In The People's Blog

Greetings from your State House!

This post is packed with important updates and a call to action.

On May 23, after four days of deliberations, the Massachusetts Senate passed a $42.8 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2020. This is a 3.2% increase over the FY 2019 budget. The budget now moves to a conference committee which will reconcile the House and Senate budgets.

(Scroll down for the names and contact information so you can raise your thoughts with those charged with this final and critical budget step. Beyond that, you’ll be able to find a summary of the budget process.)

My team and I worked late into the night during Senate budget week to make headway on the 34 budget amendments I filed. We secured some big wins for our district and our region totaling about $1.5 million in direct spending distributed across the following amendments:

  • #66: Hatfield 350th commemoration
  • #142: Amherst Climate Threat Municipal Vulnerability Planning Initiative
  • #329: Hampshire County Registry of Deeds
  • #447 and #467: Children’s Advocacy Centers of Franklin County & North Quabbin, and Hampshire County
  • #705: Knowledge Corridor Rail Pilot Marketing
  • #730: Franklin County Middle Skills Manufacturing Initiative with Mass Hire and Greenfield Community College
  • #731: Western Mass Network to End Homelessness
  • #978: Franklin County Opioid Task Force
  • #982: Hampshire County Probate and Family Resolutions Specialty Court
  • #1117: Rideshare Demonstration for Franklin County with the Franklin County Regional Council of Governments

Our team also worked to bump up funding for important statewide programs including proposing and winning an additional $500,000 for Department of Public Health Youth at Risk grants, which are distributed to organizations like Brick House in Turners Falls that operate programs related to substance abuse, bullying, suicide, or act as safe havens for LGBTQ young people. Some of my other state-wide focuses included: regional school transportation, rural school aid, and emergency food assistance.

And a constant theme in my floor speeches, including one I gave on public higher education, was the imperative of regional equity.

Additionally, I worked to secure two outside sections, or policies, in the Senate budget. One outside section I created instructs the Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of passenger rail from North Adams to Greenfield to Boston. The study will begin on June 1, 2020 and will look at the costs and economic opportunities related to establishing this passenger rail service.

I also worked with Senator Adam Hinds on a successful amendment to create a commission to study the new (and I think unfair) valuation and distribution of payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) to municipalities for state owned land. I’ve heard alarm bells from towns like Warwick, where more than half the land is state-owned and untaxed.

I fought hard to insert a hold harmless provision into the PILOT formula, so that no town would receive less than it did the prior year, butunable to win thatI pivoted to help secure the creation of this commission. The commission, which I hope to have a role in, will evaluate the effectiveness and regional equity of the formula, consider the extent to which the formula reflects the needs of municipalities and the proportional distribution of payments, and then make recommendations to the legislature to establish an updated formula that considers the current needs of municipalities by March 2020.

There were other wins in the budget, as well as other places, like Regional Transit Authorities (RTA) and higher ed funding, where there’s a great deal of room to grow.

Here are just a few heartening advancements:

I joined three Senate colleagues in submitting revenue amendments to lay down a marker for the kind of progressive revenue advances I’ll fight for this fall. Submitting the amendment allowed me to speak in democratic caucus and on the floor about the corrosive impact of austerity budgeting and the many ‘low hanging’ fair revenue options available to the Legislature, in addition to the Fair Share Amendment, which I also support.

Senate Way and Means chair, Mike Rodrigues added two amendments to control spiraling health care costs. One provided MassHealth with additional tools to tackle the rapidly growing cost of pharmaceutical drugs by permitting the Secretary of Health and Human Services to directly negotiate for fair and additional rebates or cost effective payment arrangements with pharmaceutical manufacturers. Another requires greater transparency from pharmacy benefit managers.

The Senate budget makes a significant down payment on the work of the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC), and funds Chapter 70 at its highest level of $5.176B, an increase of $268.4M over FY 2019. I’m heartened by this gain, but sobered by how far we still need to go. Here’s a rundown of some additional Pre-K to 12 education-related funding:

  • $345M to fully fund the Special Education Circuit Breaker
  • $75.8M to reimburse school districts for regional school transportation costs, after adding $2M on the floor through an Amendment I supported
  • $100M to reimburse school districts for costs incurred when students leave to attend charter schools
  • $12M for grants to the Head Start program to maintain access to early education services for low-income families
  • $7.5M for the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative to expand access to preschool in underserved areas
  • $6.5M for Youth-At-Risk Matching grants, including support for YWCAs, YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs, after adding $1.9M on the floor
  • $2.5M for Rural School Aid , after adding $1M on the floor through an Amendment I supported

The Senate budget also went the distance on strengthening Community Preservation Act (CPA) and emergency food funding, and increasing support for Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), getting lead out of our drinking water, cultural programs, harm reduction efforts, Residential Assistance to Families in Transition (RAFT) housing, court appointed advocates, legal aide, closing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) gap, and more.

Thanks to the hundreds of constituents who reached out to urge my support on critical initiatives. Proud to fight for your ideas and interests on Beacon Hill.

And the fight continues into the Conference Committee. Here are the members and their contact information. Don’t wait to make your voice heard!

Senator Michael J. Rodrigues, (617) 722-1114, Michael.Rodrigues@masenate.gov

Senator Cindy F. Friedman, (617) 722-1432, Cindy.Friedman@masenate.gov

Senator Viriato M. deMacedo, (617) 722-1330, Vinny.deMacedo@masenate.gov

Representative Aaron Michlewitz, (617) 722-2990, Aaron.M.Michlewitz@mahouse.gov

Representative Denise C. Garlick, (617) 722-2380, Denise.Garlick@mahouse.gov

Representative Todd M. Smola, (617) 722-2100, Todd.Smola@mahouse.gov

About the process

The FY20 budget process actually began in December of 2018, when the Department of Revenue provides the legislature with a something called a Consensus Revenue Report, which is an estimation of how much tax revenue the state expects to take in for the upcoming fiscal year.

About one month after the Consensus Revenue Hearing, the Governor released his budget. The Governor’s budget is then sent to the Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives. Over the next months, the House Ways and Means Committee worked to write its budget while meeting with each State Representative to understand their priorities. The House Ways and Means Committee released its version of the budget in late April, at which point State Representatives filed amendments. The third week of April was House budget week, during which House members worked to sort through all of the amendments they filed in order to produce a final House budget.

The budget then came over to the Senate, where the same process played out. The Senate Ways and Means Committee met with each Senator to hear about their priorities before releasing the Senate Ways and Means budget in the middle of May, after which Senators like me filed, built support for, and debated amendments until the Senate budget was final.

Now that the House and Senate have both completed their respective budget processes, a conference committee was appointed last week to reconcile the differences between the two budgets. Each year the conference committee is made up of the Chairs, Vice Chairs, and ranking minority members from the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees. (Their contact information is listed above.) When the conference committee finishes its work, it will send the conference committee budget to the Governor. In Massachusetts, the Governor has line-item veto power, so the Governor can (and likely will) veto certain parts of the budget without having to veto the entire bill. The legislature can (and likely will) override the Governor’s vetos. Andif all goes like previous yearsthe Governor will sign the final budget around the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

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Jo Comerford stands in the center of a line of graduates, all wearing caps and gowns