The Massachusetts Legislature today enacted a $39.146 billion state budget for Fiscal Year 2017 that invests in key areas related to local aid, education, children’s health and safety, housing, health and human services, workforce training and economic development. The budget reflects a conservative tax revenue outlook and focuses on opportunities for savings while preserving key programs and services.
“This budget reflects our belief that we must be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, while keeping the Commonwealth moving forward on the path to resilience, especially during a time of fiscal uncertainty,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “We honor our commitment to increased K-12 education funding, preserve investments for our most vulnerable residents, including our youngest children, and continue to direct resources to address the opioid crisis. This budget also significantly increases local aid to help cities and towns address community needs. Despite the challenges of lower than anticipated revenue, I am proud to say that the conference committee worked swiftly and collaboratively to produce a timely budget that preserves critical services, allows for strategic reductions and makes modest investments in our shared future.”
Today, the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation to regulate Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), including Uber and Lyft. The bill, S.2371 An Act regulating Transportation Network Companies, creates a strong regulatory framework for operatives and drivers to be administered by the Department of Public Utilities (DPU). It would also subject drivers to strict background checks, set rules for insurance requirements and require drivers to be certified.
“Massachusetts is a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship, and we want to foster an environment where great ideas and new technologies can flourish,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Transportation network companies use innovative technology to provide a useful service, yet they currently operate without any municipal or state oversight to ensure public safety and consumer protection. This bill takes decisive action to oversee and regulate these companies, while allowing them to continue to thrive and innovate here in Massachusetts.”
Today, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed legislation to improve several areas of current law dealing with the sale and treatment of dogs and cats. S.2370 An Act relative to protecting puppies and kittens, filed by Senator Karen Spilka, ensures that puppies and kittens are bred and sold in safe and healthy environments and strengthens the Massachusetts “Puppy Lemon Law” to give pet owners more options if they unknowingly purchase a sick pet.
“As an animal lover, pet owner and occasional small scale breeder, I am deeply aware of the emotional challenges for families when a pet falls ill, as well as the need to protect the health and safety of young animals,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland), lead sponsor of the bill. “This bill is the result of extensive discussion with both breeders and animal rights activists to protect consumers and puppies and kittens across the Commonwealth.”
Today the Massachusetts State Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 2325, An Act Relative to Housing, Operations, Military Service, and Enrichment, the Massachusetts HOME Act. This legislation expands on the commitment the Massachusetts Senate has to our veterans, servicemembers and their families by providing benefits and services.
The passage of the Valor Act I 2012 and Valor Act II in 2014 helped Massachusetts become the number one state in the nation for providing for our veterans.
“I am proud that Massachusetts leads the nation in support for our veterans when they return home,” said Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “This bill provides additional housing, employment, education and other benefits and assistance for veterans and their families, to honor their service to our nation and show our gratitude for the sacrifices they have made to keep us safe.”
Focusing on housing and long-term support, the passage of the Veterans HOME Act continues the strong reputation that Massachusetts has as a leader in understanding the sacrifice that military personnel and their families make not only while on active duty, but also after returning home.
To increase access to housing for veterans, the bill grants veterans preference in admission for scattered site housing units where no low-income family housing was developed. The bill also requires housing authorities to exclude amounts of disability compensation paid by the federal government for the purpose of computing rent of a disabled veteran. In addition, the bill gives eligible veterans a preference in housing for the elderly and persons with disabilities in all communities, not only the community in which the veteran resides.
To honor the service of veterans and their families, the bill provides a property tax exemption for the surviving spouse of any soldier, sailor, and member of the National Guard or veteran who, during active duty service, suffered an injury or illness which was the proximate cause of death. The bill also gives veterans who have a 100% disability rating for service connected blindness a property tax exemption.
Other provisions of this Act include:
- The expansion of the Public Service Scholarship to children of any military or service person missing in action and children of prisoners of war;
- Allows employees of the Commonwealth who are members of the armed forces reserves and are ordered to service for more than 30 consecutive to be paid the regular base salary reduced by the amount received as base pay for military service. It also preserves the seniority or accrued leave time;
- Allows cities and towns to appoint a veterans agent for 3 year terms instead of the current 1 year term;
- Establishes the Office of Veterans Homes and Housing within the Department of Veterans Services to oversee the Soldiers Home in Chelsea and in Holyoke;
- Creates a post-deployment commission to study ways to improve services to veterans who have been deployed overseas;
- Adds veteran status as a protected class under the statute prohibiting discrimination in employment.
The bill will now be reconciled with the version passed by the House of Representatives before being sent to the Governor for his signature.
On Thursday the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation to address the housing needs of the Commonwealth by updating the state’s zoning laws. The bill, An Act Promoting Housing and Sustainable Development, changes local and state zoning laws to increase housing stock and build communities that will reduce sprawl and eliminate restrictive zoning laws.
Massachusetts currently has some of the highest costs for housing in the country making it harder for families to purchase homes and businesses to create jobs in a region that is affordable for their workers. According to a recent report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Massachusetts ranked 7th highest in the cost of housing for minimum wage workers. The report states that a minimum wage worker would have to work an average of 104 hours per week to afford a modest priced two bedroom apartment.
“This comprehensive bill strikes a careful balance to modernize our zoning laws, promote sustainable growth and encourage desperately needed housing development in communities across the Commonwealth,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Senator Karen E. Spilka. “This bill is the result of many months of work with Senate colleagues, representatives from real estate and development, municipal officials and planners and a broad coalition of smart growth planning and environmental advocates. These reforms will equip our cities and towns with modern zoning tools, necessary for housing production, economic development, public health and our environment.”
The Senate voted today on a $39.558 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2017, investing in key areas related to local aid, education, children’s health and safety, housing, health and human services, workforce training and economic development. The budget limits the use of one-time revenue sources and directs $211M to the state’s Stabilization Fund to continue to rebuild this financial safety net, an ongoing Senate priority.
“With this budget, the Senate reinforces our commitment to education at every level and provides our children, families and communities with the tools they need to overcome adversity, adapt to economic uncertainty and remain strong,” said Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “This budget works to promote self-sufficiency among low income families, connect people with safe, stable housing, improve public health and advance our highly educated, skilled and creative workforce. I am grateful to my Senate colleagues for advancing priorities for their constituents and engaging in thoughtful debate this week. We should all be proud that this budget invests for resilience and the Commonwealth’s future success, while remaining fiscally responsible and continuing to build the state’s Rainy Day Fund.”
On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Ways and Means announced its recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2017 state budget. Senators can file amendments to the Senate Ways and Means recommendations until Thursday at 5 p.m. The full Senate will then debate the Fiscal Year 2017 budget in formal session beginning Tuesday, May 24th.
Continue reading for an introductory message from Senator Spilka, Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, and click here to read the Executive Summary and full budget recommendations.
INVESTING FOR A RESILIENT COMMONWEALTH
The creation of the Massachusetts state budget is an annual act of faith in our collective future—an acknowledgment that we need each other, as a Commonwealth, and that we will continue to care for each other.
While the process of creating the budget is the same from year to year, there is a growing sense, in Massachusetts and the nation as a whole, that we will face challenges in the coming years unlike any we have seen in the past. Demographic shifts in our population, technological changes that are reshaping our economy at lightning speed, social transformations that are opening the doors of opportunity to all people, and climate, weather and environmental changes all have the potential to rapidly forge a new future.
The difference between becoming overwhelmed by the scale and pace of these changes and emerging stronger from them? Resilience.