Spending Your Tax Dollars - Part Two

I don't want to disillusion you, but the budget process on Beacon Hill is not very democratic.

Or, even logical.

I can only tell you that it's lengthy, often tedious and sometimes bewildering.

For example, this week, during our budget deliberations (which at deadline are still continuing), we actually had floor debate on whether incarcerated members of society should be made to pay for their own haircuts.

We endlessly argued whether the one dollar bridge and tunnel tolls should be decreased for residents of the North Shore who commute to Boston.

We didn't reduce the tolls. But, we did approve the idea of charging inmates for haircuts.

As we worked 10 a. m. to 10 p. m. daily deciding how to spend $22.77 Billion dollars, we had the lavender, 452 page budget devised by the House Committee on Ways and Means, officially known as House 4400, on our desks.

Beside the two inch thick House Budget, we had 1207 amendments -- changes requested by individual House members.

The first amendment considered was one I co-sponsored, which would have increased funding for every school district by no less than 6.5%. Defeated. So Westfield will only get a 2.35% increase.

The next amendment, which we approved, eliminated the requirement that taxpayers must pay assessed taxes in order to enter an appeal process with the Department of Revenue, the so called (pay to play).

While phone calls went unanswered, letters went unwritten, and hearings were poorly attended, we negotiated, debated, argued and worked our way through the amendments.

The debate continued and continued and continued. As I write, I can't report on individual successes and failures -- all are still subject to change.

Decrease in the unemployment rate, changes in the minimum wage. Increased parking fees for non-residents who use MBTA parking lots. Increased fees for inspection stickers.

Beautification of a clock. Body piercing regulations. Funding for fairs, libraries, job training, school nurses.

Amendments to allow veterans to put emblems indicating branch of service on license plates and credits for losing lottery tickets.

Whether to tax recreation vehicles when they're sold or when they're registered, investment tax credits, and tax credits for removal of heating oil tanks, tax credits for interest on student loans. Limit excise tax for five years. And the location of trash transfer stations in Revere, putting a death penalty referendum on the ballot.

We did name a bandstand, and voted to allow advertising on school buses.

The important and the trivial, all jumbled together.

I tried to focus my attention or money and issues important to Westfield and Montgomery.

Issues like Chapter 90 money to fund road and bridge construction; and funding for councils on aging; the sheriff, courts, the district attorney, and community policing; Career Development Institutes; state colleges; the Holyoke Soldiers Home; Boys and Girls Clubs; homeless shelter; schools.

And DARE and SAFE; milfoil control at Hampton Ponds; increasing funding for welfare fraud inspectors; violence prevention programs; head injury services; and, the Rule of 90 for teacher retirement.

Now, we're done. Or, almost done. It all goes to the Senate. To a conference committee. Back to the House. Back to the Senate. To the Governor.

Then, after vetoes and overrides, we'll all know how we're spending your $22.77 Billion.

(The final House session on the budget, which began Friday morning, the 7th at 10 am, concluded Saturday morning, the 8th at 9:30 am. A long night!)

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