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Downing secures millions for local programs; Scores major policy wins in Senate FY16 budget
May 22, 2015

BOSTON – After three days and nights of robust debate and action taken on 942 proposed amendments, State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield) announces that the Massachusetts Senate concluded its Fiscal Year 2016 budget deliberations late on Thursday night. During the negotiations Downing secured support for a number of amendments he sponsored or co-sponsored to further his budget agenda.

 “The Senate’s budget makes critical investments in key areas of state spending, such as local aid, education, economic development and services for vulnerable and under-served populations,” said Downing.

The Senate’s $38.09 Billion Fiscal Year 2016 contains funding for several programs and initiatives important to the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden District, including:

  • $17 Million for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP);
  • $14 Million for the Massachusetts Cultural Council; $6 Million for Regional Tourism Councils, and $400,000 to support the operation of 11 visitor information centers statewide between the Memorial Day and Columbus Day holidays;
  • An additional $1.17 Million to support the operations of the Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire County Sheriffs’ offices as well as $200,000 for the Franklin County Opioid Task Force;
  • $400,000 to preserve employment-related transportation services in Berkshire County;
  • $300,000 for “Buy Local” efforts in central, western, northeastern and southern Massachusetts;
  • $150,000 for the coordination of homeless shelter and housing services throughout Berkshire County;
  • $105,000 to support the operations and programming of model community coalitions such as the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition;
  • $100,000 for the Barrington State Company to expand its nationally recognized Playwright Mentoring Program;
  • $100,000 for the Berkshire Youth Development Project; 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.

Downing also secured the adoption of several policy initiatives in the Senate budget, such as:

  • The initiation of a feasibility study to consider a self-sustaining, Berkshire County-wide employment-based transportation program for low-wage earners;
  • A change in law authorizing municipalities to make their annual operating budgets available to residents online, instead of printing hard copies, thereby increasing local government transparency and achieving significant cost savings;
  • A new requirement that distribution companies provide refunds or credits to consumers who received dramatically high electric bills last winter, upon switching to a competitive supplier for their basic service;
  • The creation of a Rural Policy Advisory Commission within the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, tasked with the enhancement of the economic vitality of rural communities (defined as municipalities with a population density of less than 500 persons per square mile) and the advancement of the health and well-being of rural residents; and
  • An increase in Massachusetts’ Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) designed to help working families, paired with an increase in the state’s personal tax exemptions, guaranteeing that everyone in Massachusetts will receive an income tax reduction in the next year.

The House and Senate final budgets will be forwarded to a conference committee tasked with developing the final FY16 spending plan. Fiscal Year 2016 begins on July 1, 2015.

The text of the Senate budget and actions taken on all budget amendments can be viewed online at https://malegislature.gov/Budget/FY2016/Senate/WaysAndMeans.

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