the state's economy, saying General Electric was enticed to relocate its headquarters to Boston by the state's knowledge pool and companies are drawn to Massachusetts by its hospitals, universities and life sciences clusters.

"You can't maintain that without a well educated workforce," Rosenberg said. "And we also have reports over time, going back really decades, saying that we're underinvesting in our transportation system, which is compromising our ability to maintain the kind of economy we want. Those things require public investment.

"So, yeah, job one is spend every dollar wisely, find reforms to be more efficient, but eventually, you run out of room to be able to do that to generate the revenue that you need and so I'm not saying it's a bad budget but the governor can't even do what he wants in that budget, and I see some real gaps in what we're trying to do, and it's not just this year, it's been going back for a number of years because we have really choked off the revenue stream over the last twenty years by over three billion dollars annualized."

The Legislature's Revenue Committee this week voted 12-4 to endorse a $1.9 million tax on incomes above $1 million, an initiative included as part of a constitutional amendment. The amendment needs support from at least 50 lawmakers meeting in successive Constitutional Conventions in order to qualify for the November 2018 ballot. Rosenberg presides at the convention, which is scheduled to resume next Wednesday.

With Baker and DeLeo currently holding a firm position against new or higher taxes, there appear few options for tax hike advocates on Beacon Hill other than the constitutional amendment.

Apprised of Rosenberg's critique on Friday, Baker press secretary Lizzy Guyton said in a statement, "The administration is pleased that this budget continues reducing the inherited structural deficit of over a billion dollars while increasing investments in education, including a $72 million increase in chapter 70, as well as transportation, the Department of Children and Families and curbing the opioid epidemic, without raising taxes or fees."

"This Week in Business" airs Sunday at 5:30 a.m., and 12:30 and 8 p.m.


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