On Friday, July 7th, the Massachusetts Legislature voted on a $40.202 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2018. The budget makes targeted investments in local aid, education, substance addiction services, housing, and children and families while accounting for a downgrade in fiscal year 2017 revenues. It also deposits $100M into the state’s Stabilization Fund.
Despite a tight fiscal environment, Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro) was successful in advocating for the inclusion of $500,000 in local aid that had been approved in the Senate’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget, as well as $1.25 million for statewide programs supporting small business development and at-risk youth programs.
Local funding is attributed to organizations on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket that provide invaluable services to children, families, and older adults:
- $140,000 to Children’s Cove: The Cape and Islands Child Advocacy Center to support their work in providing an efficient and child-friendly facility for child abuse intervention.
- $85,000 for the Housing Assistance Corporation of Cape Cod to fund a caseworker specifically for people on Martha’s Vineyard and for the work they do to provide a continuum of housing programs for those facing housing instability.
- $100,000 to support residents of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket to travel to health services provided off-island. Including a $25,000 earmark for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, advocated for in the House by Representative Dylan Fernandes (D-Falmouth).
- $25,000 for Sight Loss Services, Inc. allowing them to continue to serve Cape Codders who are gradually losing their sight.
- $50,000 for The Community Development Partnership to advance public participation in the development of affordable and middle-income housing.
- $100,000 for the Barnstable County Fire and Rescue Training Academy to cover urgent capital expenses.
“The local organizations that will receive funds provide vital services to the residents of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket,” said Cyr. “I am encouraged that even when there is uncertainty on projected tax revenues, we are able to support these essential programs.”
Additionally, the first term Senator secured a $150,000 earmark for the Massachusetts Office of Employee Involvement and Ownership. In 2008, the office was forced to suspend its operations due to the recession. This funding will allow the office to resume providing education, outreach, and promotional efforts to create an environment in the Commonwealth which will expand and enhance opportunities for employee ownership.
Senator Cyr also played a key role in the inclusion of $500,000 for the statewide Youth at Risk competitive grant program administered by the Department of Public Health. During the Senate budget debate, Cyr spoke about the importance of these programs for at-risk youth.
“For years, the Youth at Risk Grant Program has enabled 36 community-based organizations to fund interventions related to violence prevention, positive youth development, healthy relationships, and skill-building for LGBTQ young people and other vulnerable youth. Without these monies, activities in these programs would cease.”
A line item for the Small Business Technical Assistance grant program, which Senator Cyr advocated for during his maiden speech in the Massachusetts Senate Chamber, has been funded at $750,000.
“We were unable to fund this line item at the same impressive level as the Senate Budget. However, given unsteady revenue, these cuts did not come as a surprise. I will continue to look for opportunities to strengthen locally owned businesses, stimulate economic development, and sustain vibrant local business districts.”
In his first budget as State Senator, Cyr praised the Senate conferees who negotiated the agreement, including Senate Ways and Means Chair Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) and Ranking Minority Member Senator Viriato (Vinny) deMacedo (R-Plymouth). Cyr did express disappointment that the Conference Report neglected to adopt revenue proposals and discontinued funding for a first in the nation prevention and wellness program.
“Unfortunately, the Conference Committee Report did not include commonsense revenue proposals, a review of corporate tax breaks, or a sustainable funding stream for the highly successful Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund. All were included in the final Senate budget, and it is a lost opportunity for us not to have included these initiatives in the final FY18 budget.”
The Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund has supported health activities on Cape Cod, including the Barnstable Prevention Partnership which works to address health conditions specific to the local population, including: hypertension, falls from the elderly, and diabetes. In Barnstable County, 31.9% of adults have been told they have hypertension and 15.3% of adults on Cape Cod over the age of 56 have experienced a fall resulting in an injury. Prior to the creation of the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund, there were no dedicated resources for a coordinated approach to address these common health challenges.
“This is the harshest state budget since the last recession. It would have been somewhat better had it contained the Senate’s modest revenue proposals including those on Airbnb, internet hotel resellers, flavored cigars, film tax, and the CPA,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst). “We can take some measure of pride in what we were able to do for local aid, children, and veterans, but too many were left behind.”
In response to below benchmark FY2017 revenue, the conference committee took the following steps to close the budget gap:
- $400M in spending reductions relative to the House and Senate budgets, including a $150M reduction to MassHealth because of efficiencies and enhanced program integrity and $250M in reductions in other areas of the budget
- $205M in anticipated department efficiencies
- $83M in additional revenue because the income tax rollback will not be triggered
- $50M in non tax revenue increase from agencies, departments, trusts or federal resources
The conference committee reviewed and considered a package of proposals submitted by the Baker/Polito Administration regarding the employer assessment and MassHealth benefit and eligibility changes. The final budget proposes:
- Including the targeted two-tiered EMAC contribution to generate $200M in revenue
- Modifying the unemployment insurance schedule that will allow employers to pay approximately $334M less over 2 years than they would have paid under the current schedule
- Not including any of the new reforms at MassHealth requiring federal waiver changes, other changes to eligibility and benefits, or commercial market reforms
Significant final investments include:
- $4.74B in Chapter 70 education funding, a $118.9M increase, which amounts to a $30 per pupil increase, 85% effort reduction, and a significant down payment on foundation budget health care rate increases
- $1.061B for Unrestricted Local Aid to Cities and Towns – a $40M increase
- $15M for Early Education and Care (EEC) rate reserve
- $132.5M for the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services to continue to fund beds, treatment centers, life-saving medications and recovery options
- $61.7M increase to developmental services, particularly in support of the growing Turning 22 population
- $36M increase in overall DCF funding to continue important initiatives designed to ensure that every family has a healthy, supportive environment
Further recommendations preserved in the conference committee report include:
- Expansion of the Housing Court, to stabilize housing and keep residents in their homes
- Creation of a dedicated reserve for CPCS to ensure that these attorneys will be paid regularly for their crucial work moving forward
- Maintenance of $2M in the budget for the cannabis commission so that the will of voters continues to move forward in a smooth and transparent manner
The Conference Committee Report was passed in the Massachusetts State Senate by a vote of 36-2, and in the House on a 149-9 vote. It has been sent to the Governor’s desk.