Some of Baker budget cuts reversed in override votes

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BOSTON >> Lawmakers began a series of override votes Wednesday aimed at restoring nearly $100 million in spending vetoed from the state budget by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, including funds for full-day kindergarten programs and 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 $765 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that ended last month, and 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 override votes, the House approved 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.

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Supporters said the program helps prepare disadvantaged children to enter school, especially those who were not able to attend quality pre-school programs.

Rep. Bradford Hill, a Republican from Ipswich, said he backed the override but urged colleagues to review the kindergarten grants in the future, warning they could not be sustained at the same level of funding. 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.

Lawmakers then took a rapid series of override votes with little or no debate, including one that restored a $5 million cut by Baker from the $526 million in state funding provided to the five-campus University of Massachusetts system. The veto had been criticized by newly named UMass president Martin Meehan.

Overrides were also required in the Senate where, like the House, Democrats hold a supermajority of members.

Lawmakers planned to wrap up work on the budget and several other bills before taking an August recess. Among the items expected to come up for debate was a proposal to suspend the state's 6.25 percent sales tax on most items during the weekend of Aug. 15-16.

The so-called sales tax holiday has been held nearly every year over the last decade and has strong support among retailers who view it as a boost for sales during a slow summer period. Some critics, however, have pointed to the loss of state tax revenue resulting from the holiday.


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