A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 27, 1999
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240
1999 IN REVIEW: A YEAR OF POSITIVE CHANGES
While sitting among the opened boxes, crumpled wrappings, and
ribbons and bows strewn across the living room, I was struck with that
familiar sense of nostalgic disbelief that I experience each year at this
time. The end of the holiday season signals the end of another year and the
beginning of a new one, with new expectations and new challenges. On
December 31st, we say our final goodbyes to the 1900s and get ready blast
off into the era of Buck Rogers and George Jetson. But before the ball
drops, it is important to take a moment to reflect back upon the past year
and assess our accomplishments and failures. While we haven't entirely
developed into the futuristic society that Hollywood (and Hanna-Barbarra)
had anticipated, the nineteen hundreds ended with a bang, bringing about
dramatic changes for me and in many regards, for the Commonwealth as well.
Probably the greatest change that I experienced this past year was
the miracle of life. On Memorial Day weekend, we expanded the Casey family,
my wife giving birth to a beautiful baby girl. While she may still be the
smallest member of the household, it did not take long for her to establish
herself as the new boss! It has been a joy to see her grow each day and we
look forward to the years that lie ahead.
While Alexandra certainly takes the prize, 1999 provided many
positive changes for the Commonwealth and my role on Beacon Hill. Just a
few short weeks into the year, I donned a new Chairman "hat" when I was
appointed House Chair for the Committee on Public Service. Although
initially reluctant to move up from my post as Chair of the Public Safety
Committee, the new challenges presented by the committee change were
enticing and I found myself quickly delving into a hotbed of public service
related issues. Whether the topic was pension obligation or civil service
requirements, my committee has addressed each bill responsibly, making sure
that whatever we act upon is in the best interest of the Commonwealth.
It is with this same goal in mind that the legislature has proceeded
on each issue, a goal clearly reflected in major legislative accomplishments
this past year. Ironically, one of the first areas we addressed in 1999
involved reforming the adoption laws in our state. H.3965, enacted as
Chapter 3 of the Acts of 1999, streamlines the adoption process to guarantee
the swifter placement of neglected, abused or unwanted children into loving,
caring homes. By accelerating the bureaucratic and judicial procedures
involved in the adoption process without compromising the interests of the
child, we ensured that vulnerable children would be placed into the homes of
loving adoptive parents as soon as possible.
The legislature has also taken major strides in helping those
families and individuals struggling to survive on the minimum wage.
Recognizing that wage increases have lagged far behind inflation, we laid
the foundation to bridge the gap by enacting legislation to raise the
minimum wage from its current $5.25 to $6.75 per hour over the next two
years. This modest boost should greatly assist those roughly 97,000
residents of Massachusetts earning the minimum and trying to make ends meet.
In conjunction with this well deserved wage increase, the
legislature continued its course of prudent and sustainable tax cuts, as
well as improvements in tax policy. Changes in investment, property and
income tax policies will bring dollars back to citizens throughout the state
and will afford them greater rights in the process. Over the past eight
years, we have responsibly reduced the tax burdens of individuals, families
and businesses in the state, rendering the tag "Taxachusetts" a thing of the
Due to hardnosed politics and the determination of the House to hold
the line, taxpayers will also not be forced to foot the bill for the new
stadium in Foxboro proposed by Bob Kraft. By remaining steadfast in our
conviction that public dollars should not subsidize billion-dollar sports
enterprises, the House succeeded in protecting all taxpayers of the
Commonwealth. Ultimately, cooler heads prevailed and the Patriots should be
here in Massachusetts for a long time, at no risk to the taxpayers.
Taxpayers were also victorious with the final passage of the budget for
FY'00, the tenth straight balanced budget. The budget provided
unprecedented funding for education, local aid, health care initiatives, and
also tackled some major issues that affected the long-term interests of
Individually as well as collectively Winchester, Stoneham and Reading all
stand to save significantly from the MBTA reforms included in the budget.
The budgetary provisions initiate the weaning of the forward funding
mechanism by with the T has been operating, and spreads the community-based
contributions among a larger number of municipalities that benefit from MBTA
services. In short, this translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars
in savings for the three towns.
Our sound management of state finances, coupled with the state's strong
economy, have again, created opportunities to share additional revenue with
communities throughout the state. Generous increases in education funding,
as well as unrestricted local aid monies and lottery revenues were provided
in supplemental budgets during the year, and significant increases were
included in this year's budget as well. All three communities in my
district received sizable boosts that should assist them in meeting their
rising costs. In its final year of implementation, the state exceeded its
promise on education reform, providing over $2.76 billion in funding,
including a one-time appropriation of over $32.2 million for those
communities below foundation level.
Locally, the Winchester, Stoneham and Reading legislative delegation
has been able to secure critical funding for community-based projects and
programs. We fought to maintain level funding for Community Policing, DARE
and SAFE. We were able to earmark funds for the improvement and renovation
of critical landmarks including the Mystic Dam/Aberjona River and Winter
Pond in Winchester; Spot Pond in Stoneham; and the Route 28 signalization
project in Reading. The icing on the cake, of course, is the additional
funding received through competitive grants which my office has worked
diligently with several local organizations to secure. Such earmarks and
grants will no doubt go a long way towards improving the quality of life in
all our towns.
The year 2000, aside from bringing us Y2K, holds potential for even
greater changes in our communities and in our state. In the immediate
future, we will be required to revisit Ed Reform - as it relates to
continued state funding, teacher qualifications, student assessment, etc.
We will have the opportunity to assess issues involving special education
and charter schools. No matter what our decisions, those decisions will
remain the groundwork upon which we build our future into the 21st Century.
As the costs of health care continue to rise, we must begin to implement
some real solutions to a particularly complex problem. Managed care reform
seems imminent, although any changes must account for costs for individuals,
the state, and providers.
As I look back on 1999, I am proud of what all of us have
accomplished for the state of Massachusetts. Looking ahead, the road
appears full of opportunity for continued progress. I look forward to
meeting those challenges as a legislator, as a husband, and as a father.
Happy New Year!!