The House’s $36.32 billion dollar budget for fiscal year 2015 passed with broad bi-partisan support (148-2). It is a balanced, fiscally responsible budget that includes no new taxes or fees, sets asides additional funds to pay down pension liability earlier than expected, reduces reliance on one-time revenues and keeps Massachusetts’ rainy day fund among the five highest in the nation.
During the House floor debate we were able to successfully advocate for additional funding in some key areas, including mental health services, opiate addiction, higher education and cultural council funding to name a few. The budget also includes funds to reduce caseloads at the troubled Department of Children and Families,strengthen background checks as well as new reporting requirements and safeguards to ensure greater oversight.
Below are some of the line items and initiatives I was proud to work on during floor debate. Some are local priorities and others are statewide issues that have a regional impact. While these are amendments in which I served as a lead or co-sponsor, I wish to stress that nothing gets done individually and they are all the result of working collaboratively.
Cutler amendment on weekend commuter rail service report adopted
The House adopted an amendment I sponsored to require the MBTA to report back to the legislature with specific ridership numbers that would be necessary for restoration of weekend rail service on the Old Colony and Greenbush lines no later than November 30 of this year. This is very welcome news in our ongoing effort to restore service, which will provide an economic boost for the entire region. It was also a nice example of our South Shore legislative delegation working together in a bi-partisan manner, including Rep. Tom Calter, Rep. Vinny deMacedo, Rep. Jim Cantwell, Rep Rhonda Nyman and Rep. Jamie Murphy.
Pembroke ponds get additional state funding for clean-up
I was very pleased to be able to secure an additional $25,000 for the Town of Pembroke to be used for pond cleanup and maintenance. With the great work of the Pembroke Watershed Association and town volunteers much progress has been made, but more resources are needed and these additional funds will help fill the gap to allow residents to better enjoy the many recreational and ecological benefits of Pembroke’s ponds.
AP Math & Science program used at Whitman-Hanson gets boost
An amendment I sponsored to boost funding for the AP Math & Science program line item (7035-0035) was include in the consolidated amendment, resulting in an additional $600,000 for this statewide program. The Mass. Math and Science Initiative (MMSI) helps boosts participation and performance in AP courses and has produced some dramatic results at Whitman-Hanson, which I saw in person last year during an AP award program.
Amendment to benefit Crossroads for Kids program in Duxbury
Working with lead sponsor Rep. Tom Calter, we were able to secure funding to assist the Crossroads for Kids program in Duxbury which provides leadership programs for at-risk and disadvantaged youth. Rep. Calter and I toured the camp last fall and were greatly impressed with the results.
South Shore Suicide Prevention program funded
I was very pleased to support an amendment of Rep. Jim Cantwell of Marshfield to provide $100,000 in funds for Project Interface, a regional mental health and wellness referral help line for those in crisis and in-need of services. This pilot program will help connect those who are in crisis or at-risk for suicide (or other negative outcomes) with needed mental health services. Regrettably this has become a major issue here on the South Shore.
Early Intervention services in Duxbury, Hanson & Pembroke
An amendment I sponsored helped boost the line item for early intervention services provided through the Kennedy-Donovan Center in Plymouth. The center helps infants from birth to age three who have developmental delays. In many cases such early intervention can literally turn a child’s life around and help save towns millions of dollars in special education costs down the road.
Police Training Funds
An amendment I co-sponsored will aid our municipal police departments by increasing this line item to allow towns to train new officers and reduce the backlog of recruits in waiting.
Chapter 70 Education Foundation Study Commission
This amendent will allow us to conduct a much needed in-depth study of foundation budget levels for Chapter 70 education aid. In many areas such as health insurance or special ed accounts the current foundation levels just don’t gibe with reality. This commission is the first step toward remedying this problem.
Central Plymouth County Water District funds will benefit Hanson & Pembroke
A critical issue for Pembroke, Hanson and other central Plymouth county towns has been water management issues vis a vis the city of Brockton. I’m pleased that the House budget includes an amendment by Rep. Tom Calter that I co-sponsored to provide $55,000 through the Dept. of Fish and Game to aid the district in their efforts to improve water management practices.
Service Dogs for Returning Vets
The NEADS Canines for Combat Veterans program does an amazing job training assistance dogs for returning veterans who may have suffered a physical disability. An amendment filed by Rep. Kim Ferguson that I advocated for will fund an additional 3 service dogs for the upcoming year.
Mosquito Control Project
An amendment I co-sponsored that was led by Rep. Angelo D’Emelia will provide $200,000 in funds for the Plymouth & Bristol Mosquito Project. These funds will help us fight the spread of West Nile virus and EEE in our region.
Direct shipment of wine
This was not an amendment I sponsored, but rather a bill I have been working as a member of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and I’m very pleased to see it included in the budget. This measure will allow consumers to purchase limited quantities of their favorite vintage at out-of-state wineries and have it shipped home. Massachusetts is one of just a handful of states that does not currently allow this consumer friendly practice.
A focus on opiate addiction & substance abuse issues
While we were debating the budget and advocating for resources to combat substance abuse inside the State House last week, a rally was going on outside to call attention to a dangerous new drug called Zohydro (Please read my commentary on this topic in Pembroke Mariner). I had the opportunity to take a break from the budget talks to meet with these concerned citizens. If I needed any more stark reminder of the danger of substance abuse hitting home, I got it when the first person I met at the rally was none other than a mother from Hanson who had lost her son to heroin two years ago. I applaud her willingness to speak out on this difficult issue and help draw attention to the problem. While much more work is needed, there is some good news to report. The House budget includes a number of steps to help us combat the scourge of substance abuse.
- Provide 5 new drug courts modeled after the successful Plymouth drug court.
- The House provides substantial funding for the Department of Mental Health to clear its wait list, and the budget significantly increases its investment in the Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership.
- A new Opioid Overdose Prevention Fund is being created with up to $5 million from a new tax amnesty program.
- Expands the Nasal Narcan Bystander and First Responder program and provides additional funding for sober homes and clinical stabilization beds.
- The budget fully funds the Prescription Monitoring program to create an extensive T network, analyzing the Commonwealth’s prescribing and dispensing trends to prevent over-prescription of medications like opioids.