IN THE NEWS- Flood Aid Leaves Area High, Dry
By Hillary Chabot, Eagle Boston Bureau
Tuesday, May 22
BOSTON — The struggle for flood aid between legislators from eastern and Western Massachusetts erupted yesterday as two senators amended a budget proposal that would once again leave the Berkshires high and dry.
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, and state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, are still working to hash out the details of the final budget amendment, which would override a proposal by Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steven Panagiotakos, D-Lowell, that sent $6.8 million to communities hit by the 2006 flooding.
"I'm sure the chairman crafted this with the best of intentions. We just want to make sure that we get the most aid available for everyone involved," Downing said.
Tarr was a little more blunt.
"I'm concerned that the dialogue we've had with the Western Massachusetts delegation isn't reflected," Tarr said.
Panagiotakos included language in the $26.7 billion Senate budget last week that would make $6.8 million available for five counties declared a federal disaster area after the 2006 flooding, but the Berkshires were not included. The proposal would take $6.8 million of state money originally set aside for Hurricane Katrina victims who relocated to Massachusetts.
The move would make the aid available to cities and towns much faster than waiting for legislation that is currently in committee.
Panagiotakos said he is open to including the Berkshires in the flood aid package.
"In the interest of fairness, we are looking at that very closely," Panagiotakos said.
This isn't the first time lawmakers from the Berkshires have campaigned vigorously to ensure homeowners get their share of flood relief. The amendment, aimed at municipalities, is part of a bill currently before the Legislature filed by Rep. Christopher N. Speranzo, D-Pittsfield, which would include tax relief for homeowners, $1 million for a long-term flood recovery fund and $2 million to pay off the interest for loans to small businesses.
Downing hopes to include the $3 million in funding aimed at individuals in the amendment, a move that Panagiotakos opposes because the tax relief can't be taken up in the Senate budget.
"The municipal part was easier. It's very cut and dry and simple to include, which is why we added it in," Panagiotakos said.
Senators plan on meeting today to hammer out the details on this amendment along with several others filed by Downing, including an amendment that would funnel $750,000 as a one-time grant to a teaching hospital as reimbursement out of an uncompensated care pool.
Other amendments include:
· $280,00 for the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and another $75,000 for an MCLA gallery in North Adams.
· $250,000 for the Berkshire Economic Development Corporation.
· $200,000 for the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center.
· $200,000 for Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
· $150,000 for the Berkshire County drug task force.
· $125,000 for the Berkshire Juvenile Resource Center.
· $100,000 for the Berkshire Museum.
· $50,000 for Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival