- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - House lawmakers filed nearly 1,200 amendments in advance of Monday’s scheduled debate on the state’s $36.2 billion budget, some to restore funds slashed from programs during lean economic times and others to benefit pet projects at the local level.

Only a relatively small number of amendments are likely to survive and be added to the spending bill before it leaves the House and moves to the Senate. Most will never even reach the floor but will instead be withdrawn or consolidated through a process that is orchestrated by Democratic leaders and unfolds largely outside of public view.

The improving economy has buoyed hopes among some legislators and advocacy groups for an accelerated return to prerecession funding levels across state government. Adding to the optimism is better-than-projected revenue results: Through the first nine months of the current fiscal year, tax collections were running $228 million above benchmark and totaled $1.2 billion more than at the same time a year ago.

Still, House leaders have adopted a cautious approach to spending. The budget proposal released April 9 by the House Ways and Means Committee called for a bottom line increase of about 5 percent from a year ago but was nearly $200 million less than the budget proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick.


The House plan offers “targeted” budget hikes in areas such as public higher education, mental health and substance abuse programs, and state aid to cities and towns.

Among the hundreds of amendments that could be considered:

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TAX AMNESTY

It’s an election year, meaning tax increases are for all intents and practical purposes off the table in the budget discussion. Republican-backed amendments that would reduce or roll back taxes are likely to fare no better, but Rep. Brad Jones, the House minority leader, is hopeful that an amnesty proposal for taxpayers who fell into arrears during the economic downturn will be debated.

Under Jones’ plan, taxpayers - both individuals and businesses - would still need to pay off their past tax liabilities but the state would waive all penalties that accrued for nonpayment.

The first $20 million in back taxes collected under the program would be directed into a fund to help local police departments purchase the anti-overdose drug Narcan.

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EARLY EDUCATION

The House budget includes $7.5 million in additional spending to reduce a long waiting list of low-income families seeking subsidies for prekindergarten and other child care programs. But that was only half of what the governor sought and advocates contend it would not be enough to make a sizable dent in the waiting list.

Several amendments would bolster funding for early education, including one sponsored by more than 40 lawmakers that would boost the spending increase targeted to reduce the waiting list to $15 million. Another would create a $25 million reserve fund to help pay salaries and benefits for early education teachers and child care workers.

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