By: State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell
The State Legislature approved a $43.1 billion budget for the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2019. The balanced budget, which Governor Charlie Baker approved without any spending vetoes, greatly increases funding for education, continues to address the opioid epidemic and the critical need for more affordable housing, and builds up the state’s reserves.
The budget increases Unrestricted General Government Aid to cities and towns by approximately $30 million over last year’s appropriation. For state aid to public K-12 schools, the Legislature allocates $5.18 billion, an increase of $268 million over last year’s funding – the largest year-over-year increase in the last 20 years. The University of Massachusetts system will receive an increase of $39 million, and UMass officials will be required to meet with lawmakers by January 15, 2020 to outline in detail their costs, spending plan, and efforts to reduce tuition and fees.
The budget also allocates $475 million for the state’s “rainy day” fund, bringing the total to over $3 billion. This is a critical part of this year’s budget, as experts say we should be prepared for recession-like indicators given historic data and cyclical economic trends.
Other highlights include $50 million to support nursing homes, the establishment of a task force to address challenges facing the nursing home industry, and a policy to allow the state to negotiate drug prices with drug manufacturers and hold public hearings on drug pricing. This policy will bring more transparency and accountability to lower the costs of prescription drugs.
I filed the following local earmarks that were adopted by my colleagues;
• $300,000 for the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center in Haverhill
• $200,000 to replace the Methuen High School Track
• $50,000 to improve mental health services at Methuen High School
• $50,000 for the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce
• $250,000 for Haverhill’s Hale Hospital debt
• $1.2 million for a young adult recidivism reduction program piloted by UTEC in Lawrence and Lowell, with plans to expand to Haverhill
I also filed amendments for several statewide programs that received funding, including elder nutrition services like Meals on Wheels ($9.7 million);
the Civics Project Trust Fund, which supports the state’s new civics education requirements ($1.5 million); Veterans’ mental health services through Home Base ($1.3 million); and school bridge programs, which help students transition back to school after long health-related absences ($350,000).
One of my additional statewide priorities was funding for first responders, specifically to help cities and towns purchase the overdose-reversing drug Narcan as well as washing machines for firefighting equipment to lower cancer rates among firefighters. The budget includes $500,000 and $420,000, respectively, for these purposes.
As House Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, I assisted with portions of the budget related to Veterans’ services. In total, the budget allocates over $147 million for programs administered by the state’s Department of Veterans’ Services and two Soldiers’ Homes. This total represents increased funding for a number of key services compared to last year’s budget, including an additional $332,000 for services to homeless Veterans and a boost of $1.5 million for Veterans’ social services and outreach. The Massachusetts National Guard will receive an increase of $1.1 million over last year.
State Representative Linda Dean Campbell represents the cities of Methuen and Haverhill in the State Legislature and serves as House Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. She can be reached at Linda.Campbell@mahouse.gov or (617) 722-2380. ◊