A new state budget approved by the Legislature this week includes $43.1 billion in spending, but to local lawmakers it is often the little things that matter most.
And this year those little things added up to a lot as increased state revenue allowed for a free flow of amendments and earmarks that contributed to a $1.6 billion increase in spending.
“Every member got everything they wanted. It was very, very unusual,” state Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, said Wednesday.
In tougher fiscal times, she said, lawmakers really have to fight to get amendments added to the budget for their district, but not this year.
The budget passed 158-0 in the House and 39-1 in the Senate.
The spending includes larger than usual increases in state aid to cities, towns and school departments.
“Quite frankly, the communities need the revenue based on the demands put on them by the state government and the federal government,” Poirier said.
When it came to amendments, Poirier said she was successful in her annual fight to get funding for the Children’s Advocacy Center in Fall River, which deals with child abuse throughout Bristol County.
That amendment was for $500,000.
When it came to North Attleboro specifically, she got $50,000 for the town swimming pool and $50,000 toward converting the Allen Avenue School into a community center.
State Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, got $50,000 for North Attleboro schools for a hands-on science and technology facility. She filed the amendment at the request for former school committee member Adam Scanlon.
State Sen. Paul Feeney, D-Foxboro, said his successful amendments included $22,500 for the Attleboro Fire Department for machines to clean fire gear and remove carcinogens.
Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux has already purchased one set of the washing and drying machines, but Feeney got funding for a second set.
Heroux said he was happy to hear the news as it will save the city money on equipment he had agreed to purchase.
Feeney and state Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, were also able to get $50,000 in seed money toward a proposed homeless shelter in Attleboro.
Hawkins said he and others also got a $550,000 amendment to help school districts such as Attleboro develop alternatives to standardized testing.
The $550,000 was an increase over the $400,000 lawmakers struggled to get last year.
“We did well. I’m excited,” Hawkins said. “The things I had my hands on worked.”
While the budget pleased legislators, fiscal conservative were not happy.
They pointed out that a conference committee came up with a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the budget by approving one that is higher than either chamber asked for.
“Only in Massachusetts could two sides enter into a secretive budget negotiation and end up with a spending figure this much higher than either side was asking for,” Paul Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said.
But, lawmakers said their districts need the help.
State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, for instance, said the budget will help regional schools like King Philip with transportation costs and all school departments with extraordinary special education bills.
As for his amendments, he said he and Rausch got:
$50,000 for the creation of a King Philip Regional Animal Shelter for the towns of Norfolk, Plainville, and Wrentham.
$50,000 for stormwater permitting requirements in Norfolk, Plainville, and Wrentham.
$30,000 for information technology improvements in Plainville.
$25,000 for the purchase of extrication tools for the Plainville Fire Department.
“I am ecstatic to have helped fund such large investments in the tri-town,” Dooley said. “From day one, my goal has been to make sure that the taxpayers of my district are able to benefit from a state government that is responsive to their needs. These key funding items are certainly a step in that direction.”
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