State House News Service
Monday, May 15, 2000
Senators Offer Biggest Ed Plan on the Hill
By Elisabeth J. Beardsley
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MAY 15, 2000 ... Senate leaders
today rolled out an education budget that's $350 million bigger than last year's and that
focuses on kindergarten and MCAS. The plan also puts the Upper Branch on a collision
course with the House over controversial special education reforms.
Much of the Senate's spending plan was unveiled back
in March, but at a press conference this afternoon at the newly constructed Beebe School
in Malden -- site of the signing of the 1993 Education Reform Act -- senators revealed
that they have considerably upped the fiscal ante.
The Senate education budget contains a $187.5 million
increase over last year's spending on Chapter 70 aid, which amounts to direct local aid to
communities for schools. The House and Gov. Paul Cellucci originally allotted $132 million
in increases. The House, after floor debate, okayed $159 million.
"Education will play second fiddle to no other
priority," said Senate Ways and Means Chairman Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford), who
plans to announce new health care initiatives Tuesday. "We will make sacrifices
because of that. It (the budget) will not be everything to all people."
Senate President Thomas Birmingham (D-Chelsea)
acknowledged that $350 million -- including Chapter 70 and non-Chapter 70 education items
-- is an "enormous number" that's "hard for ordinary people to get their
arms around." He said the Senate proposal would give Malden $370,000 more than the
governor's plan or the House's.
"We in the Senate are committed in every fiber of
our collective body not to sleep, not to rest, until we have made the public schools of
Massachusetts the best in the entire United States of America," Birmingham said....
The Boston Globe
Wednesday, May 16, 2000
On eve of budget plan, a Birmingham fund-raiser
By Frank Phillips and Michael Crowley
Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham last night raked
in tens of thousands of dollars from a host of lobbyists and their special-interest
clients at a political fund-raiser that he threw just hours before he was to unveil the
Senate's $21 billion budget plan.
Birmingham, who is planning to run for governor and
already has about $1.1 million in his campaign account, collected the checks at a
$200-per-person cocktail party at the Harvard Club in downtown Boston.
Today, Birmingham and his leadership team will present
a state spending plan that is being keenly watched by the same special interests and
others whose financial interests are affected by the state budget.
Holding fund-raisers during budget season is a
powerful tactic frequently employed by legislative leaders. House Speaker Thomas M.
Finneran held a fund-raiser last week at Anthony's Pier Four restaurant. The House
completed its budget debate last month and will negotiate a final version with the Senate
in the weeks ahead.
Birmingham and Finneran personally craft most aspects
of the budget, from major policy issues to many smaller items and changes in law, far more
than past legislative leaders.
Birmingham's fund-raiser provoked outcry from groups
seeking campaign-finance reform.
"This is precisely the kind of business as usual
that voters want cleaned up," said David Donnelly, director of Massachusetts Voters
for Clean Elections. "A fund-raising event attended by lobbyists and interested
parties for the Senate president on the eve of the Senate budget release appears to voters
as a direct conflict of interest."
The Senate has already made public some policy changes
contained in the budget. Yesterday, Senate leaders announced a proposed $130 million
increase in health care spending for next year and offered changes to a sweeping House
proposal to provide prescription drug subsidies to senior citizens.
Most of the new Senate money would go to improvements
in nursing-home care and to health initiatives such as a 30 percent increase in the
Medicaid reimbursement formula for dental services.
But the Senate is also devoting $25 million to fund
the new prescription-drug insurance plan, which was drawn up by the Heinz Foundation with
the help of legislative leaders.
The House has also approved a version of the plan,
which would provide seniors and the disabled with insurance coverage against catastrophic
prescription drug costs.
Senate Ways and Means chairman Mark Montigny said his
budget plan would do more for the "most vulnerable" seniors. The proposal would
lower premiums for seniors whose income is below the federal poverty line, adding $15
million to the House plan's $51 million.
Birmingham said the costs of the drug insurance
program would be "sustaintable." But the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association
[sic, Foundation] has warned that legislators are underestimating the program's potential
costs, especially in future years.