Dot interests caught up in state budget quarrel

Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Jul. 11, 2013

Beacon Hill leaders are warring with Gov. Deval Patrick over the $34 billion budget sitting on his desk, and the Bay State’s chief executive is expected to take his time in reviewing the spending plan.

But local lawmakers say the fiscal year 2014 budget contains a number of items of interest to Dorchester and Mattapan residents, ranging from low-income rental assistance and youth jobs to higher education and substance abuse services.

According to state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz’s office, tuition rates at public colleges and universities are expected to stabilize after years of increases, if the $478 million slotted for them – a $50 million increase over last year – stays in the budget.

A $15 million pre-school initiative could make a dent in the 30,000-family wait list for early education, and low-income rental assistance was upped by $15 million, to $57.5 million. Substance abuse services see a $5 million increase, to $83 million.

Separately, a fiscal year 2013 supplemental budget totaling $133.4 million includes $150,000 for the Louis D. Brown Institute, according to state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry. The institute, which works with families affected by neighborhood violence, is led by Tina Chery. “She’s done amazing work with the families, connecting them to services,” Dorcena Forry said while pointing to a welfare reform amendment that aims to put people on the rolls back on their feet through a financial literacy program. The amendment requires them to participate in a free financially focused program put together by the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization.

In what House and Senate leaders said was a bid to deter fraud, the supplemental budget also includes a requirement for welfare recipients to have photo identification on their cards. Opponents say the measure is wasteful and that even Gov. Mitt Romney could not support such a proposal.

The supplemental budget includes $9 million for youth jobs, up from the $4 million House lawmakers originally included in their budget, before negotiators melded it with the Senate version

“I can’t thank enough all those who advocated for the programs and services that are critical to Dorchester, Mattapan, and neighborhoods all over Boston,” Sen. Chang-Diaz said in a statement.

“Although there is more work to do, the things we fought for, and won, together provide vital supports for families in our community and throughout Massachusetts – they help ensure our children receive quality education, our neighborhoods are safe, and our families and neighbors are healthy.”

A transportation financing bill, which raises $500 million in new taxes and is tied to the fiscal 2014 budget, is at the heart of the disagreement between Patrick and the leaders in the Senate and House, Therese Murray and Robert DeLeo. Lawmakers have passed a temporary spending plan, providing Patrick and the Legislature with some time to hash out their differences.

House and Senate members argue that the transportation bill provides $800 million a year in new funding, but Patrick contends the bill does not account for western Turnpike tolls ending in 2017.

“I cannot accept less than $800 million and further compromise the needs of our transportation system. And I will not tell people this bill raises $800 million for transportation when it doesn’t. To me this last point is a matter of public trust,” Patrick told reporters.

The transportation financing bill also asks the MBTA to work with businesses and nonprofits to explore extended hours of service, according to the State House News Service. Proponents of longer hours of operation say they would provide an economic boost to cities like Boston. According to Chang-Diaz’s office, the bill also includes an amendment capping the frequency of rate increases for MBTA riders at 5 percent and preventing the increases from happening every year.

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.