I’m Listening…I’m Listening…and then Spending

Everyone wants something. And everyone seems to want something different.

Everyone has a special program, a special project, a special line item that they wanted funded in this year’s state budget.

And, this year, it’s tough.

The House Ways and Means Committee has provided us with a bare bones, scorched earth, $21.8-billion budget. That’s $2-billion less than the current state budget.

So, a lot of folks are mighty unhappy. Because it’s not just the money that’s missing. Entire programs have been wiped out–DARE and SAFE for example. And, they’re just minor examples. Community Policing. That’s a major example.

Earmarks have been eliminated, so instead of $240,900 reserved especially for the Samaritan Inn, there’s just one line item for all the homeless shelters. And that line is $5.5-million less than is being spent on the homeless this year.

This week, thousands of people called, wrote, stopped by my office, and demonstrated in front of the State House. All were determined that their wants and concerns would become my wants and concerns so that I would vote for more money for them in the budget, which we will debate this coming week.

Guess what group called me most often? Not teachers, not police or fire officials, not college employees. The most calls came from people dependent on methadone treatment centers. There’s one in Westfield, by the way, and one in Holyoke. And they want methadone available so they can stay clean and sober. The proposed budget eliminated all funding for methadone treatments and clinics.

Now, if I got into all the dollars and cents involved, you’d be bored to tears. So, let’s just look at some of the programs and what I intend to do.

My first concerns focus on my district. So, first on my list is Chapter 70 (the money the city gets from the state for education). Schools across the Commonwealth need at least as much money as they got last year. Second, local aid–money for our roads and bridges. Of course, every Representative wants the same, so there’s a darn good chance that we’ll increase the budget amounts that come home.

I’ve once again requested money for local programs, like the Samaritan Inn, Boys and Girls Club, and the YMCA. Because Kamp for Kids didn’t access the $250,000 they got under the current budget, I included an amendment to carry the money over another year.

I asked for additional money for Western Mass Hospital, to pay for a modern oxygen system for the ventilator patients. And money for Westfield State, Holyoke Community and Springfield Technical Community Colleges, as well as funding for job training at Western Mass Precision Institute.

I signed amendments that would keep Prescription Advantage costs at an affordable level for our senior citizens, protect the assets of spouses of nursing home patients, and maintain current insurance costs for state retirees. I asked the House to restore funding for the men and women who investigate welfare fraud.

Additional funds for the Sheriff and District Attorney and Community Policing.

I added my name to amendments seeking additional money for public health, mental health, and your health.

When I added all of these up–and there were more amendments that I sponsored–I realize that I asked for too much additional money. I wasn’t alone.

More than 1,500 amendments were filed by House members.

So, we’re back where we started from. Spending money that we don’t have. That is, if a big stack of amendments are all passed.

We won’t know exactly what we’ve spent until the end of next week. Hopefully, the end of next week, if we go about putting the House budget together in any sort of orderly manner. Usually we start at 10 a.m. Monday, work daily at least 10 to 10, and go straight through until early, very early, Saturday morning.

Even then, we won’t know what programs will or won’t be funded. Because the budget then goes to the Senate, then to Conference Committee to work out any differences between House and Senate, and finally to the Governor, who can veto any line item.

The whole process–this past week’s debates about tax increases and revenue and the coming week’s budget debate--puts a lot of Representatives and Senators in a tough spot. Because…it’s an election year, and many don’t want their name on a tax increase or on a budget that eliminates your favorite program.

Because I’m not running again, I plan to rely on principles rather than partisanship.

That’s why I also sponsored an amendment to eliminate Clean Elections.

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