How Do You Spend $20.77-Billion?

Next week is "Budget Week" in the House of Representatives.

That means we'll spend 10, 12, maybe even more, hours Monday through Friday,
maybe even Saturday, debating how this state should spend its money.

And, even when we're done, the budget isn't done. Remember January? The
Governor released his budget. Now the House has changed it into a
different budget. And, next week we'll amend and change it even more.
Then, the Senate devises a budget, debates it, amends it. Then, a
conference committee will work out the differences, and send the document
on to the Governor for his approval.

As the famous quote says, "It ain't over 'til it's over." And this is just
the start.

If you start reading the budget you'll find allocations of $71 million for
early childhood education, $103 million for maintenance of schools,
buildings, roads and bridges, $18 million for Westfield State College, $20
million for the senior pharmacy program, another $20 million for home
health care.

But wait, there are more than 300 single spaced pages of line items,
department by department, agency by agency, down to the finest detail, down
to the smallest amounts (among them, $27,000 for the doctor's office in the
State House).

There's a lot of reading here. And you have to dig deep to find the
funding for your favorite projects.

Believe me, every legislator, every citizen, every state employee has a
favorite project. This past week was the week for calls and letters and
visits from people representing every interest from Soldiers Homes to brain
injuries, Boys and Girls Clubs to teachers, college presidents to people
who ride Boston's subways (which we help pay for, by the way).

No one thinks they get enough. No one.

Read on, page after dizzying page. There's an increase in education
spending, with an additional $471 million appropriated for early childhood
programs like grants for full day kindergartens, literacy program grants
for first grade teachers, a full $10-million for school nurses and money
for school nutrition programs.

The education appropriations are almost endless, with funding for regional
school transportation and state ward reimbursements, important in my
district to the residents of Montgomery.

Holyoke Soldiers Home gets funding for an expanded dental clinic and 15
additional beds for long term care. Plus a three percent increase in its
general budget.

There's an increase in the budget for homeless shelters, like our own
Samaritan Inn, but no shelters are earmarked, as they usually are, so as I
write we're uncertain how the homeless shelter money will be allocated as
the year begins July 1.

There's additional money for community policing, which Westfield will
benefit from, raises for social service workers, more job training and
daycare and employer supports for welfare recipients.

There's a so-called "outside section" to create a trust fund for the
tobacco settlement moneys, which could total $7.6 billion over the next 25

Confirmation of the decrease in the state income tax, from 5.9 percent to
5.7 percent, voted on last week.

All this and more. Much more. You can find the entire budget on the
internet, if you want some weekend reading. Just go to
state.ma.us/legis/house/2000 budget and look.

There's even a dedication of the Fiscal Year 2000 budget to the "good and
generous communities of Dana, Enfield, Green wich and Prescott, now resting
under the Quabbin Reservoir." And, an official reminder that long-term
prosperity requires sacrifices and a larger vision to benefit all citizens
of our Commonwealth.

How we get to that vision is not easy.

We on the Ways and Means Committee had hearings across the state, listening
to citizens and officials tell us what they needed and what they wanted.
We receive federal mandates, which we have to fund. We're stuck paying for
the Big Dig highway improvements in Boston. We have to maintain promises
made in years past to continue funding for things like education reform.

When it comes to the end result, the budget, it is difficult, very
difficult,--no, it's impossible-- for 200 legislators to identify common

So our state budget continues its progress next week, with debate and
decisions. Deadline for amendments was two days ago, 4 p.m. Thursday, so
it's too late to make additional suggestions now.

We can only look at those hundreds of amendments filed by all of us, and
hope that programs important to our districts survive the process.

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