I know this is a long letter, but working on the state budget is one of the most important things I will do on your behalf this year, so I want to provide you with as much information as possible about this process.
Thank you to everyone who contacted me and my office to share your priority amendments to the Senate’s FY20 budget. The Senate Ways and Means Committee released its budget proposal on May 7 and since then my team and I have been working non-stop to file strategic amendments that lift up the programs and priorities of the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district, as well as working to hear what’s important to YOU in the Senate’s final budget proposal.
Your emails, calls, office visits, and tweets have been wonderful to receive. Hundreds of you have reached out to me about funding that’s important to your family, to your work, to the environment, or that you support just because it creates some good in the world.
I filed over 30 amendments to the Senate budget with a focus on education and regional equity. Over the next week, my Facebook page will be the go-to place to hear much greater depth about the amendments I filed and co-sponsored, and to follow along as these amendments are debated. You can also use this link to see a full list of amendments I’ve filed and co-sponsored.
Here are a few examples, starting with a bundle focused on transportation.
- I’m seeking $250,000 to market the Knowledge Corridor Rail Pilot program (amendment #461). The Department of Transportation is beginning a two-year pilot of expanded rail service between Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke, and Springfield, but the pilot will only become permanent if 24,000 riders take the train each year- and there’s no marketing budget.
- I’ve also filed my bill (S.2054) to study rail from North Adams, through Greenfield to Boston as an outside section of the budget (bills can be filed as outside sections of the budget).
- Finally on transportation, I’m seeking funding for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments to develop and launch a rideshare demonstration program (amendment #1117). This program would demonstrate how transit services can be delivered differently in a rural area by employing the use of technology alongside, and in partnership with, public transit and the non-profit and private sectors, using a model that can be scaled and replicated. Not only is public transit very limited in this region, there are broad areas that are completely unserved. If funded, this rideshare program has the potential to benefit many communities in a region with low incomes and scarce services.
What's more, I filed many other amendments which would deliver much-needed funding to the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district, focused on important issues like homelessness prevention, active bystander training, veteran’s mediation, and stopping child sexual abuse.
In addition to the amendments I filed that would benefit our district, I submitted amendments that would benefit the entire state.
- The CHERISH Act was the first bill I filed, and it would raise funding for public higher education back to its highest level ever. So as an amendment (#302), I’ve filed the first year of funding increases in the CHERISH Act.. This amendment would increase each of the higher education line items - UMass campuses, state universities and community colleges – by a total of over $62,000,000. Per student, public funding for higher education in Massachusetts has been cut by 31 percent since FY01, and Massachusetts now has the fastest-growing public college costs and the second-fastest increase in student debt in the nation. This amendment would begin to reverse those trends.
- I also filed an amendment to increase the corporate minimum tax, which has not been increased in decades (amendment #303). The corporate minimum tax is the backstop amount that all companies pay if they owe nothing more in state corporate taxes. This amendment would keep the $456 tax level for small businesses, but then increases the amount for larger firms based on the amount of sales the company has in the state. I’m proposing to use the revenue generated by this tax to increase three school transportation line items: fully funding regional school transportation and homeless student transportation, and bringing out of district vocational school transportation funding back to its record high level. I’ve just learned that Mass Municipal Association has thrown its weight behind this amendment.
- As Senate Chair of the Public Health Committee, I’m also looking to increase funding for two Department of Public Health grant programs (amendment #s 439 & 440). One of these grant programs, the DPH Youth at Risk grants, sends funding to nonprofits with youth prevention programs dealing with addiction, bullying, suicide, teen pregnancy, discrimination faced by LGBTQ youth, and other crucial issues.
In addition to the amendments I filed, I’ve been thrilled to sign on as a co-sponsor to budget amendments filed by my Senate colleagues. I made decisions on which amendments to co-sponsor based off of what I heard from YOU. I’ve made a first pass at co-sponsorship, and will finalize my sign-ons on Monday before the Senate begins to debate these amendments on Tuesday.
- I heard from an incredible number of constituents supporting Mass Cultural Council’s budget amendments, and so I was delighted to sign on to amendment #686 to increase funding for the Cultural Council, and amendment #832 which requires the Cultural Council to spend over 70 percent of their budget allocation on grants and subsidies.
- I also heard from so many Community Preservation Act supporters, and I was proud to co-sponsor amendment #3 to increase the funding mechanism for the CPA. Supporters of the regional transit authorities also contacted me en-masse. The good news is that the Senate Ways and Means budget funds RTAs at their highest level ever, over $90 million. The challenge, and the focus of amendment #1136 which I co-sponsored, is to ensure this funding is distributed equitably to the PVTA and FRTA.
- I signed on to amendment #936 to increase the budget for the Department of Conservation by over $4 million. This is a central part of the Green Budget package that environmental advocates have contacted me about.
- I’ve co-sponsored amendment #544 to increase funding for the Healthy Incentives Program to $8.5 million, and amendment #212 to give our early educators a raise. I’ve co-sponsored amendments to devote more money to rest homes and nursing homes (amendment #542), more grants for local councils on aging (amendment #655), full funding for charter school reimbursements to public schools (amendment #323), increasing rural school aid funding (amendment #277), establishing a fund to get lead out of school drinking water (amendment #228), closing the SNAP gap by allowing one application for both MassHealth and SNAP (amendment #434), and so much more.
On Monday, the Senate Democrats will gather in caucus all day to make the case for our budget priorities. Then on Tuesday we will begin to debate the 1,142 amendments that have been filed, and we will debate into the early morning hours for the rest of the week until every amendment gets fair consideration.
I will bring your voices onto the Senate floor, as I debate my amendment to ensure that no town receives less in PILOT reimbursement for state owned land than it did the year before (amendment #399), or when I speak about the need for additional funding for the Franklin County Opioid Task Force (amendment #978) as they do groundbreaking work to fight the opioid epidemic that has touched so many of our lives.
THANK YOU for all of your incredible input during this budget cycle. A budget is truly a statement of our values, and my team and I are working as hard as we can to make sure that this budget reflects the stellar values of the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district.