BOSTON (WPRI) — Massachusetts House and Senate lawmakers voted Monday to send the fiscal year 2023-2024 budget proposal to Gov. Maura Healey for her approval.
The lawmakers came to an agreement on Friday over the $56.2 billion tax-and-spending plan, almost a month after it was due.
This budget is the first to include revenue from the so-called Fair Share amendment, commonly known as the “millionaire tax,” which will go toward education and transportation. The House Ways and Means Committee estimates the tax will bring in roughly $1 billion in 2024.
Here are six notable things included in the new budget:
1. Free school lunches
Universal free school lunches will be permanent in public schools. The program will now be funded by the state with money coming from the Fair Share amendment.
Free lunches were first implemented during the pandemic using federal COVID-relief funds.
2. Funding for early childhood care and education
The state is investing more than $46 million in early childhood care and education. The funds will go toward things like helping providers offer incentives for programs to recruit and retain qualified educators.
The money will also be used to support the state’s universal preschool program and early childhood mental health services.
3. Free community college for nursing students
Tuition and fees for students who have not earned a degree in the past and are enrolled or in the process of enrolling in nursing programs at community colleges will now be covered. The state will cover the expense once all federal and state grant aid has been exhausted.
4. In-state tuition for immigrant students
Any student who went to high school in the state for at least three years and graduated from a Massachusetts high school will be eligible for in-state tuition, regardless of their immigration status.
5. Free phone calls for incarcerated individuals
Anyone in a state correctional facility, including a jail, will be allowed to make phone calls free of charge for both the person making the call and to the person receiving the call.
The implementation date for this measure has been extended by five months to make some adjustments to the policy.
6. More protections for right whales
No less than $250,000 of the state budget will go toward protecting right whales, which are endangered. The money will allow for increased patrols where officers can identify and remove abandoned fishing gear. Officers will also be able to better enforce speed restrictions using drones to further prevent harmful interactions between boaters and whales.
Healey now has 10 days to review and approve or veto the budget.