STATE REPRESENTATIVE
PAUL C. CASEY

Room 473-B
State House
Boston, MA 02133
Telephone: (617) 722-2230
District Office
585A Main St.
Winchester, MA 01890
Telephone: (617) 721-7285 or (617) 438-7185

A View from the Hill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 17, 1998
CONTACT: Tom Nolan (617) 722-2230 or at Thomas.Nolan@state.ma.us

FORMAL SESSION ENDS WITH A BANG!

Last January, while praising the legislative achievements of 1997, I tempered my aplomb with reservations about the Herculean tasks that lay in waiting for the new year. In particular, I cited issues ranging from state income tax and insurance industry tax reform, to graduated driving licenses and gun control legislation. Now that the dust has settled, following a flurry of debate over the past few months, I can sound the victory trumpet with unflagging resonance, knowing that we have just completed one of the most productive legislative sessions on the Hill that I have experienced. In fact, our achievements far surpassed those issues that I mentioned last winter, and included major legislation in the areas of tax and finance policy, education, the environment, retirement, public safety, and community development. Indeed, we have built a remarkable legislative record that will undoubtedly serve as an example for our sister states to follow.

Over the past six years, the legislature has acted responsibly and prudently in reducing the tax burdens on families, individuals and businesses in the Commonwealth. This year was particularly historic for tax cuts and tax reform. In addition to the $772 million dollar tax cut reform incorporated into the FY'99 budget, taxpayers will receive an additional $200 million in tax relief this year as part of a FY'98 supplemental budget amendment in the form of a one-time increase in the personal exemption. This will translate into an additional $50 in savings on average to each taxpayer.

As for reform, the rate of taxation applied to unearned income (e.g. interest and dividends) was slashed from 12% to 5.9%. Moreover, in an effort to comport with federal tax policy, certain earnings from Roth I.R.A.'s or the sale of one's home have been exempted from state taxation. These changes will encourage savings and investment, thereby opening opportunities for home ownership, easing the burden of college tuition and assuring a secure and comfortable retirement. "Taxachussets" is clearly an outdated description of the Commonwealth.

The state continued to invest in our children as well by fulfilling its promise on education reform funding. Many of us in the legislature have lobbied hard for greater investment in the improvement of local schools. Our efforts, in collaboration with many members of our communities, were not unfruitful. The end of session saw additional funding for high enrollment growth communities and local school improvement projects. Winchester, Stoneham and Reading all benefited from increased Chapter 70 funding this year, a trend that should continue in years to come.

Realizing that our youth is our future, ambitious funding was also provided for higher education. These funding initiatives took the form of increased loan and scholarship tuition assistance programs for working families and greater support for campus operations. I am proud to report that Massachusetts is the only state in the country to have reduced tuition for higher education three years in a row. In conjunction with the tuition reduction, administrative costs at state/community colleges have been reduced. In sum, not a single state has performed as well as Massachusetts in the area of higher education over the prior three years. This is something in which we can all take great pride.

More importantly, serious efforts are underway to support our teachers and insure that our schools attract the best and brightest educators. By providing incentives such as alternative retirement benefits and increased salary options, we will guarantee that our students will master the skills of "reading, writing and `rithmetic." We have read much about the higher standards required of our teachers. Yet, the heightened accountability and performance are staples for meaningful education reform, and those standards should not be diluted.

The Commonwealth's environment also received a significant boost, largely due to the passage of a few key bills. The enactment of the Utility Deregulation measure last fall was a national milestone, but its implementation is worthy of greater accolades. While primarily a consumer protection matter, the deregulation bill has significant environmental advances. In the new market, nuclear plants and old oil and coal fired plants have nearly become obsolete, replaced by new, more efficient, state-of- the-art gas fired co-generation plants. These new plants are cleaner, quieter and much more fuel efficient, which will improve the state's air quality.

Another major victory for our environment was gained at the end of this session with the enactment of the "Brownfields" bill. Simply put, the newly signed law encourages the productive clean-up and reuse of abandoned and contaminated industrial sites throughout the Commonwealth. By limiting responsibility on liability claims and providing public dollars for accelerating restoration of these sites, this legislation will spur economic growth opportunities in older industrial areas while relieving the developmental pressure on our "greenfields."

In addition to strengthening our fiscal policy and cleaning our environment, we have taken great strides to make our streets safer and to protect our citizens from violence. For the past year, I, along with many of my colleagues, worked tirelessly on drafting a gun control measure that balances the rights of lawful gun owners with the need to stamp out unnecessary acts of gun violence and accidental injuries. As part of the special commission, and as House Chairman for the Committee on Public Safety, I was more than pleased upon the enactment of the comprehensive measure that we passed through the legislature this spring.

I am also pleased with the progress the legislature made in addressing the concerns of the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) regarding the Sex Offender Registry in the Commonwealth. When the implementation of the Registry was placed in limbo last fall, following a decision issued by the SJC, we worked feverishly to correct the Constitutional infirmities, realizing that time was of the essence. In the final days of the session, we put the final touches on a bill designed to address the Court's concerns that will alert citizens to the presence and potential danger of convicted sex offenders in their community. The bill also requires for lifetime parole for the most dangerous offenders. Our neighborhoods and our children will surely be safer by this measure.

Improving the quality of life was a common theme throughout many legislative initiatives. We took advantage of our strong economy by making important investments to improve the infrastructure of our learning environments, in addition to investing in many other projects. Significant funding was provided to renovate and construct local libraries. Support was also earmarked for computers and technological improvements in our local school systems. With these measures, we will be well on our way into the 21st century.

At the start of the session in January, the list of initiatives seemed highly ambitious, to say the least. Eight months later, I am proud to be able to write that we in the House and Senate stepped up and met the challenge. Our work is by no means complete, and there are issues that remain to be addressed in the future. Yet, we have set a positive formula for success and have built a strong foundation to continue advancing this great state. It has been my distinct pleasure working day in and day out for the Commonwealth and my constituents. I look forward to the fruits of our efforts and the continued success and progress of this state.

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