This is the second in a series of interviews with the Berkshire representative delegation on local budget priorities for fiscal 2019. The interview with state Rep. Paul Mark can be found here.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Each representative across the commonwealth has filed a number of amendments to the state's fiscal 2019 budget for specific projects in their district.
This year, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier is putting all of her efforts behind just one: St. Mary the Morningstar.
"This year my priority is going to be the morning star housing project at St. Mary's Church. There are some funding gaps there," she said.
"The story of St. Mar'ys is almost storied at this point. It is cool the way the community came together to fight back against what I consider a very poor decision for development. And market rate housing couldn't be a better use for that property. I think it will leverage some serious activity down there."
The Pittsfield Democrat has filed an amendment request $200,000 be directed toward that project. Developer David Carver has purchased the campus and is looking to create 29 market rate housing units in the former church buildings.
Farley-Bouvier said she worked on legislation to get the Transformative Development Initiative started and then funded. Pittsfield ultimately got into the program that focused on Morningside, where St. Mary's Church is one of the largest redevelopment sites on Tyler Street.
She feels the redevelopment will bring young professionals to the neighborhood and ultimately kick-start the opening of new restaurants and coffee shops.
On statewide initiatives, she is particularly looking to ensure funding for early education. She said this year she'll be advocating for an increased salary reserved for preschool teachers. That would allow providers to apply for money to pay for salaries of teachers.
"We've done a lot over the last several years to require and support early ed teachers to get their associates, to get their bachelor's, and some even get their master's and then we continue to pay them at minimum wage or just above that," Farley-Bouvier said.
"We really want to raise the profession of early educators."
The focus stems from her work with the Progressive Caucus, which has prioritized early education. Farley-Bouvier said she was lucky this year because increases to that line are already in the proposal.
"Both the new chair of Ways and Means [Jeffrey Sanchez] and the Speaker [Robert Deleo] are very aligned with the progressive caucus when it comes to early education. We have found we don't need to file amendments because the funding came through," Farley-Bouvier said.
Last year, Farley-Bouvier had gotten a budget amendment allocating money for Pittsfield to retain two preschool classes that would have been cut from the local budget. She said Chapter 70 funding for education is increased in the budget proposal and she won't need to advocate for another budget amendment for that.
Gov. Charlie Baker had increased the Chapter 70 amount and Farley-Bouvier said the House Ways and Means budget increased it even further. That will provide extra funds for cities and towns. In Pittsfield's case, for example, the School Department is proposing to bring back kindergarten paraprofessionals and enhance its therapeutic program. Those initiatives will be covered by the increased state funding.
The state's budget is also expected to increase local aid to cities and towns.
Another amendment Farley-Bouvier is supporting is for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. That program provides free legal support to low-income residents. Farley-Bouvier said she is looking to bolster that program. She is also backing funding for youth works programs.
The budget debate starts on Monday and there is uncertainty. Farley-Bouvier is particularly waiting for a proposal for MassHealth after the House rejected the governor's proposal to move thousands of people to new plans. Farley-Bouvier said Baker's proposal would be a detriment to the working poor.
"We work really hard to smooth out what we call the cliff effect. Once you start working, someone who is on assistance starts earning a little bit of money, and then you start to lose benefits until the point where it cost you more to work than to not be working," Farley-Bouvier said, adding that the governor's plan would further that cliff.
"He needs to find a way and not balance the budget on the backs of the working poor. These are working people. A lot of people get upset about giving benefits to people who don't work. These are, by definition, working people."
There are also questions on revenues. Right now, the state is some $800 million over benchmarks. But, Farley-Bouvier said that isn't likely going to hold. She said a lot of people filed taxes early to take advantage of federal laws and she expects a typical April bump in revenues to come in lower than in the past.
Nonetheless, she said there will still be some additional revenue to work with as opposed to prior years when revenues were routinely coming in short.
"That makes it better than being under. There is a little bit more wiggle room," Farley-Bouvier said. "That being said, there are worries. There is a ballot question that would cut the sales tax down to 5 percent. That's $600 million less in our budget."
Outside of the budget debate, Farley-Bouvier said the state is funding five more recovery centers and she is working with the Crane Center on an application to be one of those.
"It is widely utilized. The numbers are just unbelievable and I want to make sure we get some state funding to keep that going," Farley-Bouvier said.
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