Thursday, October 8, 2015

State Senate Affirms Budget Priorities

Takes Steps to Pay Off Debt Early and Add Money to the Rainy Day Fund
Boston-  The State Senate advanced a bill today to address shortfalls in a number of state agencies and direct funds to a growing number of priorities such as; protecting children, retooling criminal justice programs, and addressing several public health and public safety initiatives intended to combat the consequences of substance abuse.

The $341 million bill sends training and system upgrade funds to the Department of Children and Families, makes final payments for contractors who cleared away last winter’s snow and ice, and several other state programs including a $250,000 pilot grant to equip local police with body cameras, $5 million for homelessness prevention and a $120 million deposit into the into the state’s so-called Rainy Day Fund which currently contains $1.1 billion.

“This bill reflects a number of key priorities for the Senate and the Republican Caucus because it protects the health and well-being of children, expands substance abuse coverage, seeks to study the PARCC school assessment prior to any decisions to adopt it,  and takes responsible steps to stabilize state agencies ,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester).  “Among the most important hallmarks of this bill are those which reflect and support fiscal discipline; a $120 million deposit into the state’s Rainy Day Fund and $100 million to pay off debt.”

Members of the Senate Republican Caucus offered several amendments to the bill, included among them; $20 million in additional Local Aid to municipalities, $10 million in heating funds for low-income families, and extended Medicare coverage for health patients. 

After debate, Senators adopted a proposal offered by Tarr to require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to conduct a feasibility study prior to any decision of adopting the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness (PARCC) standardized test, in place of the MCAS.

 “I am pleased that we were able to close out the 2015 budget while making up any remaining deficiencies,” said Senator deMacedo (R-Plymouth) the Ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “We were able to use remaining funds to address the shared priorities of the Administration and Legislature while maintaining our fiscal responsibility and prioritizing the maintenance of the Rainy Day Fund.”

The Senate gave unanimous support to two other Tarr provisions; one requires the Department of Public Health to seek federal approval to allow those who receive WIC benefits to use them on diapers for infants.  Currently, families receiving WIC are barred from doing so. 

In addition, the Senate also gave unanimous approval to Tarr’s amendment which seeks to secure federal approval of a waiver to address hospital observation days of patients, control the costs of hospital stays, and reduce the burden of post-acute care in patients.

A Republican amendment to provide cities and towns with $20 million in additional Local Aid payments for essential services was defeated as was an amendment to provide health consumers accurate information on pricing.

Senate Bill 2025 encompasses a number of health related areas including directing $203 million to address MassHealth shortfalls, expanding substance abuse efforts to protect school children with $1.2 million for drug screening, $3.8 million to fund substance abuse counselors in schools,  $15.2 million to open residential beds, $5.8  million for a substance use treatment program to provide detoxification and clinical services for civilly committed women with substance use disorders, and $300,000 for the Trial court to coordinate service for individuals with mental health and substance abuse needs.
In addition, other areas of the bill include:
·         $31.5 million for snow and ice removal costs for Mass Department of Transportation,
·         $21.7 million to close deficiencies in ten Sheriff Departments,
·         Setting Tuesday, Sept. 6 as the state primary date,
·         $3 million to fund Department of Children and Families training services for foster families and adoptive families and congregate care and adoption support services,
·         $5 million to support homelessness diversion, prevention and housing stabilization programs,
·         $9.5 million for National Guard student tuition and fees reimbursements,
·         Reviving a special commission charged with examining housing and shelter options for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault,
·         Setting the state budget for Fiscal Year 2015 into balance.

The House has also adopted a similar bill to close deficiencies in state departments, the bill will next move to a conference committee of House and Senate members to produce a final bill.
The text of the Senate bill can be read by clicking this link: