Local Aid to Billerica
Increase in Local Aid
As a result of the struggling economy, many areas of state funding were cut in order to balance the budget, including government aid to cities and towns. I co-sponsored a creative solution to these cuts aimed at maintaining funding for local aid at its current level. Under the proposal, which was unanimously adopted by the Legislature, Billerica received an additional $354,000 in local aid.
Chapter 90 Transportation Funding
Each year the state provides cities and towns with a reimbursement for eligible road projects. This funding is capped and distributed proportionally to each municipality based on a number of factors, including the size of the municipality and the number of road miles. Traditionally the total amount of Chapter 90 funding available to all cities and towns was roughly $155M. This year, however, economic conditions spurred the Legislature to provide $200M in Chapter 90 reimbursement monies in order to spur job growth from these transportation projects.
State Government Reforms
This legislation made many changes to the current pensions system and will potentially save the Commonwealth $6.4B over the next 30 years. Highlights include increasing the retirement age from 55 to 60, increasing the average of highest 3 years to highest 5 years for pension calculation, and mandating members who serve in more than 1 group to pro-rate benefits based upon the total years of service that member rendered in each group.
Municipal Health Insurance
This important reform provides flexibility and relief for cities and towns. In order to curb yearly increases in municipal employee health insurance rates, lawmakers crafted a proposal to bring municipal health insurance plans in line with those offered to state employees who are enrolled in the Group Insurance Commission (GIC). The final legislation adopted provides a 30-day negotiation window for a municipality and local labor to either transfer employees into the GIC or to implement design changes to the current plan that would bring it into alignment with ones offered by the GIC. This reform is already saving cities and towns millions of dollars.
Following reports of patronage hires in the courts, the Legislature took the first step in reforming court administration. The legislation passed places the financial and administrative responsibilities with a professional court administrator rather than the Chief Justice of Administration and Management. Perhaps most important, the bill reforms the hiring process, allowing legislator recommendations to be considered only in the final stage of the hiring process and making all written recommendations public record. While not a perfect reform, this was a step in the right direction.
The Commonwealth's alimony system has been viewed for years as deeply flawed and one of the most generous to the recipient of alimony payments in the country. Lifetime alimony payments were permissible, with little consideration of the recipient's income or assets. This reform creates different types of alimony categories with clear durational limits, thus providing judges with clear guidelines for alimony judgments.
Education Collaborative Reform
After a stunning report by the Inspector General and State Auditor in the summer of 2011 uncovered that the executives and board members of several of the Commonwealth's 30 education collaboratives were guilty of vast fiscal mismanagement (such as the extreme $30 million case at the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative), the Legislature took action. In early 2012 we passed a bill that brought significant reform in terms of transparency, reporting, accounting, and auditing practices.
A Strong Voice for the Taxpayers
5-5-5 Tax Plan
During the legislative session, I have supported bills and amendments to roll the income, sales, and business tax to 5%. Additionally, I sponsored a bill and amendment that would have provided for a week-long Meals Tax Holiday during the slowest restaurant week of the year (March 18-23). I also wrote an amendment that would have reduced the sales tax to 5.75%. Unfortunately these items were either voted down or sent to committee to die. I will continue to work for a reduction in tax rates that unjustly burden Massachusetts residents.
Shutting Down "Informal Session"
Due to a constitutional requirement, the House must meet at least every 72 hours. As a result, the Legislature will meet in "informal sessions" where no roll calls are expected and often only a hand full of legislators are present in the chamber. Any piece of legislation voted on during these informal sessions needs only one 'no' vote to fail and the session can be shutdown if even one legislator questions the presence of a quorum.
During the informal sessions on October 14-15, Representative Jim Lyons of Andover and I refused to allow the passage of a $500M spending bill because an amendment that originally passed with the budget was stripped out. This amendment would have required the Governor's Office to produce a report on the cost of providing healthcare services to illegal immigrants in Massachusetts. At the end of day two the Governor's Office agreed to produce the report without legislation requiring it. The result was a report that detailed the nearly $100M in emergency medical services that were provided to 55,000 illegal immigrants in Massachusetts during Fiscal 2011.
The House GOP caucus was successful in offering and having adopted within the Fiscal 2011 Supplemental Budget (H.3737) an amendment establishing a commission to study the use of electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards and the cost of requiring the Department of Transitional Assistance to include on the cards a photograph of the cardholder. This commission will hopefully provide the Commonwealth with further insight into how we can best prevent inappropriate use of EBT cards.
Creating Jobs and Helping the Economy
Unemployment Rate Freeze
Due to a number of factors, including the State's high unemployment rate, the amount Massachusetts businesses would pay for unemployment insurance was scheduled to increase from $644/job to $872/job. To prevent this added expense for businesses, the Legislature froze the unemployment rate charged to businesses in both 2011 and 2012.
The Gaming Bill, which allows for expanded gaming throughout the Commonwealth, is projected to create 15,000 jobs and several hundred millions of dollars in the years to come. Republicans argued successfully for the inclusion of certain important provisions, among them: transparency for the many newly created funds, protections and enhancements for local aid, and transparency and predictability in the dispersal of monies to cities and towns for important local initiatives.
GOP Jobs Package
After a tour across Massachusetts, including nearby Andover, where we listened to business leaders talk about the challenges they face daily, the Republican Caucus sponsored a job package focused on creating a business-friendly environment in Massachusetts that would create jobs and prosperity.
Highlights of the proposed GOP Jobs Package include:
- Business Regulations: Reduce costs for employers, reform the current unemployment insurance paradigm, and streamline and consolidate processes for businesses.
- Education: Empower vocational schools by strengthening collaborations with community colleges and employers, improve overall access to higher education, and qualify veterans for licensure and/or academic credit at public institutions of higher learning.
- Energy: Decrease the cost of electricity for businesses and ratepayers, increase the efficiency of green initiatives, and promote cost-effective renewable energy.
- Healthcare: Shift focus to the consumer, increase options for employers and employees, and make healthcare affordable for all.
- Taxes: Reduce commercial vehicle registration fees, simplify and eliminate corporate fees and taxes, incentivize first-time homebuyer savings accounts, and establish a job creation tax credit.
Keeping Billerica Whole - Redistricting
Following the completion of the decennial census, the representative and senatorial districts of the General Court are required to be redrawn to account for the change in population over the last decade. There was rhetoric and concern about the prospect of Billerica being cut up during this process. Through hard work with the redistricting committee, I was proud to have been able to keep Billerica as its own State Representative District.
Welcome Homes Bonus Funding Increase
The House GOP Caucus was able to secure increased funding for the Welcome Home Bonus account by $700K within the Fiscal 2012 Supplemental Budget. Given the President's recent announcement to draw down the number of troops in Iraq, it made sense to secure a portion of the $395 million in anticipated surplus revenue to ensure the Commonwealth's 11,000 deployed service members would receive up to $1,000 when they return from active deployment.
At the time the legislation was filed, Massachusetts was one of only four states in the Nation that had failed to address the growing issue of human trafficking. This legislation makes human trafficking a criminal offense and gives prosecutors new tools to target prostitution and forced labor networks. It also includes a Republican-sponsored amendment to make repeat offenders subject to a mandatory minimum sentence.
Following the murder of Woburn police officer John Maguire and passage of a crime bill by the Senate, the House finally took action on a version of the Habitual Offenders Bill. The bill, based on Melissa's Bill, targets the worst criminal offenders in the Commonwealth. This bill would ensure that an offender convicted of certain violent offenses who has been convicted twice previously of one or more violent offenses, will be considered a habitual offender and be punished by imprisonment for the maximum term provided by law for the third offense. The bill includes language to require that parole for life sentences only be granted by a two-thirds vote of the parole board, and that the AG, DA, Chief of Police, and victim be notified in writing of parole hearings for an offender convicted of a violent crime who has served more than 5 years.