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Legislative Viewpoint

Planning for a new budget with an eye toward our elders

paul markby State Representative Paul Mark, Second Berkshire District, Vice Chair, Committee on Rules

April is budget month in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The House Committee on Ways and Means releases an initial version of the Fiscal Year 2018 state budget on April 12. This initial version is the result of months of studying revenue numbers, evaluating the needs of constituents and state agencies, conducting multiple public hearings around the state, and considering the Governor’s budget requests from late January. Once the members of the House see this first draft plan, we have three days to offer amendments of our own, and a week after that to co-sponsor amendments that other legislators have filed. We then meet at the State House the last week of April to consider each and every line item, each and every amendment, and debate what we think should be included and what should be left out. The Senate follows the same process in May, the House and Senate versions are reconciled over the month of June, and the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

Every year, services for seniors are among the most important we fight for during that budget process. It is important as a legislator to look beyond numbers on a spreadsheet and to realize what those numbers actually represent. They represent services that are vital to residents of our commonwealth and money that is coming out of the pockets of hardworking people throughout Massachusetts. We strive to balance those two needs by finding budget items that result in the biggest bang for our limited dollars through programs that are investments that will end up saving us all money over time. Services for seniors are among the best investments we can make. Helping to keep people in their homes can both save money in the long run and improve the quality of life for someone who has paid into the system for many years. Preventative services like Meals on Wheels and transportation for medical treatment keep people healthy, safe, and living longer and better lives. That benefits everybody regardless of age in a profound way.

Throughout my time serving the people as state representative, I have never felt more uncertainty than I do this year as a result of the tone and news coming out of Washington, DC. As I write this, I have no idea what our national health care law, our federal budget, or attempts to change and possibly undermine Medicare and Social Security will look like. While Massachusetts can and will continue to lead on access to healthcare and services for our residents, we will be in a tough position if we are expected to backfill cuts that could top one billion dollars from the federal government. It is imperative that we all keep an eye on what is happening in congress, and let our federal delegation know that we support them in their efforts to fight unnecessary cuts that would be harmful to seniors, children, and our neighbors throughout Massachusetts.