Wicked Local Hopkinton: MetroWest lawmakers push to restore budget perks

BOSTON – Lawmakers will push to restore money in the state budget for projects around MetroWest that were rejected by Gov. Charlie Baker, ranging from a program to help special education students in Holliston to a new commission focused on boosting development in the region.

Baker, a Republican, eliminated $38 million worth of earmarks before signing off on the state’s $38.1 billion budget Friday.

While some funding requests from the House and Senate were allowed to stand, Baker trimmed a range of items affecting MetroWest, including $500,000 intended to ease  overcrowding at public schools in Ashland and $300,000 for a post-high school special education transition program in Holliston.

Holliston Superintendent Bradford Jackson said the program would help students up to age 22 as they make their way into the workforce. The district is seeking seed money to design curriculum, hire a job coach and buy a van for the program, which would operate in the high school.

Holliston relies on educational collaboratives to provide services for about half a dozen older students. With access to special education programs expanding, the district is seeking to launch its own program.

“At this point in time, I’m hopeful that the Legislature is going to take action and override the governor’s veto,” Jackson said Wednesday. “That’s what I’m focusing my efforts on right now.”

The House and Senate can override the governor’s vetoes with a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, secured earmarks for the school projects in her district. Spilka, chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said she will rally support for override votes on education issues before the start of the school year.

“I am pushing to do this this month,” Spilka said Wednesday. “Particularly those (budget items) associated with schools so that they can plan for the fall opening.”

Looking outside the education budget, Baker also vetoed a $25,000 earmark that would allow the Department of Environmental Protection to enter into an agreement with a nonprofit organization to operate a water quality monitoring program in the Sudbury, Assabet and Concord rivers. He also eliminated several earmarks in the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, including $50,000 set aside for the Franklin substance abuse coalition, $100,000 for the Department of Youth and Families in Hopkinton and $20,000 for Ashland’s Decisions at Every Turn Coalition.

Baker’s budget instead calls for $27.8 million in new funding to pay for recommendations made by an opioid addiction working group assembled by the governor.

Baker also cut $290,000 from the Office of Travel and Tourism set aside to renovate Loring Parsonage, a historic residential building in Sudbury. The Sudbury Historical Society hopes to create a museum and history center on the site, which is owned by the town.

“We are hopeful that they will be able to overturn the veto, and more work needs to be done,” Sudbury Historical Society Executive Director Sally Hild said. “We’re hopeful. We’re still working full steam ahead to see how we can make this project happen.”

Also on the chopping block is $100,000 earmarked to fund the 495/MetroWest Suburban Edge Community Commission. Established last year, the 27-member group is intended to study development challenges in smaller communities in MetroWest. It was slated to receive $50,000 last year, but funding was eliminated in a mid-year budget cut.

Rep. Kate Hogan, D-Stow, said Baker’s veto could doom the initiative before it gets off the ground.

“I have made very clear to the (House) speaker that I see this as a top priority as a legislator for my area,” she said.

Also eliminated were 24 earmarks from the state’s parks and recreation budget, including $250,000 requested by Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, to replace the playground on John Street in Marlborough and add a splash park at Ghiloni Park. Eldridge on Monday asked Spilka and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg to schedule override votes on the Marlborough projects.

Even if Baker’s vetoes stand, Marlborough Mayor Arthur Vigeant said the budget is “great news” for the city because it increases local aid and provides $50,000 for the senior center. The budget increases local aid by 3.6 percent and increases Chapter 70 school funding by 3 percent.

“Gov. Baker has been doing a great job leading the state and his first budget demonstrates his strong fiscal management,” Vigeant, a Republican, said in a written statement.

Baker’s press secretary, Lizzy Guyton, said Wednesday the governor has fulfilled his commitment to support cities and towns.

“After inheriting a billion-dollar budget deficit, Gov. Baker was pleased to sign a balanced budget that invests in our communities, schools and transportation infrastructure without raising taxes,” Guyton said in a written statement.

While earmarks briefly fell out of favor among Massachusetts lawmakers during the recession, Peter Ubertaccio, associate professor of political science at Stonehill College, said they have long been viewed as a normal, and in some ways healthy, facet of the state’s budget process. Ubertaccio said he expects earmarks for many local projects could find their way back into budget.

“I think there are always legislators who also want to be viewed as good fiscal stewards, but I suspect that if the Legislature wants to, it could override many of these with relative ease,” he said, “and it’s probably going to do that for a good many of them.”

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 617-863-7144 or jhaddadin@wickedlocal.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JimHaddadin.

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