BOSTON — In light of stronger than anticipated tax collections through April and under pressure from lawmakers, the Patrick administration has announced it would restore $20.8 million in spending to the fiscal 2013 budget, including outlays that cover special education costs and reimbursements to cities and towns for regional and homeless student transportation.
Secretary of Administration and Finance Glen Shor said the administration felt comfortable restoring the spending with just over one month left in the fiscal year because tax collections through April have exceeded benchmarks by $510 million. Gov. Patrick had cut the funds last December when tax collections were trailing estimates.
The restored spending amounts to less than 10 percent of the $225 million cut by Patrick in December. Shor said cuts were reversed in areas where the administration saw a “pressing need” and felt confident the money could be spent before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
Shor repeated his caution that the strong performance of tax revenue sources over the past five months has been due largely to growth in capital gains and one-time settlements, a “majority” of which is earmarked by law for the state’s “rainy day” fund.
“Fiscal restraint remains imperative,” Shor said, noting that actions by investors taken late last year before federal tax increases went into effect have helped “swell coffers” but might not carry over into fiscal 2014.
Shor also said the administration needed to be cautious when restoring spending to ensure that there is enough money available should expenses arise over the next month and half for collective bargaining agreements, settlements or caseload driven social services.
The administration is restoring $11.5 million in special education reimbursements, $5.25 million for homeless student transportation and $1 million for regional school transportation reimbursements. Shor said the funds could give cities and towns “flexibility” in their budgets for this year and next.
Massachusetts Municipal Association Executive Director Geoff Beckwith, who joined a conference call for reporters, said the administration’s action was “very much appreciated.”
The full list of restored spending includes:
$5.25 million homeless students transportation;
$1 million for regional school transportation;
$11.5 million to reimburse for special education costs through the Circuit Breaker;
$100,000 for micro small business loans;
$50,000 for assistive technology at Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission;
$135,999 for Vocational Rehabilitation at the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission;
$162,500 for Massachusetts Service Alliance (MSA);
$200,000 for the Buy Local Program at the Department of Agriculture;
$216,980 for Council on Aging (COA) Grants at Elder Affairs (ELD);
$280,000 for the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to hire additional summer staffers;
$717,554 for rest home rate increases at the Department of Transitional Assistance;
$1 million for the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative program created in last year’s Jobs Bill;
$53,000 for grants to Visitor Information Bureaus.
House Republicans and five House Democrats wrote to the governor last week asking Patrick to reverse $24.4 million in cuts made to programs that provide assistance to local cities and towns for special education, school transportation, and other expenses, such as water and sewer rate relief. Funding for some of those programs, but not all, was restored by the administration last Friday.
A smaller group of House Republicans also urged Democrats negotiating a $500 million tax increase bill to abandon that proposal in light of recent revenue collections.
Patrick and the Legislature have already added $158 million to this year’s budget by passing a pair of mid-year spending bills, and the governor recently filed another supplemental budget worth $119 million to address unpaid winter road-clearing bills, special election costs, summer jobs for teens, and costs associated with legal representation of indigent defendants facing criminal charges.
Shor said he was “completely confident” that added spending could be paid for, even with a large portion of the above-benchmark revenue earmarked for the state’s reserves. A top budget official said at this point in the year the administration expects there to be a sufficient amount of unspent funding returned by agencies and additional federal dollars at the end of the year to cover supplemental budget costs without tapping excess revenues.