Earmarks bulk up state budget   

Courtesy photo/Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester.

BOSTON — Money for police, food pantries, nonprofits and support programs for ex-inmates and the homeless are among local earmarks added to a nearly $43 billion House budget.

Lawmakers from Cape Ann and the North Shore filed dozens of requests to buoy cash-strapped municipal governments, local projects and programs.

Only a handful of the earmarks made it into the final House version of the budget, and it remains uncertain whether they'll survive final negotiations among House leaders or Gov. Charlie Baker's veto pen.

Overall, House lawmakers this week packed more than $65 million worth of amendments into the spending plan, which was expected to be approved Thursday night.

Among dozens of local earmarks, Rep. Ann Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, secured $150,000 for shellfish research by the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute in conjunction with the state Division of Marine Fisheries and University of Massachusetts at Amherst's marine station.

Ferrante also roped in $100,000 for The Open Door food pantry in Gloucester, which helped Coast Guard families and other workers affected by the recent federal government shutdown.

"Our community made a decision that when the federal government failed to provide for them, that we would pick up the slack," she said. "The Open Door made a good faith effort to expand their capacity to help provide for those families, so I wanted to help them out with some state funds."

A proposal by Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, would provide $1.5 million to expand a program that helps inmates ages 18 to 25 make the transition back into society following incarceration.

"We're trying to keep the recidivism rate down, especially among that age group," Tucker said. "This is a safety net program for people who are at-risk to ensure they are getting the kinds of services they need post-release, whether it's counseling or substance abuse treatment, so that they don't come back into the prison system."

Reps. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, Jim Kelcourse, R-Amesbury, and Tom Walsh, D-Peabody, secured $300,000 for the Home Works program that provides opportunities for homeless kids.

Rep. Brad Hill, D-Ipswich, secured $200,000 in state funding next year for public safety improvements in Ipswich, Hamilton, and Wenham.

Lawmakers also tacked on policy changes to the spending bill, including a proposal that would allow in-state wholesale lobster dealers to process unfrozen meat, import unfrozen shell-on lobster parts and allow for sale of processed lobster. Current laws require lobstermen and seafood dealers to sell or transport lobster out of the state for processing for parts.

Tucker and several other local lawmakers got approval for an amendment that would require the state to release tens of millions of dollars to regional tourism councils by Sept. 1. The issue has been a big concern for the councils, including two north of Boston, which have had to dig into their budgets as they awaited promised funds to promote the state.

House lawmakers filed nearly 1,400 amendments to the budget. Overall, the House budget seeks to increase state spending by 3 percent next fiscal year, or $1.8 million less Baker's preliminary budget filed in January.

State aid to cities and towns, used for everything from closing local budget gaps to fixing sidewalks, would increase by $30 million, to more than $1.12 billion.

Education aid would increase by $218 million to more than $5.1 billion.

Now that the House has wrapped up its budget, the spending package moves to the Senate for consideration. The fiscal year begins on July 1.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com.


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