Senator Spilka Votes for Prudent Budget, Continuing on the Path to Reform and Focusing on Education and Small Business Relief
The Massachusetts Senate on Friday passed a $28.4 billion balanced budget for the 2011 fiscal year that focuses on prudent expenditures, reforms and economic development. In a conscious effort to unburden residents and keep the Commonwealth on solid fiscal footing, the Senate’s budget does not contain any earmarks or rely on any additional taxes or withdrawals from the stabilization fund. The Senate used a combination of spending reductions and legislative reforms to close the $2.85 billion budget gap.
The overall budget increases spending by approximately 1.7 percent from fiscal year 2010 estimated spending, the majority of which goes toward healthcare and other non-discretionary spending areas.
Senator Steven Panagiotakos, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means said “This is a conservative, bare bones budget that reflects the very difficult times we are facing and forces us to live within our existing revenue streams. It provides tools for cities and towns, families and businesses that will hopefully ease the burden as we work our way out of this economic downturn.”
“This is a responsible budget that realistically addresses our fiscal constraints while making targeted increases to areas of the budget that help cities and towns, schools and families,” stated Senator Spilka (D-Ashland). “I’m proud to have been able to contribute many of the economic development initiatives, designed to help Massachusetts pull out of our tough economic times, while maintaining my commitment to increasing funding for education, help for our municipalities, and support for our seniors and other vulnerable citizens.”
These targeted investments include a priority for Senator Spilka, an increase of $13.5 million for the Special Education CircuitBreaker to bring the total funding to $146.4 million. This increases the amount districts are reimbursed to 44 percent, providing some much needed relief to school districts for the cost of educating students with special needs.
The Senate also adopted Senator Spilka’s initiative to add $5 million to childcare support for low income families, increasing its funding to $233.5 million. There are over 25,000 children on the waiting list for Early Education and Childcare. Last fiscal year, 4,000 children were given access to childcare due to an unexpected surplus of funds. The additional funding in this year’s budget will ensure that those children continue to receive services in fiscal year 2011.
Further focusing on children, the Senate included an additional $6.7 million for Kindergarten Development Grants that expand classroom time from half day to full day. This will make grant funding available in 2011 for those school districts who received the grants in 2010.
Senator Spilka also voted to pass an amendment to that expands full cost waivers to state colleges and universities to children of fallen soldiers. The waiver would be available to a surviving child of a parent who died as a result of injuries sustained during active and full-time military service outside the United States while deployed in support of or in an armed conflict or hostility as a member of the armed forces of the United States or National Guard, occurring after 1989.
Including those mentioned above, Senator Spilka successfully advocated for the adoption of amendments in the following areas:
SPED Circuit Breaker. The Special Education Circuit Breaker was increased by $13.5 million, or 10%, above the initial Senate recommendation. The final Senate figure of $146M is $6M above FY10 and $11M above the final House recommendation.
Regional School Transportation. Regional School Transportation was increased by 10% above funding in Fiscal Year 2010 (FY10), or $4,052,184. The final Senate figure, $44M, represents an increase of $2M above the amount recommended by the House of Representatives.
School Nurses. This amendment ensures that school nurse programs will receive the same funding that they did in FY10.
Scholarship Program. This amendment adds $2M to the state scholarship program, which provides financial assistance to Massachusetts students enrolled in and pursuing a program of higher education in any approved public or independent college, university, school of nursing, or any other approved institution furnishing a program of higher education. This brings the total funding to nearly $90M.
METCO. The METCO line item was brought up to the FY10 funding level of $18.5 million, an increase of nearly $1M from the original Senate Ways & Means proposal. The METCO program benefits more than 35 school districts and gives unmatched educational and social opportunities to thousands of children, both in urban and suburban communities.
Education and Service Needs of Children. This amendment sets up a mechanism for the Executive Offices of Health and Human Services and Education to evaluate the education and service needs of children in the care of the Commonwealth who are residing in a community that is not their original community of residence. The goal is to receive recommendations on how to help municipalities and school districts, who may be facing increased costs due to an increase in the number of these children, by providing technical assistance and resources to evaluate and support the transportation and educational needs of these children.
Good Government: Transparency & Reform
Employee Calendar Reform. In a successful bi-partisan effort, Senator Spilka co-sponsored this amendment with Senator Michael R. Knapik (R-Westfield) to eliminate Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day as paid holidays for Suffolk County employees.
Transparency of Tax Credits. Senator Spilka took the lead on this unanimously-passed amendment that will increase transparency and accountability in tax credits. Following on the numerous transparency and accountability provisions contained in Senator Spilka’s economic development reform bill, this proposal sets up a mechanism for evaluating and reporting the efficacy of various tax credits used by corporations throughout the state. To come in line with a national trend towards greater transparency in government, the results of this evaluation would be available to residents online.
Budget Transparency. Under this provision, the Commonwealth will create a more accessible and easy to use state budget website, which will allow the public to see where the state money is being spent. It will include a “checkbook-level” detail of spending for all state agencies, including quasi-public agencies.
Taxpayer Transparency. This amendment requires that any agency or other organization that receives state funding declare they are funded by the Commonwealth Massachusetts on any electronic and printed materials. This is similar to the acknowledgment by recipients of Massachusetts Cultural Council grants.
Community Development Finance Corporation (CFDC). This amendment makes a small technical change so that the CFDC, an entity that provides financing to small businesses in Massachusetts, can continue to operate between now and the implementation of Senator Spilka’s Economic Development Reform bill. The CFDC is considered crucial to both the state’s economic recovery and the success of the new reforms.
Economic Development Incentive Program (EDIP). This amendment increases Massachusetts’ competitiveness by fine tuning the EDIP program to allow projects to receive a shorter certification period, thereby resulting in significant savings for municipalities. This change will have a major impact on companies that are considering making capital expenditures in Massachusetts–expenditures which will result in additional state and local tax revenue, as well as job retention and creation.
Municipal Relief: Public Safey & Transportation
Prison Mitigation Funds. This funding provides $500K in additional local aid for municipalities hosting prison facilities across the Commonwealth.
Shannon Grant. This provision increases the amount of the Senator Charles E. Shannon, Jr. Community Safety Initiative grant program by $2.5M. This grant program supports municipalities who engage in regional and multi-disciplinary approaches to combating gang violence through coordinated programs for prevention and intervention.
Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) Funding. This amendment ensures that RTAs, including the MetroWest RTA, can use toll credits in FY11, regardless of forward funding.
Outreach Centers. This amendment, which restores the line items for the Veterans’ Outreach Centers to the FY09 level of nearly $2.4M, ensures that the Natick veterans’ outreach and oral history project will receive its FY09 level of funding. This funding is especially important as new veterans return home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and our veterans from previous conflicts are all feeling the crush of the recession.
Caring for Our Vulnerable Citizens: Children, Seniors & Persons with Disabilities
Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities. This amendment provides $310,000 for Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, or NORCs. NORCs provide an “Aging in Place” model to allow elders to continue living independently in their homes.
Nursing Homes. Massachusetts nursing homes provide a core state service to frail elders and disabled citizens who can no longer be cared for safely at home. This provision provides requires MassHealth to fully fund its share of the nursing home assessment, as well as provide a cost of living wage increase for nursing home workers to ensure a high level of care for our most vulnerable.
Continuity of Health Coverage for Children. This provision establishes 12 month continuous eligibility for children under SCHIP and Medicaid. The federal government allows states to establish 12 month continuous eligibility under these programs, meaning that once a child is deemed eligible for SCHIP or Medicaid, they maintain that eligibility for 12 months regardless of their family’s income. Twelve month coverage improves state government efficiency and lowers administration costs—and is good for kids and doctors too.
Early Intervention First Dollar. Early Intervention (EI) in Massachusetts is a statewide, integrated, developmental service available to families of children between birth and three years of age who have developmental difficulties due to identified disabilities, or if typical development is at risk. Under this amendment, insurers will pay from the first dollar of services, thereby ensuring that the Commonwealth is the payer of last resort for EI services. This is expected to save approximately $4M.
Income Eligible Child Care. This amendment adds $5M to the income-eligible childcare program, designed to help lower income families who are working or looking for work, in an education or job training program get help paying for child care. Particularly as the economy turns around, this program is necessary to help individuals get back to work and keep their jobs.
Preventing Homelessness. Two amendments co-sponsored by Senator Spilka, No Place Like Home and Emergency Assistance, seek to save the Commonwealth money, both in the short and long term, while preventing homelessness. These will keep children and families safe while preventing the high costs to the state associated with homelessness.
Services for Mothers in Prison and their Children. This provision directs the Department of Corrections to use some of its funds for programs providing support, counseling, and family reunification services to women in prison and women reentering the community from prison. These programs strengthen women’s chances of success, both in the workforce and as parents, and reduce the rate of recidivism.
In addition to increasing support for important programs, the Senate budget includes important reforms in the areas of probation and illegal immigration.
The Senate proposes significant changes to the state’s probation department. The final Senate budget limits the probation commissioner’s term to five years and requires all appointments to the trial court to be approved by the Chief Justice, stripping the exclusive authority from the Commissioner of Probation. The Senate budget also establishes a task force that is charged will making recommendations on placing the department in the executive branch or elsewhere.
In an effort to reform and codify state regulations relative to illegal immigrants, the final Senate budget includes a comprehensive bipartisan amendment that will bar illegal immigrants from public health care, housing, and higher education benefits.
The amendment will requires state contractors to verify citizenship status of their employees and any contractors found in violation of federal law will be debarred from public projects. It also includes new penalties for falsifying state IDs and driver’s licenses, denies illegal immigrants access to in-state tuition rates at state colleges and gives priority to eligible housing applicants over non-legal residents.
The budget now goes to conference committee with the House of Representatives. The new fiscal year begins July 1.