BOSTON — Police and fire, veterans services, community programs and athletics are among hundreds of beneficiaries of earmarks that made it into the $43.3 billion state budget signed by Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday.
The spending package, approved nearly a month into the 2020 fiscal year, includes more money for local governments and public schools, transportation upgrades and substance abuse programs. The final budget is about $400 million more than Baker proposed in January and will raise state spending by an estimated $1.6 billion or 4% over the next fiscal year.
Baker, a Republican, didn't veto any legislative pork barrel spending as he did in the previous four years, saying the budget is "balanced" and in "pretty good shape financially."
"We’re obviously going to pay a lot of attention to what happens to revenues in the first two quarters of the year because we did have a lot of volatility in the revenue base for 2019," Baker told reporters at a budget signing Wednesday. "So we’re going to work pretty hard to pay attention not just to the revenue side but also the spending side going forward."
Baker vetoed $49 million from the $41.7 billion budget he signed a year ago, including about 300 earmarks. Lawmakers restored most of those cuts.
Paul Craney, a spokesman for the conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, criticized Baker's decision not to veto the spending in the current budget, calling it "a failure in our democratic process."
For lawmakers, Baker's decision not to use his veto pen means hundreds of millions of dollars for local projects will get funded with a nod from the governor.
Among dozens of local earmarks that made it into the final spending package, a proposal by Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, will provide $2 million for a new grant program that seeks to help at-risk youthS stay out of the criminal justice system and former inmates ages 18 to 25 make the transition back into society.
Rep. Linda Campbell, D-Methuen, got $300,000 for the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center in Haverhill and $200,000 for an outdoor track at Methuen High School.
Rep. Ann Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, roped in $100,000 for The Open Door food pantry in Gloucester, which helped Coast Guard families and other workers affected by the partial federal government shutdown earlier this year. She also secured $200,000 for shellfish research at the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute.
A proposal by Reps. Frank Moran, D-Lawrence, and Tram Nguyen, D-Andover, will provide $150,000 for a renovation of the Andover Senior Center.
And Rep. Lenny Mirra, R-West Newbury, got $40,000 for his hometown to build a public safety and bathroom facility on Plum Island and $30,000 for a youth community center in Georgetown, among other amendments.
Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, secured $100,000 for Andover Youth Services; $100,000 for the Dracut Senior Center; and $15,000 for Hispanic Week celebrations in Haverhill.
Lawmakers defend the practice of using budget earmarks as a means to get state money for local projects since the executive branch largely controls statewide capital spending.
They also point out that better-than-expected tax collections — roughly $1.9 billion through the end of last year, according to the state Department of Revenue — meant more money was available to fund local projects.
"We're spending it on good things," Mirra said. "These isn't superfluous stuff. This is what the voters expect and demand from state government."
Overall, Chapter 70 education funding for public schools will amount to more than $5.1 billion — a nearly $270 million increase over the previous year.
Direct aid to local governments — money that cities and towns use for everything from closing local budget shortfalls to hiring workers — will be more than $1.12 billion, a nearly $30 million increase.
Most communities will see slight increases in funding if Baker agrees to the final local aid allocations.
Baker did use his veto pen to ax proposals to study the use of "'micro-mobility devices" between MBTA stations, and a proposal to study of environmental justice policies.
And the final spending plan does not include more than 80 policy changes, including Baker's proposals to impose a 15% tax on opioid manufacturers, extend the tobacco excise tax to vaping products and hike the tax on real estate transactions by 50% to help fund climate change preparations.
Lawmakers did agree to portions of Baker's proposal to reduce prescription drug costs through MassHealth, the state's Medicaid program that serves about 1.8 million residents.
Under the plan, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services is authorized to begin negotiating supplemental rebates with drug manufacturers to reduce the state's drug costs.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.
Here are some highlights of spending in Greater Newburyport communities included the state’s fiscal 2020 budget. The list is not all encompassing.
Georgetown Youth Center: $30,000.
Newbury Plum Island Boulevard public bathroom: $40,000.
Newburyport shellfish purification plant: $75,000.
Newburyport Merrimack River advisory pilot program: $100,000.