Ex-Senate Staffer Now in Municipal Government Experiences State Budget Differently

Monday, April 18, 2011

It was good to see the House Ways and Means Committee and its new chairman, Brian Dempsey of Haverhill, in action last Wednesday (April 13) during their press conference presenting the House version of the new state budget. Dempsey did a fine job running the show, especially when you consider that the $30.45 billion budget package he brought with him contains a number of items that are hard for some traditional Democratic constituencies to swallow. (Yes, that was the head of the firefighters' union at the front of the room, just steps from members of the Way and Means Committee, grimacing like someone about to be wheeled into an operating room.)

The budget blues are inevitable when you consider that (a) Ways and Means had to address a $1.9 billion deficit, (the difference between built-in expenses and projected state income for the fiscal year that will begin July 1), and (b) the federal government has turned off the recovery money spigot it opened in late-2008 to help get the states through the worst recession in 70 years.

But I would have found the press conference worthwhile if for no other reason than the chance conversation I had, as the event was breaking up, with a former longtime staff person in the Massachusetts Senate. This gentleman now works for the mayor of one of our older cities, a place that has seen better days. I hadn't bumped into him in several years. "How is it to be back in this building?" I asked. "Good, good," he said, as people patted him on the arm and shoulder as they walked by. "You are missed," I said, adding, "How does your job now compare to your old job?" He hesitated a moment and said, "When I was in this building, it was like being in the Pentagon. Where I am now is like being in a foxhole." Knowing the city this man helps to run and the kind of answer-defying problems they have to deal with there night and day, I didn't need an explanation.

"People make decisions at the State House, they have to make the tough decisions," I said, "but you have to live with the results of those decisions." "Right," he said, but it was not a mournful acknowledgement. To the contrary, he seemed to exude energy. "You look good! The work agrees with you," I said. "How do you like working for the mayor?" "Oh, I'd walk into a burning building for him," he said. I envied his strength and determination, even as I hoped that the fires awaiting him would be of the manageable variety.

I soon learned that the state is planning to cut funding to the venerable Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program by $2.6 million, from $12.4 to $9.8 million (20%!) in the next fiscal year. WIC provides supplemental food, nutritional education and health care referrals to about 130,000 low-income women, many of whom no doubt reside in the city where the former Senate staffer serves. My guess is his phone was ringing about WIC before he even got back to the front lines of public service...House Budget Tidbit: By the deadline for members of the Massachusetts House to file proposed amendments to the new House budget, (5:00 P.M., Friday, April 15), 758 amendments had been submitted to the House Clerk.

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