Stateline Story

Massachusetts Budget Near, Delaware Sets Special Session

Massachusetts lawmakers appear poised to approve a state budget after a three and one-half month long stalemate. Senate President Thomas Birmingham and House Speaker Thomas Finneran announced last Wednesday they finally agreed on a spending plan after months of deliberations that froze millions in new spending since July 1, the start of the 2000 fiscal year. And in Delaware, lawmakers are preparing for a special session on education.

Although not yet finalized, the $20.8 billion budget compromise would refinance the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), expand prescription drug coverage for low-income seniors, and phase in a $250 million income-tax cut. It would also provide $110 million in state education funding.

The budget imposes new funding guidelines for the MBTA, which until now had been reimbursed for its spending at year's end. Under the new plan, the MBTA would be required to adhere to an annual budget like other state agencies.

Finneran's push for an income-tax reduction is also part of the deal. The state's income rate would fall from 5.95% to 5.75% over the next three years.

Final details of the plan are expected in two weeks. Gov. Paul Cellucci said he supports much of the deal, including the tax cuts and MBTA funding. However, he has vowed to veto a number of the spending increases. Massachusetts presently is the only state in the union without a fiscal 2000 budget.

As Massachusetts lawmakers seek to end that unenviable distinction, a much-hyped Delaware special session on teacher accountability and standards will bring legislators back to Dover next week.

On October 28th lawmakers will begin considering the Teacher Accountability Act, which is the final phase of Governor Thomas R. Carper's plan to reform education.

The proposed act would establish a 15-member commission, comprised of eight educators, a parental advisor and representatives of the school and business community, that would prepare teacher certification plans and submit them to the Board of Education.

Debate has already erupted over a proposal to make teachers accountable for more than their classroom instruction. A draft bill was circulating this week that would strip teachers of their professional credentials if they were found to be "immoral" or "disloyal."

Critics charged that the terms were too vague and would give the Board of Education too much latitude. Termination of an educator would rest with the Board of Education, or three years from now, the Professional Accountability Board.

"Is adultery immoral?" asked Judy Mellon, executive director of Delaware's American Civil Liberties Union, according to the Delaware State News service. "Is being gay or lesbian and openly living with your partner immoral?" she continued.

The words already exist in Delaware code. Governor Carper has planned a series of public hearings to test public support for the initiative.

Tags: Education