Sunday marked the end of formal sessions for the Mass. Legislature and there's a lot to catch up on!
First, I'm pleased to report that we have completed work on the Fiscal Year 2017 state budget. The end product is a fiscally responsible, balanced budget built on consensus, compromise and bipartisanship. After veto overrides (more on those below) the final budget is $39.1 billion -- an increase of just 1.7% over the prior year and actually $400 million less than the original budget filed by Gov. Baker.
Even with tight fiscal constraints and mixed revenue projections, we were able to make targeted investments in key areas. These include substance abuse prevention, local aid, homelessness and early education. I'm particularly proud to have helped lead efforts to boost Chapter 70 aid for our school districts.
Veto overrides for key areas
The final step for the legislature in the budget making process is to take up vetoes (for more explanation of the budget process & terminology scroll down). In many cases we were able to override vetoes and restore funding for line items that affected key areas of the budget. Some of the items I heard from many of you on were:
• Cultural Council Funding. Restored $7.7M to fund Massachusetts Cultural Council which in turn helps to pay for local arts and cultural programing in our communities. (0640-0300).
• Alzheimers Awareness. Restored funds for public awareness campaign to help families better understand early warning signs of Alzheimer's. (4513-1111)
• State Library Aid. Restored funding for two main public library line items that in turn help fund our local libraries.(7000-9401 & 7000-9501)
• Substance Abuse. Restored $1.7M in funds to provide substance treatment services. (4512-0200)
• Suicide Prevention. Restored $50,000 for suicide prevention funding. (4513-1026).
• Domestic Violence Prevention. Restored $185,000 for domestic violence prevention line item. (4513-1130)
• Council on Aging Grants. Restored $702,000 in funding for local councils on aging & senior centers. (9110-9002).
• Municipal Police Training. Restored $50,000 for local police training programs (8200-0200).
• Children's Mental Health. Restored $320,000 for children's mental health line item. (5042-5000)
• Community Colleges. Restored $2,695,864 for community college grants and prevented program from elimination. (7100-4000)
• Rental Voucher Program. Restored $2.4M to this program which helps low income people avoid homelessness and leave shelters. (7004-9024)
Local priorities for our district
In addition to the many veto overrides listed above there were a number of local items that I and my colleagues supported in the budget that were also vetoed. I'm pleased to report these vetoes were overridden and the funding was restored. Among them are:
$50,000 to the Town of Pembroke for Public Safety improvements. (H.4503)
$100,000 to Town of Pembroke for Herring Run park improvements (8000-0600)
$20,000 to Town of Hanson for Wampatuck Pond (2810-0100)
$30,000 to Town of Hanson for Camp Kiwanee (1599-0026)
$35,000 to Towns of Duxbury, Marshfield & Scituate for mobile pumping truck to help with flooding. (1599-0026)
$50,000 to Central Plymouth County Water District for management of lakes and ponds in our region, including Pembroke & Hanson (2810-0100)
$200,000 to Plymouth & Bristol Counties for EEE & West Nile (2511-0100)
$100,000 for Interface Mental Health Referral Service covering Duxbury & Pembroke (5046-0000)
$100,000 for Plymouth County Fire Chiefs for emergency radios (8324-0000)
$88,413 for Plymouth County District Attorney's office. (0340-0800)
$350,000 for Plymouth County (1599-0026)
Lyme Disease insurance coverage
Thanks to language first passed in the House, patients with Lyme Disease will for the first time be able to get insurance coverage for long-term antibiotic treatment when recommended by their doctor. I was proud to be a co-sponsor of the original bill, filed by Rep. David Linsky. The epidemic of Lyme Disease has been felt particularly hard here on the South Shore and this landmark change will help many patients who are suffering the debilitating affects of this illness and have had to pay thousands and thousands of dollars out of their own pockets to get necessary medical treatment.
School aid boost
The final budget increases both local education funding and Unrestricted General Government Aid (called UGGA), boosting it by 4.3 percent. It provides $55 in per-pupil-aid, more than doubling last year’s expenditure, and fully funds Special Education Circuit Breaker. Locally that will mean an extra $137,865 for Whitman-Hanson school district ($24,436,230 overall); $108,185 for Pembroke schools ($13,344,512 overall); and $108,885 for Duxbury schools ($5,031,584 overall)
The state budget also includes $60 million for regional school transportation, which represents a $1 million increase over the current FY16 level.
College Savings Accounts Program
A related Economic Development bill passed by the Legislature will for the first time create an education tax incentive program (529 plan) which will allow individuals to take a $1,000 tax deduction on contributions to college savings accounts. The Legislature also overrode a veto to restore funding for a pilot program that would provide a state match of up to $500 per family for every dollar put into a college savings account by a low-income family in select cities across the state
Extension of retiree health cost freeze
The legislature extended a moratorium on hiking municipal retiree health care rates until a more sustainable retiree healthcare reform can be considered in the next term. This override vote protects retired teachers, police, fire and other municipal retirees from potentially drastic spikes in health care premiums and deductibles. This is also important because these retirees do not have the ability to negotiate through collective bargaining, as current employees do, and many are now living on fixed retirement incomes.