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Downing secures support for local priorities in FY15 Senate Ways & Means budget
May 14, 2014

BOSTON – State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D – Pittsfield), a member of the powerful Senate Committee on Ways & Means, announces today that he secured funding in the Committee’s Fiscal Year 2015 spending proposal for a number of his priorities.  The Committee’s budget, a $36.25 Billion plan, was released this morning during an 11am Executive Session at the State House.
 
The following items contained in the Senate Ways & Means budget are significant to Downing’s district, and as such were a part of his FY15 budget agenda:
 
  • $70 Million for the Regional School District Transportation – achieving a 90% reimbursement rate;
  • $27.7 Million for the Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) account, representing a $1 Million increase from FY14;
  • $17.5 Million for an additional 3,000 income-eligible childcare slots for families statewide;
  • $14 Million for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program;
  • $9.5 Million for the Massachusetts Cultural Council;
  • $200K to support the operations and programs of model community coalitions, such as the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition in North Adams;
  • $100K for Library Technology support and upgrades in communities with a population of less than 10,000 residents;
  • 8% increase in funding from FY14 for the Special Education Circuit Breaker, achieving full funding for this initiative; and a
  • 5% increase from FY14 funding for outreach and homelessness services for veterans, which will support local providers such as Soldier On.
 
The Committee’s budget also includes a $2 Million reserve account to provide relief to parties involved in a newly formed regional vocational district or to mitigate municipal cost increases associated with the withdrawal of a member from a regional school district.  Downing advocated for this item in order to assist the remaining communities of the Gateway Regional School District (GRSD), should Worthington indeed withdraw its membership from GRSD, as authorized in special legislation this year.
 
Consistent with the Senate’s passage of long-term substance abuse recovery legislation yesterday, this budget also includes $18 Million in new supports for addiction services. 
 
The Committee’s budget also includes various policy issues that Downing has worked on this session, including:
 
  • Authorization for MassDOT to make expenditures in excess of funds available for snow and ice removal costs in the upcoming winter;
  • Extension of the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit program sunset date to 2022;
  • Authorizing the direct shipment of wine to consumers in Massachusetts as well as the ability for in-state farmer wineries to provide on-premises same wine tastings to prospective customers;
  • Clarification that the Commissioner of Public Safety is able to waive all, or a portion of, fines levied on elevator owners/operators in matters of valid safety inspection certificates, and further clarifies that the Commissioner may waive any and all fines assessed or appealed on or after January 1, 2013; and
  • Authorization for the Department of Housing and Community Development to forward-fund up to $20 Million to eligible entities that administer the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
 
The deadline for Senators to file budget amendments for consideration is this Friday, May 16th at 3pm.  The Senate’s budget debate is expected to begin on Tuesday, May 21st. Fiscal Year 2015 begins on July 1, 2014. 
 
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