By State Rep. Liz Malia
At the start of this year’s budget process, the governor’s budget recommended $39.5 billion in spending. Near the end of the budget process, the Baker administration indicated tax revenues were $750 million lower than previously projected, causing the legislature to lower their spending plan. This plan sent to the governor was scaled back to $39.15 billion. Despite the reduction, the governor handed down $256 million in additional cuts, which impacts funding for programs and services that sustain and make our community stronger. In the next couple of weeks, I will work with my colleagues to override many of the governor’s vetoes.
In the legislature’s final fiscal year 2017 budget, I helped to secure $125.7 million for substance abuse services, a $27 million increase over last year. These notable new investments for behavioral health included an additional 125 residential treatment beds, $3.1 million for Recovery High Schools, and $3 million for Medication Assisted Treatment in emergency rooms. Additionally, I helped to secure language that will allow the state Department of Public Health to fund more needle exchange programs, which are essential to reducing the transmission of diseases like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C and to connecting individuals with treatment.
Relative to my district priorities, I helped to secure $150,000 for Project Right, so that they can continue to provide substance abuse and trauma outreach, prevention, and intervention services for at-risk youth in the Grove Hall area of Dorchester. Additionally, a major priority of mine was to ensure proper funding of Roxbury Community College (RCC) and the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center. We were able to streamline the budget so both entities are now funded in separate line items. This allows for more direct and predictable funding to the Reggie Lewis Center without detracting academic funding from the college.
The vetoes made by the Baker administration cut approximately $1.7 million in substance abuse services, including Project Right and other important programs related to behavioral health. Unfortunately, Project Right was reduced by $50,000. Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee (MHLAC), which provides legal representation to indignant adults and children with mental health issues, was reduced by $11,000, compounding their already underfunded budget. Early Childhood Mental Health Services is a new program aimed to identify children most at-risk for behavioral health challenges and intervene early with the goal of reducing the likelihood of suspension. This funding of $50,000 was eliminated in the vetoes. Additionally, the Massachusetts Cultural Council line was drastically cut by 55 percent.
These vetoes are unacceptable. After careful review of the Baker administration’s budget, we are working with the House and the Senate leadership to override these cuts. The budget process is never easy, but I am confident we will secure the funding our community needs. I thank my constituents who have issued their support for the causes they care about most. I continue to welcome your advocacy to pass a state budget that is balanced and benefits everyone.
Local state Rep. Liz Malia, D-Jamaica Plain, was first elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1998. She is the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse.