Berkshire state delegation reacts to final budget proposal of the Baker era

Baker filed the plan with the legislature in January, just after the Republican announced he will not seek a third four-year term in November.

“I think the biggest points that he hit on that he’s trying to drive as maybe a legacy piece on his way out, were some of the tax cut ideas,” said Democratic 2nd Berkshire District State Representative Paul Mark, who is now running for state Senate. “When you hear tax cuts, tax breaks for seniors, tax breaks to keep seniors in their home, I like hearing that. I like thinking that we’re going to have a conversation about that, on both the House and Senate side, and then maybe something like that will actually become part of the budget. When we hear about raising maybe tax credits for low income workers and low income families- Yeah, I like hearing that. I think that’s something definitely worth talking about. When I hear some changes to the estate tax to maybe make things a little more in line, Massachusetts, with some of the competitor, what we consider competitor states around the country. Yeah, those are things that are definitely worth talking about.”

Baker’s budget will next go before Ways and Means committees in the Democrat-dominated House and Senate.

“The biggest complaint I’ve heard so far is that while he proposed an increase in some of the local aid for the cities and towns, that it’s not really enough, and it’s not keeping pace with where our revenue projects are going,” said Mark. “And so that’s something I know I’m going to be advocating for.”

One of the Massachusetts politicians voicing that complaint is a colleague of Mark’s in the Berkshire delegation.

“When it comes to local aid, we are disappointed that number wasn’t higher, given where we are,” said Democrat Tricia Farley-Bouvier, who represents the 3rd Berkshire District on Beacon Hill. “We just have strong budget numbers this year, and I think we can give our municipalities more assistance.”

After a brutal winter wreaking havoc on local infrastructure, Farley-Bouvier says there’s plenty of need for more state money.

“There’s nothing like being in February and looking at potholes, right? And so, you know, that could definitely be funded more, it could be funded more- You know, I think the whole formula has to be adjusted,” she told WAMC. “But we could do a one-time cost if people are concerned about putting things in programmatically. But, you know, I think it’s time you know, we invest more in our in our roads and bridges, especially the local roads. So you know, I think that number should have, the chapter 90 money could have been increased the unrestricted local aid, I think should have been higher. And I would be supporting, you know, higher numbers in the House budget.”

Mark has his own checklist of local projects he’d like to see funded.

“Traditionally, I’ve done a lot of funding for opioid task forces and trying to make sure that there’s road money available for some of the smaller towns, especially, trying to make sure that the broadband project gets completed,” he told WAMC. “You know, Peru, we just got word is going to get the last little piece of funding we needed for one last street that remained and I know up in Savoy and Hawley, they’re having some problems getting their wireless network up and running that we’re trying to work on.”

There are concerns about the budget in the other chamber as well.

“I got a lot of strong, negative reaction from our schools,” said Democratic State Senator Adam Hinds, who is also running for lieutenant governor. with declining enrollment or low enrollment. And so we’ve seen that this budget, ultimately, is pretty, pretty flat, level funding for a lot of our schools that are experiencing challenges, despite our investments from the Student Opportunity Act. And so it really came through loud and clearly that we need to do more for our schools in Western Mass.”

Hinds says Baker’s plan is also light on investment in the COVID-19 recovery effort, with not enough funding for vaccination and testing.

“We’re trying to keep our foot on the gas pedal here, and we’re getting pushback,” said the state senator.

Like Mark, Farley-Bouvier says she’s happy to back Baker’s proposed tax cuts if they benefit low- and middle-income residents.

“Especially in all that we’ve been going through for the last two years,” she told WAMC. “And if we have a healthy budget, I think that makes sense. However, I’m extremely concerned about what’s in the details of this, because it appears from what I’m hearing from advocacy groups that these tax cuts actually very much disproportionately benefit, higher income groups. And so, you know, I think it’s important for the legislature to take a very, very close look at that.”

Mark says he expects the House’s version of the budget to come in above Baker’s initial $48.5 billion proposal. Hinds says he expects the legislature to start taking up the spending plan in earnest starting in April.

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