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FY16 Conference Budget released; Downing secures millions/policy victories for region
July 08, 2015

BOSTON – State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield) announces that H. 3650, the FY16 conference committee’s budget report, has been filed and is scheduled to be considered by both the House of Representative and the Senate today.

“From expansion of the EITC to increased investments in emergency food assistance, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Gateway Cities and regional school transportation, this budget includes many western Mass. priorities,” said Downing.  “I appreciate my colleagues’ support and look forward to working with the Baker Administration to build on this good work throughout the fiscal year."

The $38.1 Billion conference budget contains millions of dollars in spending championed by Downing during the Senate’s budget debate, 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;
  • $1 Million for the Transformative Redevelopment Fund to support downtown revitalization projects in the Commonwealth’s Gateway Cities, including Pittsfield;
  • $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 Stage 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, paid for with the elimination of a corporate tax break known as FAS-109, which has never gone into effect. Under this compromise, the state’s EITC will increase from 15 percent of the federal tax credit to 23 percent in tax year 2017.

Downing notes that the FY16 conference budget prioritizes Local Aid to cities and towns, increasing unrestricted local aid by $34 Million and local education aid by $111.2 Million, while also funding regional school district transportation at $59 Million.

The budget also pairs a new $2 Million incentive program for communities and municipalities engaging in the use of best practices as  determined by the Community Compact Cabinet with a $3 Million multi-year competitive grant program intended to provide financial support to regionalization and efficiency initiatives proposed by municipalities, regional school districts, school districts who are considering forming a new regional school district or regionalizing services, regional planning agencies and councils of governments.  Downing believes these programs will be helpful locally as various options to share services and increase regionalization are considered throughout Berkshire County by school district and municipal officials. 

Once the conference budget report is enacted by the House and Senate, it will head to Governor Charlie Baker.  The Governor has 10 days to review and approve it, or make vetoes or reductions.  Under the state Constitution, the Governor may approve or veto the entire budget, or may veto or reduce certain line items or sections, but may not add anything.

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