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Downing outlines FY15 budget victories
May 22, 2014

BOSTON State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield) announces that the Massachusetts Senate completed its Fiscal Year 2015 budget debate this evening, after acting on 948 filed amendments during two days of debate. During the negotiations he successfully secured support for a number of amendments he sponsored or co-sponsored to further his budget agenda.
 
“This is a good, balanced budget,” said Downing. “Essential programs and services across all areas of state government – Local Aid, public housing, public education, human services, health care, economic development, arts and culture  and the environment have been once again been embraced by the Senate.”
 
Local Spending Priorities:  
  • $15 Million for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Program (MEFAP);
  • $12 Million for the Massachusetts Cultural Council, $7.5 Million for the Regional Tourism Councils and $350,000 to support the operation of 11 Visitor Information Centers statewide between the Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays;
  • $9.7 Million for the Early Education Salary Rate Reserve, which helps improve salaries of providers working at Children Care of the Berkshire and the YMCA;
  • $8 Million for a Human Service Salary Reserve, to adjust the wages of low-paid, private human service providers who contract with state agencies;
  • $400,000 for the Bridges to College grant program, which funds adult college transition courses that provide short-term, intensive training courses that ensure students have the minimum requirements necessary for college-level services;
  • $250,000 for the Mass In Motion programming;
  • $200,000 for Buy Local programs in western, northwestern and central Massachusetts, such as Berkshire Grown and CISA;
  • $150,000 to support local emergency housing shelter services;
  • $100,000 for the Franklin County Opiate Education & Awareness Task Force; and
  • $25,000 for a one-time grant to the Town of Huntington for the purchase of snow removal equipment, to ensure student/pedestrian safety on the rural roads near school zones.
 
Policy Items:
 
  • Municipal cost savings and transparency language, authorizing cities and towns to publish their annual budgets electronically, thereby saving the costs associated with printing, binding and storage;
  • Language granting access to geographically isolated non-profit teaching hospitals, such as Berkshire Medical Center, to the Community Hospital Acceleration, Revitalization, & Transformation (CHART) Investment Program. CHART provides funds to hospitals around the state to help to enhance the delivery of efficient, effective care; and
  • Approval for the Franklin County Regional Retirement System to transfer into the state retirement system.
 
Following the restoration of emergency medical services at the site of the former North Adams Regional Hospital on May 19th, Downing also secured the Senate’s approval of a slate of financial initiatives aimed to assist the City of North Adams manage projected difficulties, while preserving essential community services and promoting economic development throughout Northern Berkshire County:
 
  • $750,000 for a one-time payment to the City of North Adams for emergency municipal budget relief;
  • $460,000 to preserve employment-related transportation services by BerkshireRides;
  • $100,000 to support the operations and programming of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition; and
  • $75,000 for Gallery 51, MCLA’s art gallery, performance venue, community gathering place and economic development engine located on Main Street in downtown North Adams. 
 
“The citizens of North Adams and the surrounding communities were rocked by the sudden hospital closure this spring, and I am extremely grateful that my colleagues in the Senate supported the Northern Berkshire community by adopting these proposals, which are intended to help the City ‘get back on its feet’ and invest in proven regional service providers,” said Downing.
 
Mayor Alcombright recently advised the North Adams legislative delegation that the City was facing a $778,502 budget deficit in FY15, and further that City reserves would be depleted to less than $95,000 by the close of the current fiscal year on June 30th. Downing and State Representative Gailanne M. Cariddi (D- North Adams) responded by hosting Alcombright at the State House for meetings with the Executive Office of Administration & Finance, the Department of Revenue, the House and Senate Committees on Ways & Means and other legislative leaders.  
 
Downing also secured Senate passage of a North Adams home rule petition during a break in the budget debate today. S. 2089, An Act relative to the financial condition of the city of North Adams, was filed at the request of the City by Downing and Cariddi on April 10th. It was referred to the Joint Committee on Municipalities & Regional Government for review, and released with a favorable recommendation to the Senate Committee on Bills in the Third Reading on May 5th. The legislation authorizes the use of funds in its Land Sale Reserve Account to balance the City’s FY14 budget. City officials report that in an effort to free up cash, several parcels of City owned land that used to be part of a watershed in Vermont were sold for approximately $250,000. S. 2089 allows the City to use these restricted funds to close out the FY14 budget in balance. 
 
The Senate also passed a second bill sponsored by Downing today, S. 1656, An Act relative to the state highway route 116 scenic byway. This corrective legislation amends the enabling statute of the 116 Scenic Byway Corridor to include the community of Cheshire as a member. Established by special legislation in 2008, the purpose of the Rt. 116 Scenic Byway is to recognize, interpret, preserve and promote its unique scenic, cultural, archeological, natural and recreational resources in Franklin, Hampshire and Berkshire Counties through the development of a corridor management plan and an accompanying public participation process.
 
Both S. 2089 and S. 1656 will now go before the House of Representatives for consideration; while the House and Senate final budgets will be forwarded to a conference committee tasked with developing the final FY15 spending plan. Fiscal Year 2015 begins on July 1, 2015.
 
The text and status of Senate budget amendments can be viewed online at https://malegislature.gov/Budget/FY2015/Senate/ChamberActions.
 
Downing’s press release (dated May 14, 2014) announcing spending and policy items important to his Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden District which were included in the Senate Ways & Means Committee’s FY15 spending proposal, thereby not requiring further debate, can also be viewed online at http://senatordowning.com/index.php?nav_id=43&cal_id=739.
 
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