State House News Service
Monday, February 14, 2000
As the Economy Roars Ahead,
Lawmakers Find Ways to Spend the Spoils
By Trevor Hughes
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 14, 2000 ... As the economy continues to
pour millions of unanticipated dollars into the state's coffers, lawmakers are finding
plenty of ways to spend it.
House members on Tuesday are expected to vote on plans to spend more
than $200 million to, among many other things, help poor residents stay warm, upgrade the
struggling Registry of Motor Vehicles and train new police officers. They will also be
voting on proposals to buy new State Police cruisers, provide new equipment to police and
fire departments, and deploy 40 lifeguards at Westport's Horseneck Beach.
All of the items are included in a pair of $100-million-plus spending
bills. One of the most popular items provides $12 million for low-income residents
struggling to buy heating oil. The Senate last week approved a more restrictive $10
million heating aid plan, a response to surging prices and cold weather.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Haley (D-Weymouth) said
the emergency aid will "ensure that families living from one paycheck to the next
don't fall through the cracks." The plan, to be offered by House leaders as a floor
amendment, hikes eligibility for the existing program from the current 175 percent to 200
percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $33,400 for a family of four.
Also to be offered as an amendment to the $101 million supplemental
budget is $160,000 to maintain current staffing levels at the Alcoholic Beverages Control
Commission. Gov. Paul Cellucci, citing a budget shortfall at the ABCC, had ordered the
layoff of eight inspectors who ensure bars aren't serving to minors. The Senate has also
passed a version of the measure, citing the importance of inspectors.
In the House, both the heating oil and ABCC money were originally
intended to be part of a second supplemental budget which the Ways and Means Committee
approved this afternoon. But Haley said that he and House Speaker Thomas Finneran decided
to offer the measures as amendments to the first bill to ensure the money didn't get
bogged down in House-Senate disagreements.
"Nothing's controversial, but you never know what the Senate's
thinking," said Haley. Last week, Haley said the Senate originally wanted to
eliminate the ABCC inspectors so the money could be spent elsewhere. Then, Haley said he
wasn't convinced the money was necessary because communities might be able to use larger
community policing grants to step up enforcement efforts locally.
Today, Haley endorsed the ABCC money, which will likely be tacked on
to the first bill. That spending bill also includes $50 million in pension funding and $34
million for a court settlement involving land intended to be a landfill in Douglas. Haley
said the measure is on a "fast track" due to several legal deadlines, and is
unlikely to be held up by inter-branch squabbling.
Haley wasn't so sure about the future of the $102 million bill, which
may also be taken up by the House Tuesday. In addition to boosting the funding of
departments running low on funds, the second spending plan contains $13.3 million for new
workers, computers and telephones at the Registry of Motor Vehicles; $5.9 million for
dentists who treat low-income patients; $1.8 million for a new 125-member State Police
class; $46,170 to train municipal police officers; and $4.7 million for an equipment
matching grant program for local fire departments.
It also provides $9 million for the Division of Medical Assistance;
$15 million for the Department of Social Services; $11 million for road construction; $1.5
million for a database system to track clients of the Department of Mental Health; and $4
million for a loan to help the Boston Redevelopment Authority build mixed-income housing
in Boston's South End.
The second spending bill also includes language prohibiting lawmakers
from using a current year's budget surplus to fund programs in the coming year. Haley said
the Senate's insistence on using such methods to increase available budget dollars delayed
budget negotiations in each of the last three years.
Gov. Paul Cellucci sparked the spending proposals Jan. 26 by filing a
$290 million supplemental budget containing many of the suggestions advanced today.
Haley declined to discuss whether House members would be discouraged
from offering amendments to the spending bills. The House was supposed to take up the
first spending bill last week, but House leaders delayed action on it because members
offered so many amendments.
Fiscal watchdogs and conservatives have been warning that with tax
cuts kicking in and health care and Big Dig-related cost increases looming, the state
cannot afford major new tax cuts or spending programs....