STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

BUDGET CHIEF SEES JANUARY REVENUES EXCEEDING BENCHMARK

Tax collections during January, a comparatively big month for receipts, are running $83 million above benchmarks, Administration and Finance Secretary Glen Shor told lawmakers Tuesday. Shor previewed the collection figures, which are scheduled for release on Wednesday, at the request of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Brian Dempsey. The above-benchmark estimate accounts for the administration's recent move to raise its expectation for total fiscal 2014 tax collections by $403 million. As budget writers monitor fiscal 2014 tax receipts and the potential development of an election-year surplus, Dempsey is assembling a fiscal 2015 budget proposal based on tax collections growing by 4.9 percent, a higher rate of growth than in recent years. - M. Murphy, M. Norton/SHNS

POLL MEASURES OPINIONS ON DCF, MIN WAGE, MARIJUANA, OBAMACARE

A large majority of Massachusetts voters blame systematic failure within the state for the disappearance of Jeremiah Oliver and roughly the same amount want an increase in the minimum wage to $10 per hour, according to new poll results released by Suffolk University. The poll of 600 likely voters sponsored by the Boston Herald found only 16 percent of Massachusetts voters believe a few incompetent employees were to blame for the Department of Children and Families losing track of the 5-year-old Oliver, while 71 percent believe systematic failures were responsible. Only 18 percent of respondents disapproved of a statewide measure to raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour, while 76 percent approve of that proposal. A solid majority of 59 percent believe accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should face the death penalty if convicted, while 28 percent believe he should not. Fifty three percent of respondents approved of the legalization of marijuana and 37 percent opposed legalization of the drug. Respondents were largely ambivalent or opposed to locating medical marijuana dispensaries in their hometown. Only 15 percent want a dispensary in their city or town, 42 percent said it would make no difference and 41 percent said they would be opposed. Reactions were largely mixed to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act as well. By a slight 44-40 margin, respondents believe the law is good for Massachusetts and only 26 percent have confidence in the Affordable Care Act website, while 38 percent said they do not have confidence. - A. Metzger/SHNS

COAKLEY REQUEST IN SYNC WITH NOTE OF CAUTION ON SPENDING

With a nod to House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey's request for spending caution, Attorney General Martha Coakley on Tuesday kicked off the annual budget hearing process by asking the Legislature to level fund major accounts in her office. "Our office is a unique public agency in that we are a revenue generator for the Commonwealth," Coakley said. According to the state's top attorney, the AG's office recovered or saved $366 million in settlements in fiscal 2013, returning $33.8 million to the general fund that nearly paid for its $34.8 million budget allocation. The budget hearing in Gardner Auditorium if the first of eight to be held around the state on Gov. Deval Patrick's proposed $36.4 billion budget. Sen. Stephen Brewer, in his opening remarks, thanked Dempsey for his partnership at the outset of his fourth and final budget process as he prepares to retire at the end of the year. Brewer called the expectation of 4.9 percent revenue growth in fiscal 2015 agreed to by House and Senate leaders and the Patrick administration a "middle-of-the-road approach." Dempsey said the Legislature intends to proceed cautiously, asserting that when programs and agencies receive funding increases "we own that for years to come." "We cannot predict the future and need to proceed cautiously with respect to our spending," Dempsey said. Since Coakley is running for governor, the attorney general's office will have a new occupant take over in January, midway through the budget year. - M. Murphy/SHNS