A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 19, 1999
CONTACT: Tom Nolan (617) 722-2240
FY'00: BUILDING A SHIP THAT WILL STEER OUR COURSE FOR THE FUTURE
They said she could never sink. Although one of the largest movable
objects ever built at 883 feet long, 92 feet wide, and weighing in at over
46,000 tons, outwardly she was luxurious and delicate in appearance,
drawing the appeal of the most persnickety aristocrats, capable of
transporting over 2,200 passengers. Indeed, the Titanic was an awesome
vessel that forced attention by virtue of her sheer size. Yet, while she
was intended to set the standard for ocean liners then and for the future,
history tragically revealed otherwise. As we were all frightfully reminded
in the movie theaters last year (and on HBO today), despite all her
vastness and power, corners were cut in her production. In consequence,
the Titanic was ill prepared to handle the dangers of the even more
powerful sea and sank in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912.
While I successfully managed to escape the colossal Hollywood
blockbuster reproduction of the Titanic's fate, much to the chagrin of my
wife, I do know that one lesson we should all derive from those tragic
events, is that bigger is not always better. Rather, it is the substance
and care and research that goes into the construction phase that will
ultimately determine the longevity and survival of a project, regardless of
the obstacles it will face.
Last week, the House of Representatives spent four successive nights,
including an all-night, twenty-four hour session, hammering out,
constructing and ultimately engrossing its version of the Budget for fiscal
year 2000. Unlike the Titanic, however, the "builders" of the House budget
concentrated on keeping a strong foundation through fiscally prudent
measures to improve the state's infrastructure and overall stability. The
blueprints drafted last week will ensure that the ship of the Commonwealth
truly remains one for the ages. While similarly awesome at over $20.7
billion, the House Budget, H.4400 is a measure of quality rather than
quantity and will allow the state to withstand even the stormiest weather.
It is a product outfitted to facilitate judicious expansion in vital areas
like education, human services, transportation, health care and austerity
in special interest, porkbelly and ill conceived measures. Continued
commitment to our most needy and the Commonwealth's most essential
obligations is critical ballast for every successful ship of state.
But even with clear sailing, there always seems to be clouds in the
horizon. Not surprisingly, following Congress' passage of the Federal
Balanced Budget Act of 1997, aimed at containing escalating costs in
Medicare, many people have grown more and more concerned regarding their
health care. Despite the dilemma created by Congress, we in the State
House continue to support the enhancement of access to health care for
low-income and working class individuals. Over $26 million was added for
both the Insurance Reimbursement Program and the Insurance Partnership. We
also expanded eligibility under the Senior Pharmacy Program and upped the
drug benefit to $1,000 so that our seniors continue to receive the
prescriptions they need. Realizing that health care will remain a top
priority for years to come, the House embraced initiatives to invest income
earned from the anticipated Tobacco Settlement to be used for health care
expansion and tobacco control programs.
In addition to addressing the latter health care needs, H.4400
continued to ride the wave of support for our social services by including
substantial funding for the Department of Social Services, Mental Health,
Mental Retardation, Education and Transitional Assistance. For the third
consecutive year millions of dollars were targeted to expand residential
day and respite services in our continuing efforts to reduce the number of
mentally handicapped and others on our waiting lists. Last year the
legislature was able to take a large chunk out of that list and extend
services to thousands of individuals.
H.4400 also includes plans to increase the fuel levels of the
education reform boilers. Despite being in its final year of its 7 year
implementation, Ed Reform and its components have received more than ever.
In addition to the $159 million distributed directly to school districts,
more than $71 million was appropriated by the House for an array of early
education programs. Improving learning experiences for our children at an
early age will lay the necessary foundation for the success and
continuation of education reform.
Although the Titanic catered primarily to the aristocracy, there is
something in H.4400 for everyone. On the heals of adopting the second
largest tax cut in the history of the Commonwealth in April, the House
provided further tax relief in its Budget for our families. Tax credits
were broadened for dependent children to benefit both families with two
working parents, and those with a parent at home. With such tax breaks,
raising a child will become less economically burdensome, whether one
chooses to use daycare, or stay at home with the kids.
On a somewhat different level, H.4400 also aided our elderly
passengers by adding a property tax abatement of up to $500 for elders who
participate in volunteer services. Moreover, for our public retirees, the
House adopted an amendment I filed to allow municipalities to offer cost of
living adjustments of up to 3%. Collectively, these and other measures
will ensure that all citizens will be able to afford a ticket on our ship
and will be provided with proper incentives to volunteer around the ship of
H.4400 promotes strengthening our communities, and accordingly,
fortifies our municipalities in several different areas. Specifically,
increases support in local aid, school building assistance, Community
Policing, DARE and SAFE programs are significant. In addition, towns will
also benefit from the innovative forward funding provisions for the MBTA
incorporated in the budget. Under the unprecedented funding changes to
that Authority, each town can expect a reduction in MBTA costs from $172,
000 to $250,000 by the year 2006.
Locally, the Budget is even more noteworthy because significant steps
totaling $150,000 were taken towards the renovation of the Mystic Dam which
is in a desperate state of disrepair. Two hundred thousand dollars was
also approved to restore and improve Spot Pond and its surrounding areas.
These projects are more than mere "pork." They not only protect our
wonderful natural resources, but they will help prevent property and lives
from future natural disasters.
When the Titanic set sail from Southampton, England that fateful April
morning of 1912, no one dared question the integrity of the structure of
the ship, but presumed that it was indestructible on account of its size.
While there will be some who criticize the budget process for not including
enough, it is important to focus on the structure of the final product.
After a full week of long deliberative debates, I am confident that we left
no screw unturned, no rivet unused and created a product that will give the
Commonwealth a sturdy foundation for the rough seas that lie ahead.
Unfortunately, as promising as the House Budget is I'm still on the hook
with my wife for movie tickets!