April 28, 2016
BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS
The lowlights of the Mass House Ways and Means Committee FY 2017 state budget proposal
Time for a look at the latest act of the Commonwealth’s annual fiscal circus: the House Ways and Means Committee (HWMC) FY 2017 budget proposal.
As with the governor’s FY 2017 proposal three months back, I’m simply going to give readers a taste of the worst proposed cuts culled from the ever-helpful analytical reports that the Mass Budget and Policy Center (MBPC) releases at each stage of the budget process. If you’d like to check out all the details – and I highly recommend that you do—you can find the latest MBPC budget report at massbudget.org.
Beyond the outright reductions I review below, most other programs are slated to be level-funded or given slight increases—both of which amount to further cuts by failing to keep up with inflation. Meaning that if the HWMC budget proposal is enacted, our state’s financial situation will continue its downward spiral. Unless the Mass political establishment finally does the right thing and raises taxes on corporations and the rich to properly fund state government again. And that isn’t happening without a grassroots mass movement that hasn’t materialized yet.
The main bright spot in the HWMC proposal is a modest increase in funding for local public schools. According to MBPC: “The proposal both directly increases Chapter 70 funding (state aid to local school districts) by more than the Governor recommended and funds a reserve account that can supplement Chapter 70 aid for districts that were adversely affected by changes in the ways the state counts low-income students.” Which is nice, but not enough—especially with hundreds of millions of state K-12 education dollars being regularly dumped on charter schools.
Otherwise, there’s potentially good news for a few other programs—like the State Police getting a whopping $20.6 million increase (7.8 percent) to add new troopers to their ranks. Joy.
But overall, the HWMC proposal will slash the budgets of a large number of vital social programs in a time of continuing economic crisis. Read on for some of the disquieting particulars:
Environment & Recreation
The FY 2017 HWMC budget proposal would cut $16.1 million (7.6 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. Leaving $196.7 million. A .6 percent larger cut than the Governor’s proposal. Specific hits include gutting the Department of Environmental Protection with a very nasty cut of $4.4 million (15 percent) from current FY 2016 levels.
Funds for affordable housing, and shelter and services to homeless people. The FY 2017 HWMC budget proposal would cut $46.5 million (9.51 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. For a total of $442.3 million. A 4.96 percent larger cut than the governor’s proposal.
This program used to be called welfare in (slightly) more honest times. It provides short-term help for poor individuals and families. The FY 2017 HWMC budget proposal would cut $27.2 million (3.9 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. For a total of $666.6 million. This represents a reduction of 35.9 percent since FY 2001 in inflation-adjusted dollars.
Other Human Services
A grab bag of programs in various areas—notably support for veterans. For example, the FY 2017 HWMC budget proposal would cut veterans’ services (including the Soldiers’ Homes) $4.6 million from current FY 2016 levels. For a total of $146.1 million. That’s $1.9 million less than the governor’s proposal.
Funds for programs that, among other things, help unemployed people find work. The FY 2017 HWMC budget proposal would cut $26.7 million (17.5 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. This includes painful cuts to: the One-Stop Career Centers that serve unemployed people (a $525,491 cut from both current FY 2016 levels and the Governor’s FY 2017 proposal—for a total of only $4 million), YouthWorks (formerly Summer Jobs Program for At-Risk Youth, a 23.1 percent cut from current FY 2016 levels, and a 21.7 percent cut from the governor’s proposal), and the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund that provides training for unemployed workers that got zero funding – while the governor’s proposal would increase FY 2017 funding $2.2 million from last year’s levels for a total of $4 million.
Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.
Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.