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Baker shows his priorities

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Thursday Jul 23, 2015

Baker shows his priorities

By Sue O'Connell

When state lawmakers approved what many people saw as one of the most humane budgets the state had seen in a very long time, the political guessing game began: Would Baker sign the budget as it was? Or were those increases in investments designed to, as Senate Ways and Means Chair Karen Spilka wrote in her cover letter to the Senate's version of the budget, "foster upward economic mobility and greater equality for all residents" vulnerable?

We got our answer last Friday, July 17, and it wasn't the one we were hoping for.

Gov. Baker cut $162 million from the budget. Here are some of the highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be):

Baker vetoed $17.5 million of the $18.5 million lawmakers approved for kindergarten expansion grants. Many people do not realize that public schools are only obligated to provide half-day kindergarten classes, and in many communities, parents who would like their children to attend school for the full day have to pay a fee. For some in the Commonwealth, a $2,000 bill at the start of the school year isn't a big hit. But for most, it is. These grants offset full-day kindergarten fees and make free, full-day kindergarten a reality for five-year-olds across in the Commonwealth. These grants have the greatest impact in poor communities where the achievement gap facing children of color is measurable before the first day of school.

It's hard to square this veto with any public statements about having a commitment to education, and closing the achievement gap. With this veto, Baker has, for all intents and purposes, decimated that commitment. (changed from 'the program'). Couple it with his elimination of the state's preschool partnership initiative (from $500,000 to zero) and his cuts to targeted intervention ($8.4 million to $7.9 million); after-school and out-of-school grants ($2.3 million to $2.1 million); birth-through-preschool outreach ($12 million to $10 million); and childcare assistance for the poor ($236.9 million to $219.9 million) and you have to question Baker's commitment to educating our poorest kids. Honestly, he should be embarrassed.

He also cut $124,000 from three line items that fund public libraries. I have no idea of the impact of these cuts, but I do know that the notion that any public library in this state is fully funded is laughable.

Baker vetoed $3 million from a $90 million allocation to the state rental voucher program, which, as the name suggests, helps poor people obtain housing. He also cut nearly $300,000 from an $8.2 million allocation for housing court, which does serve mostly poor people dealing with conflicts related to housing, and has also been a huge help for people dealing with predatory mortgage lenders. I suppose he did this because affordable housing isn't a problem in Massachusetts?

Arts and culture
Baker vetoed a $2.3 million increase to the Massachusetts Cultural Council in order to keep its budget level with last year's allocation. Thanks to the work of MASSCreative, we know that even with this increase, the state's investment in arts and culture would only be half of what it was 25 years ago. MCC has done important work in targeting its grants so that they can be scaled to foster economic development in the downtowns of Gateway Cities like Pittsfield, Springfield, and Lynn. They also greatly expand access to art for kids who live in what are sometimes gently referred to as "under-resourced" communities.

The veto that made me laugh out loud was his elimination of $200,000 to fund a state climatologist. Maybe Baker wasn't kidding during his first run for governor when he said he doubted that climate change was real? I suppose we should admire his conviction in this fiction even after the devastation wrought on Massachusetts last winter?which was nothing if not an example of climate change in action.

There's more, much more. You can find a list online at this link: http://www.mass.gov/bb/gaa/fy2016/app_16/hvetosummary.htm

Lawmakers will return to formal session next week. Let's hope their first order of business will be to overturn Baker's vetoes and restore the priorities so elegantly laid out in the budget they approved July 8.