By Colleen Quinn and Michael Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE — The Senate on Tuesday approved an $80 million spending bill to close out fiscal year 2014, tacking on scores of policy-related riders and stripping out a House-approved provision authorizing the sale of the state transportation building in downtown Boston.
In its bill (S 2383), the Senate removed language that the House included in its budget bill (H 4508) last week pertaining to the potential sale of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation building on Tremont Street, according to Republican Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester).
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Stephen Brewer said lawmakers need to discuss the building’s potential sale. “We will have an ongoing discussion about that. I am not going to pre-judge where anything ends up,” Brewer told the News Service Tuesday after the Senate passed the spending bill on a voice vote during a lightly attended session featuring ranking Democrat and Republican members.
The bill authorizes some state agencies to spend money in fiscal 2015 that was not spent in fiscal 2014. The bill also includes a $5 million reserve to reimburse municipalities for costs associated with extreme weather, including tornadoes. Sen. Donald Humason, a Republican from Westfield, pushed to have $22,500 included to reimburse Easthampton for money spent responding to a microburst last week.
The bill also includes $7 million for the Massachusetts Life Sciences Investment Fund; $1.25 million for the Center for Health Information Analysis (CHIA); and $1.5 million for underground storage tank removal on public property, according to Brewer.
House and Senate lawmakers will have to work out differences in an outside section dealing with the MBTA and the 1 cent earmarked for the agency from the state’s sales tax. The Senate budget bill includes language that would statutorily guarantee the MBTA revenue from the tax, according to legislative staff.
Brewer said State Treasurer Steven Grossman has expressed “a level of concern about how we approach this” in order to maintain the state’s current bond rating. Brewer declined to give specifics about the differences between the House and Senate approaches. “We still have to work that out with the House. I prefer we keep our options open,” he said, directing questions to the state treasurer.
The bill contains numerous outside sections – 75 in the House and 89 in the Senate – including sections pertaining to Taunton State Hospital, membership on a commission to address sex offenders, qualified research expenses for tax purposes, prescriptions written by nurse practitioners or physician assistants, a five-year term for the state climatologist, a new unemployment insurance table, the Cambridge Public Health Commission, transfers of funds within MassHealth and the Department of Children and Families, home energy assistance to low-income families, and the Housing Preservation and Stabilization Fund.
The Senate budget says that unexpended funds for the Boston Fire Department’s hazardous materials response team shall be made available for expenditure until June 30, 2015, and another outside section deals with a special commission to study charter school funding, with a reporting date of Jan. 1, 2016.
And the Senate bill includes language earmarking $2 million for the restoration costs of the Mayflower II, including a 30 percent cost contingency on future work to cover unforeseen costs, and $3 million for the construction of a public safety building in the town of Barre, where Brewer lives. The bill requires the secretary of housing and economic development to hold amounts in the Capital Needs Investment Trust Fund for those expenses.
There was no debate or public explanation of the bills on either the House or Senate side, and staffers said summaries, which are available for some bills, were not available for the lengthy budget bills.
Brewer said he expects to have a final bill on Gov. Patrick’s desk within the next eight or nine days.
The bill appears to dispense with a fiscal 2014 surplus that Patrick administration officials estimated at $25 million. Tax collections far exceeded revenue estimates used to build the fiscal 2014 budget. The unanticipated receipts were largely poured back into the state budget through midyear appropriations.