BOSTON—Following three days of deliberation on nearly 700 amendments, the Massachusetts State Senate on Friday afternoon approved its final FY2013 budget. Legislators faced an austere landscape again this year, beginning with a $1.4 billion shortfall from the funds necessary to maintain last year’s level of services. But the final budget contained several amendments sponsored and co-sponsored by Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz that support critical priorities for Boston neighborhoods and families.
Senator Chang-Díaz said the budget debate made clear that although Massachusetts is beginning to recover from the recession, there is more work to be done to dig the state out of years of cuts to critical programs.
“My staff and I fought hard for programs that matter to my constituents—like education, youth jobs, violence prevention, and public health. These are programs that residents around the district have told me are a priority by calling or emailing my office, talking with me at district events, or visiting my office at the State House. Through our work and the community’s advocacy, we were able to secure some important victories.”
Successful amendments sponsored and co-sponsored by Chang-Díaz include:
• A $1 million increase in METCO funding over the Senate Ways and Means proposal, bringing the total amount to $17.9M, a slight increase from last year.
• A $1M increase over the Senate Ways and Means proposal for the Shannon Anti-Gang Violence Grant program, which provides resources to communities with demonstrated levels of gang and youth violence. This represents a total of $7M in funding, a $1.5M increase over last year.
• A $1M increase over the Senate Ways and Means proposal for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (for a total of $42M), which provides rental assistance for low-income families.
• A $1M increase over the Senate Ways and Means proposal for Early Intervention programs (for a total of $28.7M), which provide critical services for children three years-old and under with developmental delays.
• $5M for Community Preservation Act funding, which provides state matching funds for local communities to fund affordable housing, recreation, and the preservation of historical and open spaces.
• The reconstitution of the inactive Foundation Budget Review Commission. Put into law as part of the Education Reform Act of 1993, the Commission was established to ensure that the foundation budget, which is meant to ensure that each community has the funding it needs to educate its students, was reviewed and, as necessary, recalculated on a regular basis. The Commission was required to report every two years. However, since 1993, the Commission has only produced two reports, the last time ten years ago. Under this amendment, the Commission would convene to fulfill its duty to examine the foundation budget and report back to the legislature next year.
• The creation of regulations to confront the problem of over-the-top executive compensation at mutual companies. Under this amendment, mutual fund companies must disclose the compensation awarded to their officers and directors and must ensure that a majority of the board of directors, and the entirety of the compensation committee, is made up of independent directors. The amendment also directs the Commissioner of Insurance to issue regulations that require a vote to approve or disapprove the compensation of officers and directors.
• $250,000 for Individual Development Accounts, a competitive grant program to promote financial literacy and asset development among low- and moderate-income residents.
• A $1M increase over the Senate Ways and Means proposal for State Laboratory funding (for a total of $12.6M), which supports critical research on tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.
• $20M for the Human Service Salary Reserve, which helps provide decent living wages for direct care human service workers.
• $200,000 for reunification services for incarcerated mothers to help mothers in prison and mothers reentering the community after serving time to access important services, like counseling, job training, and legal services.
Chang-Díaz priorities that were successfully included in the Senate Ways and Means and Senate final budgets also include:
• Chapter 70 (K-12 state aid to public education) funding: $18 million increase over last year;
• Special Education “Circuit Breaker”: $29 million increase over last year, representing a return to full funding of the Circuit Breaker program;
• Substance abuse services: $1.7 million increase over last year;
• Head Start: $500,000 increase over last year;
• Veterans Outreach Centers: nearly $157,000 increase over last year;
• State Aid to Public Libraries: Level funded from last year; and
• Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (“STEM”) Pipeline Fund: A new line item funded at $2 million.
Although they did not result in passage, other notable votes and actions taken by Chang-Díaz during the budget debate included a close vote on the expansion of the Bottle Bill—a long-time priority for the environmental community that would put bottled water, juice, and sports drinks under the deposit currently required on carbonated beverages. Chang-Díaz voted in support of the Bottle Bill expansion in the 22-15 vote (technically, a vote in favor of the Bottle Bill provision was a “no” because of a procedural maneuver designed to kill the Bottle Bill amendment).
In a later debate, on whether to impose detailed restrictions on how EBT recipients may spend public assistance dollars, Chang-Díaz introduced an alternative amendment that would have applied the proposed EBT restrictions instead to recipients of corporate tax subsidies—sometimes known as “corporate welfare.” She cited the recent example of Liberty Mutual’s expenditure of $4.5 million on a luxury renovation of its CEO’s executive suite and bathroom, after receiving $46 million in Massachusetts taxpayer subsidies—a 10% margin of waste—and compared it to the cases of waste and fraud discovered in the EBT system last year—less than half a percent. Chang-Díaz argued that it made more sense for the state to focus on corporate welfare, rather than EBT, as an area in which to crack down on fraud and abuse since it is the area of state spending with a higher proportion and higher total dollar amounts of waste.
The budget will now go to a conference committee where three members from the Senate and three members from the House of Representatives will negotiate a compromise spending plan to be sent to the Governor for his approval or veto before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.