The Senate approved its $18.8 billion spending plan for next year on Wednesday and Thursday. All Senate Democrats and six Republicans backed a budget that would cut the state’s sales and income taxes while offering the largest raises for state employees and teachers in years. Senators spent most of this year’s budget surplus on education, mental health reforms, reserve funds for building repairs and natural disasters, salary increases for teachers and state employees, while phasing out a pair of “temporary” taxes that began during the recession several years ago. The budget also increases the state’s minimum wage by a dollar, caps the gasoline tax, beefs up the court system, and provides $105 million to improve mental health, substance abuse and developmental disability services as a reform effort continues to treat more patients in their own communities. Democrats and Republicans also approved floor amendments to the budget bill that would require tougher rules on how mental health money is spent. In addition, an amendment to the budget bill would require the first government performance audit since 1992.
Members of the House Appropriations Committee have been working on the House version of the budget during the past several weeks and this work will pick up speed next week. House members hope to pass a budget during the third week of June.