A Decade of Progress ... Looking Back to 1990

I can't take credit for half of it. But, then, I can't be blamed for half of it either, having been in the House of Representatives only three terms.

But, things are looking up, if you look back. Back to the fiscal crisis of 1989-1991.

The House Ways and Means Committee (and I'm proud to say I'm a member of that committee) has released a review of the past ten years, calling it a "Decade of Responsiveness and Accomplishment."

So, if you sometimes wonder what your Legislature does, here are a few items you might be interested in.

Local Aid. The total aid to municipalities has increased more than 67 percent in the past seven years, allowing our cities and towns to generate cash reserves, and they have! To the tune of $177 million, with only 8 communities reporting negative free cash last year, compared to 94 in 1973.

Education Reform. Also started in 1973, Ed Reform was passed to equalize school funding, improve curricula, and improve the performance of students, faculty and school districts. The State has put more than $1.5-billion extra dollars into the schools, an increase of 117 percent in seven years. We've increased per pupil expenditure from an average of $5,299 to more than $7,000.

School Buildings. The Legislature has appropriated more than $1.2-billion in the past six years alone for school building assistance. Note the new North Middle School and the renovated South Middle School for examples.

Apologies. To keep its promises, the Legislature has restored reimbursement for regional school transportation, phased in full funding of payments in lieu of taxes for state-owned land, and returned lottery aid to our cities and towns. Bottom line: more money back to our hometowns.

Stability. Because spending exceeded revenue in 1990, the Massachusetts' credit rating dropped to near junk bond status. In fact, the state had to borrow $1.4-billion to meet costs. Sensible spending, along with economic recovery, have since restored the state's
bond rating and built surpluses so we'll be ready for any future downturn. We've also put a $1-billion cap on annual capital expenditures.

Capital Expenditures. To stay within the cap above, we're integrating capital needs for the costs of public health, mental health, Soldiers Homes, education campuses into the annual operating budget. Paying for it instead of borrowing it.

Finding It. The state has appropriated $17-million to fund a comprehensive engineering survey of the physical status of state assets and implement a database for its maintenance. We have to know what they are, where they are, how big they are and what it will cost to maintain them. Westfield State and Western Mass Hospital included.

Forward Funding the MBTA. The subway system in Boston used to spend whatever it felt it had to spend. Then send the bill to the legislature. No more. We've voted to forward fund the system, making them responsible for their own bills, using one cent of sales tax collections as a subsidy. Hopefully, the T will learn to control costs, maximize revenue and efficiently manage its capital program.

Reserves. The so-called Rainy Day Fund has gone from zero in 1993 to a $1.4-billion balance now. The Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund should have $1.7-billion by year's end. There are $130-million in the Transitional Aid to Need Family Caseload Mitigation Fund. And $250-million in the Tobacco Settlement Fund. This is called planning for the future in case the sky falls.

Public Safety. We've improved our prisons, building a new 1,100 bed super prison in Shirley, and supported new county houses of correction. Including the Hampden House of Correction which opened in 1992. We annually spend $20-million for community policing programs in 330 communities. We've enacted a sex offender registry. And funded the state's share of education incentive grants for police officers (cost of $23-million this year).

DYS. Expanded funding by almost 50 percent since 1995, hoping to make transitions from supervised programs back into the community more effective, to reduce recidivism, and to expand staff. We've also planned a major expansion of the Westfield facility of East Mountain Road.

And, that's just for starters. Next week, find out what we're doing for veterans, and the elderly, college students and the homeless.

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