Recently, I participated in the Governor’s effort to engage those with the biggest stake in state government – its citizens — in one of the most crucial aspects of governing: developing the state budget.
Budget forums are being held across the state to ensure that you have a say in how money gets spent here in Massachusetts. My first forum was held in Framingham and we talked about the Commonwealth’s projected budget shortfall of nearly $3 billion for 2011. I noted that despite the crisis, in 2010, a record $4 billion was allocated for education funding, an all-time high. The Governor also preserved $970 million in funding for state colleges and universities and was able to ensure that over 97% of Massachusetts citizens have health insurance. When faced with having to make tough choices, this administration is determined to always make those decisions based on what is best for the citizens of this state.
Of course, the Recovery Act has been a critical factor in managing the Commonwealth’s budget. (And I’m not just saying that because I run the state’s Recovery office…) Over $4 billion has been awarded so far and more than $1.5 billion has been spent on direct benefits while over $609 million has been spent on programs and infrastructure projects through state agencies.
When I talked about the Governor’s commitment to what he calls “Choices Based on Values,” the theme seemed to resonate in a way that I would not have predicted. I was struck by the degree to which the people in the audience wanted to talk not just about the decisions that we make but also about how we make these decisions and what kinds of values these decisions will reflect.
Don’t get me wrong – not everybody agreed on everything, which is fine. There was lively discussion, some debate, some strong disagreements. But everyone was engaged in a very respectful discussion of some really tough choices. I was thrilled to hear from many involved citizens who had questions on Recovery Act funding for low-income housing (there is, by the way) and small businesses (there are three new loan programs through the federal Small Business Administration).
I heard about concerns that wages are falling and that there needs to be more federal funding for special education. One person was worried that too many small business jobs are moving out of the state. He wanted to see the state invest more in small businesses.
Every complaint, every recommendation and even every criticism was duly noted. I conducted this forum to give citizens a voice and I want you to know that not only were you heard but your words are also compelling many of us in state government to do better, take action and serve you better.
Of course, I couldn’t end the session without pointing out the local Recovery Act projects. The South Middlesex Vocational Technical School received $399k in funding while $12.5 million in Recovery funds went to the Route 9 resurfacing project. The Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly’s Morton and Etta Shillman House received $2.9 million in Recovery funds.
But enough about my department — I want to hear from you. Let me know what areas you think are important to preserve and what state services you would be willing to do without. Use the comments section and feel free to ask me questions about the Recovery Act, or let me know how you think we in state government can do our job better. After all, as I said, no one has a bigger stake in all this than you.