By Senator Michael J. Rodrigues
To the editor:
I joined my colleagues yesterday in passing the FY2014 Senate budget. The Senate’s spending plan closes a $1.2 billion budget gap, while investing in essential services. The plan demonstrates the Senate’s commitment to fiscal responsibility while meeting the needs of citizens through restoration of vital funding to core services and increasing support for economic and workforce development.
I am very proud of the budget we passed last night. While there are always difficult decisions to be made, this budget makes smart investments to targeted areas that will spur economic and job growth throughout the Commonwealth. With increased aid to cities and towns, greater funding for human services, and an emphasis on youth programs, this budget supports our core values and allows us to address the needs of our citizens.
The final Senate budget increases critical aid for Massachusetts cities and towns by $5.3 million. The plan boosts Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) funding by $21.5 million through a transfer from a surplus from FY13.
Efforts to ensure funding for programs critical to the South Coast were largely successful. I was able to get $3 million allocated toward the fiscal stability for the town of Somerset. This one-time reimbursement will help offset a dramatic reduction in property tax revenue caused by the closure of Montaup and reduced capacity of Brayton Point. Looking forward, I have co-sponsored a bipartisan amendment which provides $100,000 to conduct site assessments of coal-fired electric generation power plants so that host communities can better plan for the inevitable decommissioning of these plants.
I was also integral in getting funding for important public safety programs. I worked to successfully amend the budget to include an additional $4 million in direct funding for municipal police staffing grants, which has supported the hiring of new police officers in communities like Fall River, Lawrence, and other communities dealing with violent crime. This budget allocated $7 million in funding for Shannon Grants, which provide support to communities hardest hit by gang crime and violence and provided $4 million toward the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative. Both of these programs are vital for the City of Fall River in reducing crimes and improving public safety. Additionally, my colleagues and I were successful in providing $200,000 for the Children’s Advocacy Center of Bristol County, which provides vital services to child victims of abuse.
The Senate budget was not solely a success in its funding of vital services, but also its dedication to improving governance. An amendment to reform sex offender registry laws was passed unanimously. The proposal strengthens the procedures for classifying convicted sex offenders and ensures that the Sex Offender Registry Board has the information it needs to protect our children and communities.
The spending plan also included $11.5 million for the child care salary reserve, increasing the reimbursement rates for state-subsidized childcare providers; and another $11.5 million for the human service salary reserve for underpaid direct care personnel, including highly qualified social workers, speech therapists, and clinicians, who provide services and support to our most vulnerable residents.
The Senate budget also promotes targeted investments in the area of health and human services by funding sustainable programs that provide long term solutions. The proposal maintains $11.3 million in new funding for Elder Affairs programs and funds councils on aging at the highest level of state support ever. The Senate’s plan will eliminate existing wait lists for home care services and will increase funding for Foster Care and Adopted Fee Waivers to ensure that the Commonwealth fully reimburses institutions for the tuition and fees for children in foster care or who are adopted regardless of family circumstance and adds $1 million for the Turning 22 program that funds the first-year of services for individuals with intellectual disabilities transitioning out of special education into adult services.
The Senate’s budget for FY14 prioritizes resources for vital programs that help people, families, and communities, including significant increases for mental health services and for sustainable housing. Although Massachusetts continues to recover from the recession at a rate faster than most states, many programs that offer key services still have not seen funding levels restored to before the economic downturn. This budget targets many of those investments key to continuing the state’s recovery and confronts remaining challenges.