From: "Tom Mitchell"
Subject: The Rosenberg Report - Vol. 59
Date: Thu, 29 May 2008 12:20:56 -0400
The Rosenberg Report, Vol. LIX, May 29, 2008
The Senate completed it's work on the $28 billion fiscal '09 budget last week and there are some good things in it. For example, we provide increases in such areas as local aid and education aid, we commit $250,000 to the restoration of the National Heritage Species Act program, we continue our commitment to health care reform, and we allocate $23 million for the salary reserve for human service workers. And, even though we stand on the brink of a recession, we increase higher education funding and implement a number of initiatives to minimize spikes in student charges during tough financial times, including tuition retention and the Endowment Incentive Fund, which provides a state match of $1 for every $2 raised privately, and we increase by $5 million the MassGrants program for needs-based financial aid. This reverses the disgraceful historical trend of slashing higher education during recessions and adopts many of the proposals outlined in the Senate Higher Education Task Force report I co-wrote a few years ago with Senator Steven Panagiotakos (D-Lowell), Chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. We also add almost $300 million in new revenue to the budget thanks to the closing of corporate tax loopholes and combined reporting, initiatives I have been advocating for years. But make no mistake, we still had to deal with a $1.3 billion deficit, so there will be some pain in the budget as well.
But the pain of a $1.3 billion deficit is nothing compared to the unbearable agony we would endure if the ballot question to eliminate the income tax passes in November.
That's right, this November voters in Massachusetts will be asked, again, if they want to eliminate the income tax, a move that would wipe out 60 percent of state revenues and leave the Legislature no choice but to decimate state services and raise fees to unspeakable levels. In horror movies it's the monster you don't see that is often the scariest. Well, this particular monster is slouching toward us in full view, and, from my perspective, it's plenty scary.
I realize that a lot of my constituents believe, and rightly so, that the idea of eliminating the income tax is, how shall I put it, ill-advised. But we can't be complacent. We have to work, and work harder than ever, to remind people that taxes is not a four-letter word, that taxes are the dues we pay to live in a civil, and civilized, society, that the taxes we pay today are necessary investments in the quality of our common future and in the future of our children.
And if that isn't enough to motivate you, just remember that in 2002, the first time the end the income tax initiative appeared on the ballot, it got 45 percent of the vote.
Are you with me?
Stan's Budget Amendments
Here is a list of some of the more significant amendments I successfully included in the Senate's version of the '09 budget. For complete coverage of the Senate budget, follow these links:
Senate Budget Amendments
Education Reserve Fund Rescued
The Senate Ways and Means Committee had recommended eliminating this account, but I was successful in my effort to rescue it and actually increase it by $2 million over the House version. Now the Senate's budget includes $5.5 million for the Foundation Reserve Fund, an account that helps school districts meet unanticipated expenses.
In addition to the $5.5 million, my amendment also expands the reach of the fund, known as “pothole money” because it helps schools fill holes in their budgets caused by unanticipated costs. I also pushed to include last year’s additional language which helped to prioritize rural regional schools with declining enrollments, the so called RED Circuit Breaker language. This year I am making additional changes to the program that will give additional priority to districts that are facing transitional costs associated with switching to the state’s Group Insurance Commission plan. Although all of these districts anticipate significant cost savings as a result of transitioning to the Group Insurance Commission, there are significant one time costs associated with making the transition. Districts needed funding to assist with both buy-out of their existing programs and bridge coverage until the GIC picked up coverage for their members.
I’m pleased that my colleagues appreciate just how important this account can be for schools in distress, for rural schools, like many in Franklin County , that are seeing a drop in student population, and for those districts that are opting in to the GIC, a move state government is encouraging. Keeping this account is simply the right thing to do, and I’m glad the Senate has done it.
Tax Credit for Dairy Farmers
The Senate approved an amendment based on the work I did on the Dairy Farm Revitalization Task Force with State Senator Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) and State Representative Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington) that would promote and improve the dairy farm industry in Massachusetts. I also give credit to State Senator Stephen Brewer (D-Barre) for his role in helping the amendment pass the Senate.
The amendment approved by the Senate would:
Ø Implement an income tax credit for dairy farmers when milk prices fall below the costs of production. This tax credit is based on a similar provision in South Carolina , which provides relief in years when the wholesale price of milk, which is set by the federal government, is below local production costs. The Department of Agricultural Resources would be charged with developing regulations to ensure that the cost of the tax credit to the state ranged from zero in years when milk prices are sufficient to cover Massachusetts farmers’ production expenses (as they were in 2007) to no more than $4 million.
The dairy industry has many benefits for the Commonwealth, from milk production and preserving open space to contributing to the health of other farms that depend on it. There’s a lot at stake here and we need to be aggressive about implementing our plans to safeguard this industry. I am pleased with the spirit of partnership and sense of urgency that has guided this process so far. I’m looking forward to continuing the effort to have the remainder of the dairy farm bill passed into law.
Hampshire County Regional Lockup
I am pleased that once again my Senate colleagues have signed onto to the plan to contribute $250,000 for the Hampshire County Regional Lockup for fiscal ’09.
The money, which is also included in the House of Representatives’ budget, represents the state’s share of the funding plan negotiated by local legislators, police chiefs and community officials last year. The state money, which represents more than half the operating budget of facility, combined with contributions from the cities and towns in Hampshire County and the police departments at the Five Colleges, will keep the lockup operational through fiscal year ’09.
This is a stable funding mechanism that couldn’t have been achieved without the cooperation of state and local government officials, including Sheriff Garvey. The original plan for the lockup was that the state would build it and the communities would run it. That proved untenable, but this partnership stabilizes the situation and sets the Hampshire county facility up as model for the state.
Wendell Emergency Grant
$150,000 to help the town of Wendell to meet expenses from damage caused by a severe storm last year.
Franklin County Supervised Visitation Program
$140,000 earmark for the Franklin County Supervised Visitation Program. Without this support the program would likely have closed. Instead, by the end of the fiscal year, more than 40 at risk families will have received services. We have also eliminated the waiting list, which is particularly important in situations where violence is a factor. Long waits for service in the past have resulted in unsafe conditions for children.
$150,000 for the town of Shutesbury for the state's share of repairing the dam at Lake Wyola.
There were three amendments that I didn't get into the Senate budget, but will continue to fight for when the budget goes to the House-Senate Conference Committee. Those are:
Ø $100,000 for historic Hadley Hall in Hadley
Ø $30,000 for erosion protection at Center Cemetery in Gill
Ø $25,000 for Casa Latina in Northampton
Senate '09 Budget Summary
The approximately $28.085 billion budget makes targeted investments in core initiatives that focus on health care, education, and public safety.
With an economic outlook that continues to decline, the Senate worked to focus on areas that will have the most impact on the lives of Massachusetts residents. These investments include:
Ø $33 million to implement health care cost saving measures, such as electronic medical records and access to primary care;
Ø $6.5 million investment to focus on the treatment and prevention of substance abuse;
Ø $21.3 million for Community Policing Grants, and $4 million in Municipal Police Grants to put more police on the street;
Ø $3.5 million for youth violence prevention grants –a Senate initiative first included in the FY08 budget;
Ø $13 million for the Shannon anti-gang violence grants – the first time the Shannon grants have been included in the operating budget;
Ø An 8.1 percent increase in housing programs, to help low-income families afford to stay in their communities, and includes $10 million to work toward ending homelessness in the Commonwealth;
Ø $20 million for the community first initiative, which will to allow seniors to choose to receive care without leaving their communities,
Ø $57.5 million for the funding for the prescription advantage program;
Ø $12 million for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program to help cover the growing need for food assistance.
Ø $5 million to expand universal pre-kindergarten;
Ø $17.5 million for Extended Learning Time allowing for an additional 3,000 students to expand their school day or year in FY 2009;
Ø $5 million for the early education rate reserve to provide salary to child care professionals;
Ø $21.6 million for the METCO program.
The Senate has also continued its commitment to Massachusetts ’ 351 cities and towns, making an early agreement with the House of Representatives to provide a significant increase in local aid, even in the face of a huge deficit. This increase includes $223 million more in Chapter 70 education funding, fulfilling year three of the 5-year reform plan. The Legislature also committed to level funding the full $935 million municipalities receive from lottery sales despite a $124 million shortfall.
The Senate budget also creates the E lderly and Disabled Person’s Tax Relief Outreach Program, a program that I strongly supported. This program would assist elderly and disabled residents of the commonwealth in obtaining information about available options designed to provide limited relief from state and local taxes. Administered by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, in conjunction with the secretary of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs and the commissioner of the Department of Revenue, the program would:
Ø create and distribute literature outlining all tax relief programs for the elderly and disabled, including those providing relief from state and local taxes and describing the benefits and eligibility criteria for each option;
Ø organize presentations and workshops to better facilitate the awareness and education of elderly and disabled persons in the tax-related issues that concern them, what relief is available to them and the application process for such relief programs; and
Ø create and maintain a statewide toll free telephone number staffed by individuals qualified to inform and advise interested and potentially eligible persons about available options designed to provide limited relief from state and local taxes.
During the debate, the Senate approved my proposal to further study the options and impacts of expanded gaming. The Senate also agreed to an amendment that would change the name of the Department of Mental Retardation to the Department of Developmental Services.
The Senate and House of Representatives will now negotiate a compromise budget. The 2009 fiscal year begins July 1st.
Massachusetts Family Networks
A vital program that provides family support services was rescued by the Senate after $5.4 million was added to the state budget. The Massachusetts Family Network program supports families with young children, prenatal through three years of age. The Senate recognized that the Family Network has established an important place in the lives of young families and we want to make certain that it continues. The Family Network program provides a variety of high quality family support services and programs that are free of charge including access to family centers, home visits; child development information; health and developmental screenings; family literacy activities; and training to enhance parenting skills to enhance their children’s development.
On May 6th, the Senate approved legislation to modernize and simplify the Commonwealth’s corporate tax structure.
The Senate proposal adopts the “check-the-box” reform to prevent corporations from claiming one status for Massachusetts taxes and another for federal and other-state taxes. It also adopts “combined reporting” to prevent multi-state businesses from moving their Massachusetts income to affiliates in lower-tax areas.
These reforms will bring the Commonwealth in line with its competitor states, making Massachusetts the last in the nation to adopt “check-the-box” and the 23rd state to implement combined reporting.
The bill will now go back to the House for further action.
Landmark Oceans Management Bill
On May 22nd, the Senate took final action on its landmark “oceans bill” that will allow Massachusetts to establish a management plan for its territorial waters and ensure a public voice in future ocean development projects. The House of Representatives concurred on the Senate’s action, which means the bill is headed to Governor Deval Patrick’s desk and expected to become law.
The House version of the bill differed slightly from the Senate’s, but compromise legislation was hammered out and emerged from conference committee earlier this month.
This is a significant piece of legislation for the Commonwealth that provides safeguards for the health and oversight of our oceans and specific guidelines for development projects. Just as we have well-established laws for the use of our land, it’s about time that we have a framework and process in place to protect one of the Commonwealth’s greatest assets.
The compromise bill is a balanced, comprehensive piece of legislation that represents the best interests of both the Senate and the House. The highlights of the compromise bill include:
Ø The use of an ocean management plan incorporating the best available scientific understandings of marine and ocean resources, mapping, monitoring, and other data.
Ø Under the authority of the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the management plan would be developed by a 16-member commission, which will include state agency representatives, legislators, municipal officials, and environmental, fishing and industry stakeholders.
Ø The final plan will guide how state environmental agencies interpret, monitor and enforce the environmental laws of the Commonwealth and set a standard framework to judge future ocean development proposals for state-owned waters which encompass approximately three nautical miles from the coastline.
Ø The legislation permits the development of appropriately-scaled renewable energy sources in areas identified in, and in a manner consistent with, the ocean management plan.
The legislation also provides safeguards for the treatment of fisheries, recognizing the central role that commercial and recreational fishing plays in our economy.
The bill sets up an ocean science advisory council of marine scientists, non-profits, government agencies and fishing interests to assist the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs in analyzing Massachusetts ’ ocean resources.
Got a bunch this month, so hang on!
Agricultural Marketing Grants
On May 20th, the Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) announced that nearly $300,000 in grant funding will be disbursed to 36 organizations, including eight in my district, for innovative marketing proposals that promote local agriculture under the 2008 Massachusetts Agricultural Marketing Grants program.
The Agricultural Marketing Grants are awarded to projects that promote and enhance the Commonwealth’s agricultural industry. This year’s awardees include organizations that seek to promote long-term viability and vibrancy of the Massachusetts agricultural community through education, new marketing techniques, and promotion of "buy local" initiatives.
In selecting awardees, the DAR looked for projects that met at least one of the following criteria: promotes Massachusetts agriculture; educates consumers about Massachusetts agriculture or products; increases the economic potential of the state’s farming industry; or offers technical marketing assistance to one or more agricultural entities. The department gave special consideration to proposals aimed at contributing to the development of new or alternative agricultural products or pursuits, increasing opportunities for direct sales, and enhancing opportunities for farmer and public participation in Massachusetts agricultural fairs.
A list of this year’s recipients in my district and a description of their proposals is below. My congratulations to these organizations, and to everyone who contributes to the success of "buy local" efforts.
Organization: American Farmland Trust
Project: Municipal Resource Guide For Agriculture
Grant Amount: $8,787.00
Project Description: A comprehensive resource guide to provide Agricultural Commissions and local officials with the tools needed to make their communities farm-friendly
Organization: Three County Fair
Project: Three County Fair Marketing and Signage
Grant Amount: $3,500.00
Project Description: Internet advertising to promote the market to young people
Organization: Belchertown Farmers’ Market and More
Project: Marketing the Market
Grant Amount: $2,000.00
Project Description: To continue the growth of the Farmers’ Market though developing marketing material and creating a financial structure for the Market.
Organization: The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts
Project: Concerned Citizens of Mason Square Farmers’ Market
Grant Amount: $10,450.00
Project Description: To expand a farmers’ market in Mason Square Springfield , a disadvantaged inner-city neighborhood that has significantly high rates of hunger and food insecurity.
Organization: Massachusetts Woodlands Cooperative
Town: South Deerfield
Project: Collaborative Print / Radio / Internet and Agricultural Fair Marketing for Small Agricultural Enterprises
Grant Amount: $13,000.00
Project Description: To develop an integrated marketing strategy; expand the website to include individualized web pages that describe agricultural products and services available from Coop. Members; provide access to the website for coop members so that they can update their pages; advertise in regional media and at an agricultural fair; gather data of web site visitors and Coop sales
Organization: Greenfield Farmers’ Market
Project: Marketing a Hidden Gem in Franklin County: The Greenfield Farmers’ Market
Grant Amount: $12,860.00
Project Description: Develop a comprehensive marketing plan that includes development of an identity and message, marketing tools, promotional campaign, outreach and education. In addition, the market will be enhanced as a “destination” by featuring live music and cooking demonstrations
Organization: Massachusetts Farm Wineries and Growers’ Association
Town: South Deerfield
Project: Strategic Marketing Plan
Grant Amount: $19,350.00
Project Description: Participation in Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism Annual meeting, develop a public relations program to promote wineries, participation at the Boston Wine Expo in 2009, participate in culinary and restaurant shows, develop materials to assist wineries in the regulatory process.
Organization: Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture
Town: South Deerfield
Project: Capturing on-line consumer interest in for Massachusetts Agriculture
Grant Amount: $8,000.00
Project Description: To create an on-line farm products guide to help farmers’ develop their e-business marketing tools and websites by creating a mechanism to drive consumers directly to the pages of local farms.
Transportation Routing Software Grants
On May 20th, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education awarded a statewide total of $400,000 in transportation routing software grants to serve approximately 140,00 students. Here are the grants that were awarded in my district:
Ø Belchertown Public Schools: $16,694
Ø Mohawk Regional School: $10,199
On May 8th, North Star Farms in Northfield received a $225,750 award from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative's Commonwealth Solar for the installation of solar panels. Commonwealth Solar is available to homeowners, businesses, non-profits, and municipal customers located in investor owned utility areas of the Commonwealth. Awards will be made approximately twice per month while funding is available. The award is in the form of a rebate from the state’s Renewable Energy Trust and the Alternative Compliance Payment funds that the Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources has collected under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard program.
Mass. Technology Collaborative
On April 29th, the Mass. Technology Collaborative made the following grants from its Renewable Energy Trust Fund:
Ø The Southworth Paper Company of Turners Falls was awarded a $38,000 grant to investigate the feasibility of replacing and modernizing the old turbine/generator set.
Ø Erving Paper Mills, Inc., subsidiary of Erving Industries, in Erving, will use a $125,000 design and construction grant to prepare a schematic design of a renewable CHP solution that best satisfies its energy requirements, delivers the most favorable financial savings and establishes the greatest sustainable energy plan.
Ø Mapleline Farm, High Lawn Farm, and Shaw Farm will use a $225,000 design and construction grant to install an anaerobic digester and gen-set. REC’s, carbon credits, and bedding from a mixture of manure and organic waste will be utilized by all three farms; this demonstration project will be a replicable model for smaller-scale distributed generation on Massachusetts dairy farms. Dairies with on-site processing have unique energy and waste disposal needs that, when matched with appropriate digester technology, can result in energy production greater than conventional digesters. This project will also include the capacity to add organic waste which will boost biogas and electricity production, while providing a cost-effective and sustainable alternative to landfill disposal of organic waste. Compared to other types of renewable technologies, digesters have the added benefits of significant GHG reductions through methane capture, improved dairy waste management with air and water quality benefits, and the production of bedding for cows. This project will demonstrate successful technology for the small to mid-size farms in GDEP, which are representative of the Commonwealth’s dairy industry.
Ø Greenfield Community College will use a $9,500 grant to install solar panels