The Massachusetts State Senate debated the Fiscal Year 2016 state budget last month, where I advocated for key provisions that will be beneficial to the constituents of my district. The items below are a number of the district-specific priorities included in the final budget:
Fixing the MBTA
Over the course of the past winter, issues with the state’s public transportation system were highlighted after serious delays and infrastructure failures impacted commuters across the state. In an effort to address system deficiencies, this year’s budget includes provisions that will strengthen oversight and accountability by expanding the MassDOT Board from seven to eleven members and creates a special MBTA Fiscal Management and Control Board (FMCB), charged with recommending a plan to stabilize and strengthen the finances, management, and operations of the MBTA. Importantly, this budget preserves the current cap on fare increases–limiting any increases to five percent every two years.
Increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit
By delaying a corporate tax deduction only available to a small number of multi-national corporations, called FAS 109, we are now able to pay for increased tax credits for lower wageworkers and working families. The earned income tax credit will be increased from 15% to 23% so that residents who qualify for the federal EITC will be eligible to take up to 23 percent of that credit on their Massachusetts tax return–a more than 50 percent increase over the current rate of 15 percent, and the first increase in 18 years. Workers who qualify for the highest EITC credit will now receive a $1400 tax break — a 53 percent increase for those who need it the most.
Municipal Bulk Purchasing of Narcan
In light of the ongoing opioid crisis affecting the Commonwealth, I made implementing municipal bulk purchase of Narcan for our first responders one of my top budget priorities because I believe our first responders should not have to compete for Narcan funding through a competitive grant process in order to keep Narcan in stock. When used timely, Narcan has proven to be effective in responding to heroin overdose and saves lives. Bulk purchasing of Narcan will also address the financial strain of Narcan’s increasing price.
This budget will create a Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchase Program to allow municipalities who contribute to a Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchase Trust Fund to purchase Narcan for their first responders.
Supporting the Early College Program
I secured $200,000 for Northern Essex Community College to continue their Early College program with local school districts, including Amesbury and Haverhill. The program offers students in participating high schools the opportunity to take college level courses to gain college credits and valuable experience before they graduate high school. This funding will also be used to develop the program further in other communities in the district, including Methuen and Newburyport.
Advancing the Work of Pettengill House
I secured $90,000 to support the programming and services of Pettengill House, a non-profit, social service organization based in Salisbury and Amesbury. The Pettengill House provides critical supports and resources to area residents ranging from assisting with health insurance needs to providing emergency food for families and after school programs for children.
Keeping Our Visitor Centers Open in Massachusetts
I worked with the current Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development, Senator Lesser, to include $400,000 to maintain the operation of 11 visitor information centers in Massachusetts, including the Maria Miles Visitor Center in Salisbury. Having served as the Co-Chair of this Committee in the last legislative session, I understand the important role that visitor centers on our state highways play in the promotion of local amenities and attractions to boost our tourism economy.
Accessible Arts in our Community
I filed a successful amendment, which allocates $60,000 to support efforts to convert the former Cogswell School in Bradford into an arts center. These funds will be used to address repairs identified in the project’s feasibility study, including mending a leaking roof and outstanding plumbing and electrical issues.
Expanding the River Cities Initiative
I successfully advocated for a $75,000 allocation in the budget for The River Cities Initiative, an initiative I launched two years ago to expand public access to the Merrimack River. These funds will expand the Methuen Public School’s rowing program with Essex Rowing Club, Inc. It’s important to maintain a proven and successful program which gets youth out on the river, gaining skills that place them in a more competitive position pre-college. The more public recreation on the river, the more shared commitment to protect this resource — a source of drinking water for a number of communities in the Merrimack Valley.
Advocating for Newburyport Infrastructure
I was able to secure, jointly with Senator Bruce Tarr, $50,000 for an independent engineering study to identify a long-term fix and the associated costs for Plum Island’s sewer system failures.
I also secured $25,000 for additional lighting in the city’s municipal public parking lots to enhance the security of residents and visitors to the downtown area.
Education and Local Aid Funding
This year’s budget includes increases in both local aid and education funding. Additionally, the Special Education Circuit Breaker, a program that offers reimbursement opportunities to school districts for certain special education costs, has been funded at $271.7 million (75%). This funding represents a $14 million increase over Fiscal Year 2015 funding.
Ensuring Regional Public Safety
I was happy to continue my support for the C-10 Foundation, which provides essential radiological monitoring of the six Massachusetts communities included in the plume exposure emergency planning zone of Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. Over the last two years, I have expressed my concerns about the safety of the plant, and I am thankful to have the C-10 Foundation focused on detecting any radiological issues with the plant if they were to arise.
I co-sponsored an amendment to allocate $1,000,000 for the State Police to provide directed patrols to certain communities requiring unusual or specialized needs for services such as additional State Police at Salisbury Beach between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Backing our Councils on Aging
This year marks another notable increase in state funding for our Councils on Aging. This budget includes a $2 million funding increase for these organizations, which increases the dollar per senior per year investment from $8/senior/year to $9/senior/year. With the senior demographic increasing, our Councils on Aging stretch every dollar to provide valuable services to elders.
Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program
I cosponsored a successful amendment that increased funding to the state’s Emergency Food Assistance Program to $17 million, a $2 million increase over last fiscal year. This funding will go towards supporting agencies, like Our Neighbor’s Table and other food pantries that provide individuals and families in need with fresh, quality food.
Sustaining Full Day Kindergarten
Kindergarten Expansion Grants, a grant program available to municipalities to support full day kindergarten programming, were funded at $18, 589,713. The Legislature overrode a veto of this program, which would impact kindergarten offerings in Amesbury, Methuen, and North Andover. I was happy to offer my support as a cosponsor for this important amendment in the Senate to see the program preserved.
I greatly appreciated the input and advocacy of so many residents in the State Senate district who contacted our office during the budget process.