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Massachusetts Budget Deal Nixes Online Lottery, Greenlights in-state Tuition for Undocumented Students

A compromise on the state’s fiscal 2024 budget left behind the legalization of online lottery but went ahead with a plan to offer in-state tuition for eligible undocumented students, the House’s chief budget writer told the Herald Sunday night.

House Ways and Means Chair Rep. Aaron Michlewitz said Democratic negotiators filed a $56.2 billion budget accord Sunday that also mandates universal public school meals and sets aside $581 million for a future tax relief proposal that is still locked up in closed-door deliberations.

Michlewitz said the budget sets aside revenue from a new income surtax known as the “Fair Share Amendment” or “Millionaires Tax” by allocating $523 million for education and $477 million for transportation. That is a change from original proposals from the House and Senate, where funding was divided equally by sector even as the fine details differed.

The North End Democrat said the MBTA is in line to receive $205 million of those dollars, with $70 million for station repairs, $50 million for bridge repairs, $30 million for track and power repairs, and $20 million for safety and workforce needs.

A proposal to add two more seats to the MBTA board of directors survived private negotiations, Michlewitz said. The mayor of Boston will have the power to appoint one of those new members and the other will go to the surrounding municipalities served by the MBTA, he said.

But a House-backed proposal to expand the state’s gambling offerings by allowing online lottery sales was ditched. House leaders and lottery officials argued the expansion into the digital realm was necessary because of the rise of sports betting but others cautioned that offering more betting options would create additional risks.

“I think that’s something that we’re gonna have to continue to talk about,” Michlewitz told the Herald.

Senate President Karen Spilka said the budget accord “represents a major step forward for our commonwealth, particularly in making higher education more affordable and more accessible to everyone.”

“Tuition equity, free community college for nursing students and students 25 and older, and laying the groundwork for free universal community college starting next fall —all part of the Senate’s Student Opportunity Plan —are crucial to securing our long-term competitiveness, providing residents with concrete ways to create the futures they dream of, and continuing our state’s commitment to education at every level,” Spilka said in a statement.

A Senate-supported plan to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students who have attended school in Massachusetts for at least three years was included in the budget deal, Michlewitz said.

“Once they hit the three-year mark, they will be eligible for in-state tuition rates and for state-funded financial assistance,” Michlewitz said.

House and Senate lawmakers plan to take up the fiscal 2024 budget deal on Monday during formal sessions scheduled to start at 11 a.m. and 12 p.m., respectively. That is about four weeks after their July 1 deadline to come up with a spending plan.

Lawmakers are now likely to enter August — when they typically take a recess — with the budget out of their hands.

Gov. Maura Healey will have 10 days to review the agreement once it reaches her desk. And she gave more time to lawmakers last week to get her a budget when she filed a second interim spending plan.

Source : BostonHerald