Lawmakers Discuss Balancing Budget Priorities At Pittsfield Senior Center

 

By Andy McKeever

iBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire delegation said Friday that the decrease in state income tax will make it difficult to fully fund programs.
Massachusetts voters approved in 2000 a formula that reduces the income tax if state revenues hit certain targets.
The state income tax has dropped from 5.85 percent to now, in 2016, 5.1. The decrease translates to less revenue going to state coffers with this year’s losses estimated at $75 million.
“We have essentially cut $600 million out of revenue [since 2012],” state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, said at a legislative forum on Friday held by the Ralph Froio Senior Center.

Downing said the income tax decrease gives more money back to the weathiest in the state, leading the agencies

State Rep. Paul Mark talked about sharing services in the small, rural communities.

State Rep. Paul Mark talked about sharing services in the small, rural communities.

serving the poorer population to fight over a smaller pool of state dollars. That is coupled with health care costs — the largest part of the state budget — growing, meaning there is even less money for agencies like the Council on Aging.

“It quickly eats up all new revenue,” the senator said.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, says senior centers are vying for the same funds that lawmakers have been asked to provide for more beds for those addicted to opioids and to the Department of Children and Families, which has had children die under its care because of shortages of staff.
“There are very, very real competing needs out there,” Farley-Bouvier said.
State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, compared the budgeting process to a home, saying there are projects one would like to do — such as a new kitchen — and projects someone has to do — like a new roof. Lawmakers spend their time balancing the numerous needs to allocate state fund accordingly.
In the Berkshires, there is a growing senior population, Pignatelli said, so while the available revenues to support senior centers, councils on aging, or transportation programs are declining, the needs are growing. He said the small rural towns in the Berkshires need to find ways to collaborate more to help reduce costs. With smaller populations, the towns can no longer support all of the services needed on their own, he said.
“Why can’t we have shared public safety? Why can’t we consolidate schools?” Pignatelli said.
State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said some towns in his district are already doing that. He said in Greenfield the senior center has reached partnerships with transportation companies to provide the services to the smaller communities around them.
“This is an issue that goes beyond senior services,” Mark said. “As fewer people live out here, we have to find ways to work together.”
The lawmakers called on constituents to advocate for their programs and get to know their lawmakers. And they, in turn, will push for those priorities in the State House.
“Forty-one thousand isn’t that many people. There is no reason we can’t get to know each other better,” Farley-Bouvier said. “Your state government is accessible to you.”
Downing said Gov. Charlie Baker understands the concern over rising health-care costs and he listens to the needs of communities.
“With the governor, you have someone who really cares about the details, especially on the finances,” Downing said. “If you can make the case on the numbers, you’ll have an ally.”
When it comes to senior care, Pignatelli said the Berkshire delegation has always been focused on ensuring those services. Now caring for his 92-year-old father, he understands the challenges such as transportation.
“Senior care has been a staple of the delegation,” Pignatelli said.
The lawmakers have all been in office for multiple years, so the needs for senior care isn’t new. Mayor Linda Tyer gave her support to help move some of the initiatives for senior care forward on the local level. Those include providing affordable housing, increased public safety, and sidewalks in good condition — all items cited in the age-friendly community designation.
“We are very fortunate that we have a close working relationship with our state delegation,” Tyer said.