Discussion on FY’18 Budget

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.

The state also funds our civic infrastructure – the justice and correctional systems – as well as much of our physical infrastructure, roads, bridges, public transportation and parks.

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.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

33 replies on “Discussion on FY’18 Budget”

  1. Please prioritize arts funding! It pays for itself over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Yes, that’s 7 dollars come back for every $1 of public funding! Thanks for your continued support.

  2. I would be interested in a focus on money for student education especially in urban districts. Also money for support for abuse, and helping people get their lives on track when they need help. In addition safety and help for children in abusive situations. To get them help as quickly as possible.

  3. Thanks for asking Will. I think we need to give a higher priority to repairing and maintaining our crumbling infrastructure. If we don’t sooner or later our economy will suffer. This could be in part funded by unobtrusive tolls on limited access highways and other major arteries will collection similar as now on the mass pike.

    We also need more affordable and mixed use housing and commercial in town centers and more urban areas. Chapter 40b should be leveraged more optimally to force such smart developments on recalcitrant towns. My town of arlington is a prime example. Housing cost is skyrocketing yet even modest higher density developments are fought tooth and nail with thinly disguised NIMBY-ism.

  4. Supplement the gas tax with a mileage use tax when you go to have your car inspected. Since we are shift to more fuel efficient and electric vehicles, we need to shift how the taxes for cars are assessed. A fairer tax system is miles driven for this affects all roads and bridges and would be a fairer system.

    1. Sorry but I don’t agree with the mileage driven metric. What about people who travel out of state? Are you going to tax people who spend their summers in Maine for example? Some people travel across the country to visit children, relatives in Florida…. I don’t agree with this at all. What happens to the money we pay to each municipality for value of car?

  5. To myself, I sound like a broken record but this should be the main driver behind making sure that the state cannabis commission works as thoughtfully and quickly as possible to set up a structure to allow the retail sales of marijuana. We need that tax revenue.

    1. I totally agree on this & do not think setting up a special commission, UN-beholden to voters, is a good idea. Let this be controlled by the Treasurers Office, a Constitutional Office that Voters do elect! And please do this all quickly. Voters made clear this choice & the Legislature seems to be pussy footing around on it. Its not rocket science to figure the proper level of takes to pay for this and that will address the black market. And no I personally do not smoke it or tobacco! But I did vote for the legalization. & Congress in passing a new budget in the House, I read, has specifically OK’d States with such laws thus stopping Jeff Sessions from interfering.

      1. Absolutely. The Treasurer’s office oversees the ABCC, and I get my business license from them, and they are completely the correct entity to deal with this. I think my comment implied that I thought otherwise, so I want to clarify that. Thanks!

  6. Thank you for asking about budget priorities!

    It’s natural to think first about programs that are part of our own professional and personal lives, and I will mention a couple of things. But I appreciate your framing of the question as a larger question of challenges facing Massachusetts and budget constraints.

    One of my priorities is support for positive youth development and community development. When I work with parks and youth programs, I enjoy the idea that I’m helping to build community assets: youth grow up seeing neighbors who get involved in their communities; children and teens get the chance to do gardening and sports and enjoy the outdoors; summer jobs programs in parks focus on healthy community building.

    Similarly — one of the state-funded programs that I work with is the School-to-Career Connecting Activities program. This is a network of career programs that supports internships and summer jobs, as well as career days, career speakers and other career development events. The program doesn’t always get as much attention as other programs — but in part that’s because it is just a really positive program quietly working with schools, businesses and community groups. Businesses get a chance to support local youth and youth get a chance to explore career options and work with an organization or business in their community. I’m happy to share statistics and examples of how it works around the state.

    To generalize beyond my own favorites: anything that builds community assets would be a budget priority. Investment in community assets — infrastructure, public transportation, housing, environment, parks, education — has positive spin-off effects in other areas and the money can accomplish more than one thing.

    While there are huge serious needs that demand the majority of the state budget, it is worth setting aside money for a variety of community-asset-building programs that can have a valuable positive impact.

  7. You present a variety of very important items competing for funding; my priority is funding the vital state environmental programs that are suffering from loss of personnel and basic operating expenses involved in protecting our environment. These are easy to cut because it is hard to see the impact on our part of the world until it is too late. Thanks for your hard work and consideration.

  8. Will – as you and I have discussed before, whenever the topic of budget comes up, it seems that there is a basic belief that monies currently allocated to priorities are being used wisely and don’t require review. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Whenever we have a question in our family about how to fund new initiatives, we look to our current spending first. Last year I renegotiated our cable, telco, internet and saved enough for a vacation. Why can’t the state do the same thing as a first step? Why not look first for places to cut, then go back and ask for more.

    Step 1 of the budget should be an exercise in ZBB — is our current spending wise? Can we get a better deal from our suppliers? Is the value we accrue from our spending in line with the spend?

    Answer those questions first, the way every business and family does, then, if needed, ask for more.

    1. HI Richard,

      I agree with the basic ZBB idea. There does tend to be a lot of momentum for existing spending programs, but you can be sure that every program is under a lot of pressure to produce credible justification.

  9. I am opposed to funding illegal immigrants with citizen taxpayers’ taxes. I would like to see the federal immigration laws enforced by Massachusetts officers. I am opposed to sanctuary cities and opposed to the idea of Massachusetts as a sanctuary state. I would like Massachusetts representatives to show respect for federal immigration laws and help to enforce them. You do not represent me, a taxpayer in Massachusetts, when you do otherwise.
    In addition, I would like to see Massachusetts health insurance continue to respect the need to cover the health needs of those with pre-existing conditions.
    I also would like to see you vote to pass the anti-discrimination bill which would prevent those who discriminate against Massachusetts persons because of their national origin or religion from profiting by entering into contracts with the state of Massachusetts, which has been called by some the anti-BDS statute. I do not think you have taken a public position so far which shows appropriate respect to the need to protect in this manner against discrimination. Please do more.

  10. I am not sophisticated about the budget, but my priorities would be:

    health care for underprivileged
    REALLY low cost housing
    reducing mass incarceration

    I like the idea of taxing incomes over $1M

    Didn’t GE give the city lots of money? Can the city/state use some of that?

  11. I am worried about our residents losing healthcare if the US Senate passes this loathsome bill. Please help build in a safety net for Mass residents that could help cover the gaps. I support increased taxes to cover that. (I don’t make $1million a year, but if you lowered that range, I would happily pay more taxes to keep more people covered.

  12. The budget cuts are a heartbreaking read. We just wanted level funding for suicide prevention but all the protective services for children and the disabled and homeless- I don’t know what to say. Don’t tell mcsp on me but I trust you to do the right thing. Thank you for making the tough choices.

  13. Thanks for making Early Childhood a priority in this year’s budget.

  14. Thank you for your explanation and for your openness to remarks. This week I attended a great event regarding the new Senate Kids First initiative, which has a whole list of priorities to benefit young children in the Commonwealth. I’m unsure if you’re already involved in the initiative, but whether you are or not, my feedback would be to try to pass budget items that are aligned with that set or priorities. Early childhood education is a large part of that.

  15. I support the income tax amendment. I wish I had a good idea about how to reduce health Care costs. Is there a particular aspect of h.c. that increases costs? Tests or prescriptions or something else that can be trimmed? Or a way to reduce insurance premiums? Which is the chicken which the egg?

  16. My priorities would be education, health, and justice. Nothing easy or small!

  17. I have to agree with several other contributors to this discussion regarding the cannabis commission. By over-thinking the construction of the commission and delaying the implementation of the stores the state is continuing to lose a significant source of revenue. The faster this system is up and running the more revenue it will generate. The state government needs to rethink it’s plan to delay the stores and start opening them as soon as possible – i.e. January 2018 as it was originally designated in the bill. It’s hard to believe that, once the commission is up and running that policies can’t be developed in seven months. Indeed, it doesn’t have to be this hard.

  18. good to hear of the 2018 ballot question – I support it
    property taxes in Watertown are not too bad, considering our neighbor to the east. For me, what support goes to the larger public (MBTA, Mass Health, local aid, courts and corrections) is more crucial. I consider my taxes to be my contribution to the community ( and who wouldn’t want them to be less? but let’s be realistic…). My question, which has never been fully answered, is whether government debt is managed and refinanced while the Fed has kept rates so low — there must be losts of savings there, even above the costs of refinancing.
    thanks for the opportunity to share my ideas

    1. The state and most major entities have been very conscious of the low interest rates and many refinancings have occurred — not sure if everyone took the fullest advantage, but a lot happened.

  19. Will I believe education and social support programs are key the priorities.

    Equal to those is the need for the legislature’s to address pensions and salary increases for public employees. If the legislature continues to be unwilling to address the accelerating costs for public employees we will not be able to afford the necessary investments in education, social programs and healthcare.

    Increasing taxes is not the answer.

    No easy choices for sure but continuing to kick the can is ducking your leadership responsibility.

  20. Senator Brownsberger.

    We are fortunate to have you in public service. Thank you. I’m proud to say I endorsed your name since your 1st Venture into elected service (and won) in the service of your Fellow Residents of Belmont (A Constituency I hope to soon to join) I have long wanted to thank you & Sen Eldridge for advancing the “Duck Boat Safety” I’ve never shared this publicly, but my Life Course was altered back in 1999, a sunny Saturday in May, when Tour a Tour Bus collided into my Volvo. Despite the Head Trauna, I got through Law School but in 2012 the spinal damage put me on the Sidelines. Avoidable,had Tour Guide & DRIVER been 2 Separate Jobs. But Life is unpredictable and Instructive….I studied Public Policy academically & As an Attorney,my work analyzed Economic Development Initiatives But I now my Real Life entanglements Healthcare & MA Social Services to add to my “Resume” And I see those as our Priorities…with Simple, Cost Effective Solutions. Not for Me, but I imagine the new mother with hungry infant waiting 70 min on Hold for SNAPP Interview at Later Date (NoOne should go Hungry in America, but our Massachusetts’ Abundance, simply Shameful), Resident of Arlington, my vote was Silent but I’ve been vocal in my Support for William Brownsberger, grateful to have your Wisdom, Thoughtful Decisions and Compassionate Pragmaticism
    There in spheres of Influence.
    I’ll Trust your Judgement.
    – Emily

  21. As you know, I have long been bothered by the fact that the Commonwealth takes in about $1 billion annually in tobacco taxes and funds from the Master Settlement Agreement with tobacco companies negotiated almost 20 years ago yet only spends less than $4 million annually to help keep kids from starting to smoke and help smokers to quit. Almost 9,000 Massachusetts residents die prematurely due to tobacco use and many more are health compromised at great cost to health insurers and MassHealth. A bigger investment in prevention and wellness would save lives, improve health as well as save taxpayer and private insurance purchasers.

  22. Will,
    Massachusetts has benefited over the years since our Taxachusetts days by not following other Blue states into fiscal irresponsibility. We now have a reasonable tax rate that combined with the state’s proximity to innovation of all kinds, we have a thriving economy in most parts of the state.
    One area that you and I disagree is state employee pension policy where current policy enables public sector employees to have a guaranteed pension regardless of the performance of the invested funds. Until this is reformed pension liabilities will be a significant drag on state and local budgets and if current conditions continue this obligation will crowd out most other programs.
    State and local government do do many important things but like at everyone’s family kitchen table, there are limits and hard choices to be made. Maintaining the vitality of the states finances and infrastructure keeps Massachusetts on the right track. Our current tax rates while high are fair given the outcomes, let’s not go back to the bad old days.

    1. Re pensions, agreed, I have been an advocate of some level of risk sharing for new employees by increasing contributions when market performance does not meet actuarial expectations.

      It is settled constitutional law that we can’t change the deal on existing employees.

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