Massachusetts House approves $36B state budget

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BOSTON (AP) - The Massachusetts House has passed a $36.2 billion state budget that would raise overall state spending by about 5 percent without new taxes and offers additional resources for the state’s embattled child welfare agency.

The budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 received final approval around midnight Wednesday after three days of debate in the chamber. The Senate is expected to debate its own version of the spending plan later this month, and the differences will then be reconciled by a panel made up of members of both chambers.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, said in a statement early Thursday that the budget was balanced and invested in key areas such as education and state aid to cities and towns.

“This budget reflects and extends the fiscally prudent, targeted and inventive initiatives that have led to Massachusetts’ recent economic growth,” said DeLeo.

The spending plan increases funding for the state Department of Children and Families, including about $10 million to reduce the caseload carried by social workers. The budget also includes a mandate that all agency social workers be licensed by the state within a year.

The deaths of three children have led to heightened scrutiny of the agency, and Gov. Deval Patrick this week accepted the resignation of former agency commissioner Olga Roche.

Lawmakers added funding in several areas during the three days of debate, including substance abuse prevention, veterans’ services and early education.

The increased spending in the House budget for pre-kindergarten programs remains below what Patrick requested to begin easing a long waiting list of low-income families that have applied for subsidies for early education and child care services.

The House approved a measure offered by Rep. Brad Jones, the House Republican leader, to establish a two-month tax amnesty program. It would offer delinquent taxpayers an opportunity to settle past state tax liabilities without paying penalties.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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