MARCH 2008: There were few surprises when Governor Deval Patrick unveiled his proposed $28.2 billion Fiscal ’09 State Budget and sent it to the Legislature on January 22. The three-percent July ’08 COLA for state and teacher retirees, as promised, was included in his budget. And, as we were earlier informed, the 10% insurance premium contribution for state pensioners, who retired prior to July 1, 1994, and 15% for those who retired after that date, will not change.

However, as the Governor earlier announced, the budget includes an increase in employees’ insurance contributions. Employees whose salary is between $35 - $50 thousand will jump from the current 15% to 20%, a 33% dollar increase. Employees with salaries of over $50,000 will jump from 15% to 25%, a 66% dollar increase. Employees with salaries under $35,000 will stay at the 15% level and newer employees whose salary is under $30,000 and have been paying 20% for premiums will drop to 15%. By increasing the employees’ insurance premiums, the state would save $51 million.

The state’s overall "healthcare for all" initiative for people signing up for state-subsidized insurance is expected to cost an additional $400 million in the next fiscal year. In addition to increasing employee’s insurance contributions, the Governor’s plan relies on $124 million in casino-licensing money.

The budget is now before the House that will ultimately vote on its own version of the budget. The increase in employees’ insurance premiums and the reliance on casino funds, which thus far the House has not favored, will be two of the many debated items.