Another Look at the Progress We've Made

Sometimes, you have to look back.

So even now, when the Legislature has adjourned for the year, and we're planning what to do in the first decade of the new millennium, it's time to take a look at what Massachusetts accomplished in the last ten years of the last century.

Today, a glimpse of what this Commonwealth has done for veterans, the elderly, college students, and the homeless, as compiled by the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee. Just a glimpse.

Many of our residents are familiar with the Soldiers Home in Holyoke, and its counterpart in Chelsea. Recognizing the service of our veterans, we've added more than 100 long-term beds in just the past two years. And, agreed, finally, to air condition both facilities, and add dental care in Holyoke.

We've exempted military pensions from state income tax, increased real estate tax abatements for disabled veterans, tripled veterans annuities and expanded these annuities to include Gold Star parents and spouses. Eligible veterans are also authorized to count wartime service as creditable service for public pensions.

We've also authorized two new veterans cemeteries, nearby in Agawam and also in Winchendon. And, municipalities will now receive an increased amount of $2,000 for burial of indigent veterans.

Higher Education in Massachusetts has benefited by increased spending, as well. Total state appropriations increased $78 million for this fiscal year, and 36 percent over five years. (University funding increased $28 million for this year, and state college and community college funding grew by $32 million this year.) Because of increased allocations, our colleges have cut tuition and fees.

At the same time, we've increased the availability of scholarships, with $41-million in new funding since 1995.

The state is the largest provider of homeless beds and services. (We fund 62 percent, the Feds 36 percent, and Boston itself, 3 percent.) This year, State spending on the homeless
will exceed $100-million, and that's a 400 percent increase over the base of $19 million in 1991.

Over the past five years the Legislature has funded more than $10-million for housing and services for the homeless mentally ill.

Our elderly haven't been forgotten. Just a few examples: We've implemented a five-year prescription assistance pilot program for low-income seniors. More than 30,000 people are enrolled. We've provided more than $16 million for home car services over the past five years. We want to give our elders the services they need so they can continue to live in their community.

And, since we can only touch on major issues, I point out that this state has also increased the minimum wage, mandated mental health coverage by our health insurance companies, started newborn visitation programs, eased adoption procedures, started a program to clean up our contaminated industrial sites, financed convention centers, restructured our utilities, and passed more than 25 tax cuts, just in the six years I've been in the State House.

There are more accomplishments, of course. Too numerous to list. But, sometimes, it helps to reinforce what we are doing if we look back to see what we have done.

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