For Immediate Release
May 25, 2012
Contact: Zach Donah
KNAPIK JOINS COLLEAGUES IN SUPPORT OF FY 2013 SENATE BUDGET
Knapik secures boost to Soldiers’ Home
BOSTON- Senator Michael R. Knapik (R-Westfield) announced today that the Massachusetts Senate concluded three days of debate on their version of the Fiscal Year 2013 state spending plan and passed the bill for engrossment just before noon on Friday. The appropriation bill, totaling $32.3 billion, focuses heavily on the restoration of local aid, education, and public safety.
The $32.3 billion plan increased spending by approximately $1.15 billion, or 3.7%, over Fiscal Year 2012. Budget writers closed a $1.35 billion budget gap using $590 million in one-time revenues and $290 million from the state's "rainy day" account, the smallest amount drawn in 10 years. The Senate's withdrawal from the rainy day fund is $110 million less than the House, leaving $1.2 billion in reserves.
“This year’s Senate budget proposal is a smart, fiscally responsible approach to a difficult situation,” Knapik said. “This is the 5th year since the economic downturn of Fiscal Year 2009. Unfortunately, the revenue numbers and the economic condition are not strong enough to return all of our funding accounts to pre-recession levels. I commend the Chairman of Ways and Means for providing a balanced bill that stresses the importance of local aid to cities and towns as well as many important service programs,” Knapik offered.
Under the Senate plan, Chapter 70 funding would increase $180.3 million over FY 12 to $4.171 billion. This increase includes three separate components: $145 million to ensure all districts reach Foundation Budget; $18.4 million to ensure all districts receive at an increase of $40 per student over FY 12; and $16.5 million in aid targeted to the least wealthy districts who receive less than their target share. The Chapter 70 allocation is $34.7 million higher than the Governor’s plan and $16.5 million higher than the House budget.
The Senate adopted an amendment offered by Senator Knapik to require that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education file a report with the legislature with a plan to streamline collection of student-performance data to state and federal agencies.
“I constantly hear the frustrations of overburdened school teachers and administrators who describe unnecessary, time-consuming, and duplicative reporting requirements set forth by state and federal bureaucracies,” Knapik remarked. “This amendment would require the state’s education department to review their practices in an effort to streamline the process,” he continued.
The Commonwealth’s commitment to public safety, law enforcement, and corrections is addressed in this bill by providing $561.9 million for the state’s trial courts. Statewide, each District Attorney’s operating accounts received a 5% increase. Locally, the Hampden District Attorney is slated to receive $8.4 million and $339,899 for overtime costs associated with state police officers assigned to the Hampden District Attorney’s office. The bill allocates $5.2 million for the Hampshire/Franklin District Attorney’s account and provides an additional $294,298 for state police overtime costs. Further, other notable public safety initiatives funded in this bill include: $2 million for a new state police class; $1.3 million for an environment police class; $3 million municipal police grants; and $7 million for the Charles E. Shannon Anti-Gang grant program.
The budget proposal contains many items of importance to the residents of Western Massachusetts. The Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke would continue to retain $110,000 of the revenue it receives from pharmaceutical co-payments. Similarly, the budget includes a provision which would allow the Holyoke Soldiers Home to keep 40% of the funds received from the statewide purchase of veterans’ plates. Knapik offered an amendment (#537) that was adopted which increases the Soldiers’ Home administrative account to ensure the home does not have to outsource lab services.
“The Soldiers’ Home is always one of my top priorities,” Knapik said. “I am grateful the Senate recognizes the importance of this facility and the services they provide to the servicemen and women not only in our region but across the Commonwealth,” Knapik added.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Massachusetts will receive $2.5 million, a $700,000 increase from the House spending bill. This will benefit the clubs in Chicopee, Holyoke, and Westfield.
Westfield State University is funded at $20,139,642 while Holyoke Community College is slated to receive $16,074,594. The University of Massachusetts Amherst will receive $417,982,753.
The bill does not include the Governor’s proposal to centralize the oversight of the Commonwealth’s 16 community colleges. The Senate does, however, provide $5 million to create degree auditing and common course numbering throughout higher education campuses, $3 million for Rapid Response grants to promote better coordination and job training, and $3 million for High Demand Scholarships.
“The proposal set forth by the Senate will allow for better communication and coordination between vocational schools, community colleges, and employers,” Knapik said. “These steps will boost the declining ‘middle-skills’ sector of our workforce, one that is so vital to the health of our economy,” Knapik suggested.
Also, in reaction to a Supreme Court decision last week, the Senate added language to the bill aimed at closing a loophole in the state’s drunk driving laws. A common practice in Massachusetts courts has been for accused drunk-drivers to admit to sufficient facts for a guilty finding and having the case “continued without a finding.” The Supreme Court, hearing an appeal from a repeat drunk-driver, ruled that a continuance without a finding is not equal to a conviction under the law. Language included in the Senate’s budget would codify such an admission to sufficient facts as a prior offense.
“I am pleased the Senate moved swiftly to close this loophole,” Knapik offered. “Eliminating drunk-driving, punishing and holding repeat offenders accountable for their reckless actions, should be among the highest public safety priorities in Massachusetts,” he concluded.
Additionally, the Senate budget plan included:
The Senate plan does, however, fall $30 million below the House budget for Nursing home rates, $10 million below for the Department of Developmental Services respite services, and is absent the $11.3 million in funding for cities and towns for the transportation of homeless students. Over 50% of the line items were left either level funded or reduced from the FY 12 level.
“Conference committee will be a challenge yet again this year,” Knapik said. “I look forward to working with Chairman Brewer and our House colleagues to finalize a spending plan before the July 1st start to FY 2013,” he continued.
The bill took a hard line approach to the abuses plaguing the states electronic benefit programs. The Senate plan recommends creating a new State Police Public Benefit Fraud Unit. The plan also suggests recipients be assessed for the cost of lost cards. The Senate followed the House’s lead by banning the use of cash assistance for pornography, firearms, tattoos, piercings, gambling, fines, fees, bail, and bail bonds. There were several unsuccessful amendments offered by the Republican Caucus to further regulate E.B.T. cards and transactions.
“The blatant and reckless abuse of our state’s sparse resources has certainly raised many flags in the legislature,” Knapik commented. “I am pleased with the Senate’s proposal but am mindful that there is much more work to do. I am hopeful the conversation and the work will continue on this important issue,” he said.
In a rare Friday session, the Senate also adopted a provision that would allow patients access to co-pay assistance and prescription discount programs to defray the cost of expensive medications that have no generic equivalent. Massachusetts would become the last state in the country to adopt this program.
“I am particularly pleased with the inclusion of the prescription drug coupon amendment,” Knapik said. “Over the past year I’ve been contacted by several constituents suffering from MS and other chronic diseases who struggle to purchase their medicine each month, and this provision would provide them with some relief,” he added.
Next week, the legislature will appoint a Conference Committee to reconcile the differences in the Senate and House budgets. As the Ranking Minority Member on the Senate Committee on Ways & Means, Senator Knapik will likely sit on the Committee.
Last Updated (Friday, 25 May 2012 12:35)