I’m hosting a discussion meeting on the state budget at the Watertown Library (123 Main Street) on Wednesday, May 10 at 6:30PM.
The meeting will begin with an overview of the budget and there will be ample time for people to ask questions, voice concerns and express priorities.
The House of Representatives approved a draft of the state budget last week and the Senate will take up the budget at the end of May.
It’s a tough budget year. In my ten years in the legislature, I have mostly experienced tough budgets.
My first couple of budget years, Fiscal 2008 and Fiscal 2009, although lean, were not perceived as especially difficult. But the recession hit shortly after we approved the Fiscal 2009 budget and, because we failed to fully recognize the warning signs, deep cuts were necessary from the budget that we approved.
Even after the recession bottomed out and revenues looked up, we’ve been experiencing tight budgets. As is true for many institutions, our budget is squeezed between low revenue growth and rising health care costs.
Even though the state economy is healthy, tax revenues have not risen as rapidly as they have in previous economic recoveries.
Most of the available new revenue has to be dedicated to covering the rising costs of MassHealth. MassHealth has been growing as more people have signed up – the costs per person have held relatively steady.
When I joined the legislature, I had previously served for a decade in the town government of Belmont. During those years, I got an understanding of the tight box that squeezes local governments – they have statutory special education, health care and pension obligations and, at the same time, their ability to raise taxes is limited by Proposition 2.5.
As a local official, I pressed my legislators for more local aid and also to increase the property tax “circuit breaker” to relieve pressures on seniors facing property tax increases.
As a legislator, I have been able to make a difference on local aid, developing and successfully advocating for formula improvements that benefited the communities I serve. But there will be little potential for dramatic change in local aid levels unless and until the voters approve the 2018 ballot question which would add 4% to the income tax rates on earnings over $1 million in a year.
I’ve had less success pressing for more property tax relief – after the recession hit, property tax relief was essentially a dead issue.
When one moves from local government to state government, one quickly runs into the reality that there are many other very compelling needs for the state to address. The state funds economic lifeline programs for those in poverty and other lifeline programs that are there to help families at all income levels when a family member has extraordinary needs – mental illness, developmental disability, severe long-term medical problems, or simply advanced age.
We have very limited flexibility to adjust budget line items once the hard obligations – the MBTA, pensions, employee health, MassHealth — come off the top. But I do seek every year to reflect the particular concerns of people in my district.
The meeting on Wednesday, May 10 (at 6:30PM at the Watertown Public Library, 123 Main Street), is intended to create an opportunity to discuss those particular concerns.