State budget bump targets violence

Lawmakers last week rushed a $28.2 billion budget to Gov. Deval Patrick's desk, with millions in funds for local projects, from $250,000 for an 18-bed women's sober-living facility to $350,000 for a "Safe Neighborhood" crime prevention program in Grove Hall and housing for veterans.

The fiscal 2009 budget also included increased funds for anti-domestic violence and youth violence programs, with five youth violence prevention programs receiving $8.7 million more than the previous year and anti-domestic violence programs receiving a $3.7 million boost.

About $1 million would be also set aside for the Department of Conservation and Recreation for beach maintenance. The money will go towards personnel. State Sen. Jack Hart co-chaired the Metropolitan Beaches Commission that called for funding needed improvements.

Hart and other lawmakers defended the earmarks. "I take great pride in trying to assess the needs of my districts," Hart said. "Earmarks in the state budget, our ability to bring funding home for programs, is the greatest tool I have. It's why I come to work every day."

The Dorchester delegation, made up of Hart, state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and Reps. Marty Walsh, Linda Dorcena Forry, Willie Mae Allen, Brian Wallace, and Marie St. Fleur, the vice chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, "worked well together," according to Walsh.

"Both sides were able to get money in," he said. "Considering the economy, it's a very good year."

Anti-domestic violence activists, struggling with a tripling in homicides in 2007, cheered the increases in funding and have written a letter to the governor asking him to keep them in the budget.

"We could not be more pleased that the Legislature heard the need based on the higher levels of sexual assault and they responded in kind," said Toni Troop, a spokeswoman for Jane Doe, Inc.

Advocates say the funding, along with a public health advisory issued by the state Department of Public Health, gives them an opportunity to attack the rising rates of domestic violence homicides.

The funds would go towards batterers' intervention and services for immigrant and gay and lesbian victims. Advocates were initially shooting for a $10 million increase.

"This is definitely a step in the right direction," Troop said.

The budget includes $200,000 for Close to Home, a domestic violence prevention program based in Dorchester; and increases in the popular Shannon Anti-Gang Violence Grant program, to $13 million from $11 million, a $3.5 million increase to $5.5 million for an after school program, and a $1.5 million increase to $3.5 million for a Department of Public Health youth violence prevention program.

The budget also includes $150,000 for a second Suffolk County grand jury for unsolved homicides, $100,000 for the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, $158,000 for the Haitian Multi-Service Center, $216,000 for the Helping Elders at Risk Through Homes (HEARTH) program, and $250,000 for a new item, the Phoenix House to establish an independent 18-bed women's sober-living facility.

As part of a revenue-raising package passed earlier in the week, the budget depends on corporate tax increases and a $1 increase in the cigarette tax that Patrick has already signed into law.

The budget carries a 5.2 percent spending increase over last fiscal year's $26.8 billion budget, drawing warnings from House Republicans, who said the increase is unsustainable and could lead to mid-year cuts.

Patrick told reporters on Tuesday there was "a lot to like about the budget." Patrick, who vetoed $41 million in funds in last year's fiscal budget, noted he had 10 days to act on the budget before it becomes law. The House and Senate quickly approved the budget on July 3 before adjourning for the holiday weekend.

"I will make my decisions within that time frame, I promise you," Patrick said.

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