Sudbury Town Crier: Balancing the Massachusetts Budget

BOSTON – Over the past few months, the Massachusetts Legislature has been working to create our state’s budget. This annual routine of drafting, revising and eventually passing a budget – never an easy process – has become even more complicated this year, thanks to rapidly changing revenue predictions and the economic crisis we currently face. As a result, we are looking at one of the toughest, leanest budgets we’ve seen in a long time – and the effect of these dramatic budget cuts will, unfortunately, impact every member of the Commonwealth.

As your State Senator, I’ve been working hard to protect as many of the priorities for our district as possible, while crafting a budget that is responsible and balanced. I want to take a moment to explain the work we’ve been doing, as well as some of the new things that have happened with the budget this year.

The extremely tight budget this year is a result of the massive, and unexpected, drop in revenues resulting from the fiscal crisis. Based on current revenue projections, we are starting with $3 billion dollars less in revenue than when we crafted the budget this time last year. At the same time, costs are going up, and more and more people are in need of temporary help from our state government due to the economic recession.

Balancing the budget this year has required a mixed approach of budget cuts, new revenues, and major reforms.

Reforms: The State Senate has passed reforms to our transportation and pension systems, which I was proud to support and will produce significant savings. The differences between the reforms passed by the House and Senate are now being reconciled, and it is my hope that they will be completed before the finalized budget is sent to the Governor.   I also led the fight in the Senate to include campaign finance reform in the Senate Ethics bill.

Cuts: We have made dramatic cuts in every area of our budget, with many worthy programs deeply cut or even eliminated. The impact of these cuts – to health care, education, local aid, home care for seniors, public safety, services for the disabled, homeless shelters and emergency assistance, and much more — will be felt by every resident of Massachusetts, and they will significantly affect the quality of life in our state.

Revenue: As deep as these cuts are, however, without new revenue they would have been far worse. To preserve core services and prevent the worst of the cuts, the Massachusetts Senate voted to increase our state sales tax from 5% to 6.25%, while eliminating the sales tax exemption for alcohol and giving local cities and towns the option to raise the local meals tax by 2%.   The Senate also closed the telecom corporate tax loophole, which will provide revenue that stays within each town or city.

None of these were easy votes, but I supported the increases because we need this additional revenue to adequately fund the essential government services we value — our schools, our police and fire departments, our transportation systems, and services to protect children, the disabled, and the elderly, among others.

My support for the sales tax allowed me to successfully advocate for funding for a number of programs of great importance to the Middlesex & Worcester District, such as increased funding for education (including a “””pothole””” fund to help schools with unforeseen, uncontrollable expenses), a special education circuit breaker, family shelters, domestic violence and sexual assault prevention programs, mitigation funding for communities containing a prison, and local aid.   In addition, with $275 million of the sales tax dedicated to the state”‘s transportation system, the Senate focused its attention on preventing toll hikes on the Mass Turnpike, and fare increases of the MBTA.

Because different versions of the budget were passed by the House and Senate (as always happens), the budget now goes to a Conference Committee, which will have the difficult task of reconciling the two versions and reporting out one final budget to be voted on by both chambers of the Legislature. Ultimately, it will go to the Governor for his signature or veto. Although I am not a member of the Conference Committee, I will continue to advocate on behalf of the priorities of our district to my colleagues who are serving on that committee.

This was a difficult budget to put together, and there were no easy choices. But it is a responsible budget, one that prioritizes critical funding for core government services, particularly those for our most vulnerable citizens, and makes the most out of the revenue we have to work with.

I want to thank all the constituents who wrote in, called, emailed, or visited me at the State House to tell me about your concerns regarding the budget and new revenues. It”‘s very helpful to hear from you about your priorities — please continue to contact my office anytime.

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