House finishes FY2008 budget

The dust is settling after the major push to finalize the House budget last
week — it was sent on to the Senate last Friday afternoon.

In broad outlines, the House budget is similar to the Governor’s budget —
lean, with no radical changes in program priorities.  It differs in a couple
of important respects.  First, it makes a more generous allocation to local
education aid (while using a different formula for Chapter 70).  Second, it
draws on reserves rather than assuming an increase in corporate taxes
through loophole closing.  

The loophole closing issue will be addressed through a special committee
that the Governor, the Speaker and the Senate President have recently
appointed after considerable negotiation.  The committee is to report by
January 1.  I believe that this compromise is a sound way forward.  It keeps
the issue alive, but allows for due deliberative process in a complex area.
I am certainly supportive of closing loopholes and hopeful that an agreement
will be reached.

I think that the draw on reserves in the House budget, while not ideal, is
modest and responsible; also, based on the recent surge in the Massachusetts
economy, there is some reason to hope that the draw will prove unnecessary
(although, so far, revenues have not reflected the surge).

One particular area where I am pleased to report some progress is in the
flooding area.   The whole Mystic River delegation, which includes notably,
Paul Donato, Chair of the Steering and Policy Committee in the house,
supported an amendment to add $500,000 for design of increased pumping
capacity at the Amelia Earhart dam.  In a compromise, the budget added
$100,000 to study the adequacy of the pumping capacity.  This is a necessary
first step which we had always contemplated and will probably take a year to
get done.  So, the outcome is good.  I gave my maiden speech on the floor of
the House thanking all for moving this issue forward.

I also supported amendments to make modest increases in several critical
areas, including METCO, the MWRA, elder services, job training, public
health (especially substance abuse and women’s health), adult
basic education, housing/homelessness services, legal services and public
safety (Shannon grants).

In the longer run, the state will need to make some larger decisions about
revenue sources and spending priorities.  This year, the range of fiscal
policy debate has been narrow — even the corporate tax proposal has very
limited revenue implications.

But within those bounds, there was a strong effort by House leadership to
respond to the concerns of members.  Most members felt that their concerns
had been heard and had a sense that the process was balanced — when a
couple of members questioned the process and brought their own particular
projects to the floor they drew very minimal support.

So, that whirlwind passes on to the Senate and we continue to focus on our
committee work — environment, substance abuse, state administration — and
local and regional concerns.

Afterword: For a good final wrap on the process see the Mass Budget and Policy Center’s analysis.

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Will Brownsberger
State Senator
2d Suffolk and Middlesex District