Budget season is upon us on Beacon Hill. As we plunge into the budget debate for Fiscal Year 2013, which begins July 1, 2012, we again face a constrained fiscal environment.
While the Massachusetts economy is recovering and our unemployment rate is improving, we still face significant challenges: getting people back to work in good-paying jobs, growing local businesses, and supporting our schools, cities and towns as they work to provide vital services.
In late January, Governor Patrick made his budget recommendations to the legislature, at a level of 32.3 billion, a 2.98 percent increase from this year’s estimated spending level. Working with the Governor and my colleagues in the legislature, and with your ongoing input, I believe we can build on this proposal to enact a state budget that meets our needs efficiently and effectively.
During challenging economic times, state aid to our cities and towns, particularly for education, is more important than ever. Therefore, as our communities face inevitable cuts in services and programs, increased local aid and education funding (Chapter 70 funding) are my top priorities for the FY 2013 budget. This is not the time to cut any funding to our municipalities, and our budget decisions must reflect their needs and be based on the total funding they have received in FY 2012.
In addition, as a result of the Chapter 70 funding formula, many school districts, including in our district, are inadequately funded and struggling to maintain basic services. We must bring school districts closer to their target aid funding levels.
Other budget priorities for our district must include:
- Achieving a sustainable, long-term operational model for the MBTA that supports a public transit system with sufficient capital to keep fares reasonable, expand routes, and improve services.
- Preserving funding for elder services like Meals on Wheels and the Enhanced Community Options Program (ECOP), which provides enhanced home care services to elders and disabled residents whose home care needs have increased beyond the basic level of services. This program has a waiting list of 743 seniors (as of November 2011), and we should fund it at a level that serves all who need it.
- Funding Early Intervention, the state’s most cost-effective program for children from birth to age three with developmental delays and disabilities. Over 30,000 children and families are currently served through 58 Early Intervention programs statewide, and we must not cut these vital services.
- Supporting essential veterans outreach programs, including centers like North Shore Veterans Counseling Services and the “Train Vets to Treat Vets” program that trains returning veterans in mental health counseling so they can provide services to others.
- Adequately funding income-eligible child care vouchers; special education programs; legal assistance; and services for our most vulnerable, including the developmentally disabled.
In our state budget, like in most things, balance is key. As the economy continues to improve, we should reinstate funding for important services in a fiscally prudent manner that honors our commitments to the tax-payers as well as to our cities and towns, our children, and those who are struggling and deserve help.