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PRESS RELEASE- Downing Secures Funding For Local Programs in Senate Budget
May 22, 2008

Boston - State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield) announces that the Massachusetts Senate concluded its budget deliberations for Fiscal Year 2009.  Downing successfully ushered the adoption of several amendments during the Senate debate, securing critical funding for programs important to his Berkshire, Hampshire & Franklin District. 

 

“This budget is clearly focused on essential programs and government services. I’m pleased that the Senate’s spending plan includes funding I proposed for many key local initiatives,” said Downing.

 

During the course of its debate the Senate adopted the following amendments sponsored and supported by Senator Downing in its final budget:

 

  • $200,000 for Barrington Stage Company, located in the City of Pittsfield;
  • $100,000 for the costs associated with the use of the Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Center by Berkshire Community College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to bring public higher education courses to a downtown Pittsfield location;
  • Authorization for the Berkshire Sheriff’s Department to retain and employ an additional $50,000 in revenues collected by the Department, for a total of $250,000 to support regional communication initiatives;
  • Language reinstating the ability of Regional Transit Authorities to borrow under the full faith and credit of the Commonwealth.  This proposal will allow RTAs – including the Berkshire, Franklin and Pioneer Valley Regional Transit Authorities - to pay a lower interest rate on borrowed monies, ultimately saving them drastically needed funds; 
  • Language directing the Division of Health Care Finance and Policy to create a new classification of nursing homes to exempt a Berkshire County nursing home that would otherwise qualify for the nursing home user fee exemption to be excused from charging residents the fee.  This would open the exemption, pending federal approval, to Berkshire Place, based on their status as a non-Medicaid facility;
  • Language establishing a Dairy Farm Tax Credit to support the sustainability of the state’s dairy farm industry by creating a refundable income tax credit based on the amount of milk produced and sold;
  • $100,000 for Nutritional Assistance to provide legal Massachusetts immigrants with enhanced access to nutritional assistance benefits;
  • $650,000 for Citizenship Services for New Americans to assist legal permanent Massachusetts residents in becoming citizens of the United States;
  • $5,395,694 for the Mass. Family Networks Grant Program to support outreach programs for young families;
  • Language authorizing Massachusetts’ state and community college to establish tuition and fee retention rates to preserve affordability of these higher education institutions for all residents of the Commonwealth, and;
  • Language authorizing cost saving measures for the administrative practices of summer camps, to protect the safety of children by allowing the various state regulatory bodies to share CORI information for all employees.

 

Many of Downing’s local priorities were funded in the Senate Ways and Means Committee’s original spending proposal, and therefore were not subject to the budget debate.  These include:

           

  • $223 million increase in Chapter 70 Public Education aid from FY08;
  • $935 million in Lottery Aid for direct payments to cities and towns;
  • $250,000 for Berkshire Economic Development Corporation;
  • $75,000 for Berkshire County Housing Mediation in Pittsfield through the Berkshire Regional Housing Authority;
  • $150,000 for Berkshire County Drug Taskforce to combat drug and violent crime activity throughout the county;
  • $100,000 for United Veterans of America – Pittsfield to provide services to veterans in Berkshire County as well as $220,000 for United Veterans of America to provide services to homeless veterans at their shelter in Leeds;
  • $7 million transfer from the state reserve account to the Cultural Facilities Fund;
  • Budget language to increase the COLA base of state and teachers retirement systems and local retirement systems to $16,000- a policy Senator Downing advanced earlier in the session when he served as Chair of Public Service;
  • $42,000 for Turner House in Williamstown to fund veterans’ services;
  • $150,000 for Berkshire County Youth Development Project to fund youth intervention services;
  • $400,000 for Northern Berkshire Community Coalition to administer teen pregnancy prevention programs in Pittsfield and North Adams;
  • $75,000 for Samuel Harrison House to help restore and preserve the historical Pittsfield site;
  • $20,000 for Berkshire Theatre Festival;
  • $50,000 for Mediation and Training Collaborative of Franklin County;
  • $1 million to fund a statewide grant program for tourist information centers, such as the Adams Visitor Center;
  • $200,000 for Western Massachusetts Enterprise Fund;
  • $54,690 for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Berkshire County to fund programs that provide abused and neglected children with a voice in court;
  • $77,478 for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Hampshire and Franklin Counties to fund programs that provide abused and neglected children with a voice in court;
  • $50,000 for the Senior Farm Share Program;
  • $50,000 for Franklin Community Action Corporation;
  • $200,000 for North Quabbin Community Coalition;
  • $90,000 for Franklin Medical Center’s Beacon Recovery Program at the Orange Recovery House, and;
  • $14,800 for Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

 

The differences in the final House and Senate budgets will now be considered and resolved by a conference committee.  FY 2009 begins on July 1, 2008. 

 

More information on the House and Senate budget recommendations can be found at: http://www.mass.gov/legis/09budget/house and http://www.mass.gov/legis/09budget/senate/index.htm.

 

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