A joint session of the Massachusetts legislature was expected yesterday to approve a $ 15.5 billion state budget plan for fiscal 1994 that includes $ 30 million in relief for water and sewer ratepayers.
The plan was finalized by a six-member joint House and Senate budget committee on Wednesday night, and a vote was slated for last night.
In addition to $ 30 million in direct rate relief, the proposed budget will also allow state residents to receive between $ 50 and $ 1 00 apiece in tax credits based on their water and sewer bills.
Currently, Massachusetts residents pay an average of $ 585 per household for water and sewer services, the highest in the nation. By the year 2005, that figure could push past $ 2,000 because of debt service on bonds sold for the cleanup of Boston Harbor, according to a recent report from the state inspector general, Robert A. Cerasoli.
If the budget is approved, this will be the first year the state has dedicated funds specifically for water and sewer rate relief.
Omitted from, the final legislative package was a House provision that would have given Gov. William F. Weld control of the board of directors of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. The board had the task of funding the $ 6 billion cleanup of Boston Harbor during the 1980s and has been the subject of recent complaints about high water and sewer rates.
Weld initially said he wanted no part of the authority. But after reviewing the proposal, the governor said he would not be opposed to taking over the board.
Anne Murphy, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Weld is considering separate legislation that would give him control of the board.
"There has been no specific legislation drafted yet," Murphy said. "But this is something the administration is looking towards."
The water authority has already sold over $ 2 billion of revenue bonds supported by water and sewer rates.
Although Weld is expected to approve the budget package, he has already promised to use his line-item veto powers on some parts of the plan.
For example, a proposal that would allow local governments to raise property taxes revenues by about $ 140 million during the fiscal year was certain to be vetoed. according to Murphy.
The proposal would allow municipal governments to raise property taxes by 4 1/2%, instead of the 2 1/2% permitted by the state's Proposition 2 1/2.
Another measure that survived the budget committee was a $ 175 million appropriation to improve public education in each of the state's school districts.
The measure, passed and signed into law last month, did not specify where the $ 175 million would come from. But the budget committee decided to shift $ 46 million from local aid, $ 70 million from a new, voter-approved cigarette tax, and the rest from a variety of other state programs.
Revenues from the cigarette tax were supposed to be used solely for anti-smoking education.
An official with one of the tax watchdog groups in the state said that although the budget appears to be in balance, its solidity is in doubt.
"There is a real concern about the true balance of the plan," said Suzanne Tompkins, vice president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. "It doesn't sound like this plan will bode well for the state. "
Tompkins said each of the last few fiscal years has seen between $ 500 and $ 700 million of supplemental spending.
"There's a good chance the state government will figure a way to keep the budget in balance," she said. "Until we see a final version of the plan, the budget is really guesswork. "
Weld will have 10 days to act on the budget once it reaches his desk. Fiscal 1994 officially began on July 1, but the governor signed emergency legislation to pay the state's bills until the final budget was passed.