Category Archives: State Budget

One Percent for Nature

by Jack Clarke

Note: This Op Ed is also running in several regional newspapers statewide, including the Gloucester Daily Times.

Last spring on WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, Governor Charlie Baker called the state’s park system a “really big deal” and said there was “no question” that over the past decade “the state’s disinvested in this stuff.” He then reiterated his campaign promise to dedicate 1 percent of the overall state budget to the environment. “We’re going to get there. It’s going to take a few years,” he said. This month he files his third budget, and it is time “to get there.”

There is little question that Massachusetts has a revenue problem, not a spending problem, and the nature of Massachusetts is short-changed because of it.

Of this year’s $40 billion state budget, only 0.6 percent is devoted to environmental programs – programs like the establishment and operation of state forests and parks, along with programs that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the lands we live, work and play on.

Halibut Point State Park in Rockport is one of the approximately 150 state parks in Massachusetts. Photo credit: MassDCR

Spending on the environment needs to be increased to no less than 1 percent of the overall state budget, especially as the White House and Congress prepare to cut spending on America’s environmental well-being.

The last time we spent 1 percent on nature was in 2009. And even though he promised to achieve that 1 percent, last year Gov. Baker actually cut environmental spending by 7 percent compared to the previous year.

Budget cuts are made for two reasons:

First, in preparing the budget and figuring out how much they will have to spend, the Legislature makes overly optimistic projections on what will be available through tax revenues throughout the year. When the money fails to come in, shortfalls arise with environmental line-items often most vulnerable.

Second, once they imagine how much money will be available, the Legislature drafts a budget based on its revenue projections and then employs gimmicks to patch it together. Lawmakers count things such as funds set aside for rainy day emergencies, delaying on-time payment of bills, selling of state property, and state pensions and retiree health care funds.

The Legislature then submits to the governor a so-called balanced budget with a built-in structural deficit. The dance continues with the governor then vetoing certain sections of the Legislature’s budget; the Legislature then overrides those vetoes, and the governor once again cuts budget items for his agencies to reflect a shortfall in revenue income.

The second reason environmental and other basic programs are underfunded is because of a lack of actual revenue.

Revenues are not keeping up with costs. We are not over-spending, and we have not had any spending increases. As the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center points out, general expenditures are consistently at 12 cents for every dollar the state collects. And that’s where they have been since the late 1980s.

The state Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) also receives funding from the state budget. Here, DER assisted with a habitat restoration project as  former cranberry bog was transformed in the headwaters of the Eel River. Photo credit: Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration

The problem is tax cuts. Cutting programs is always part of solving state financial problems. But we have to realize that we do not do more with less, as the voters demand; we do less with less. Those cuts started in a big way at the turn of the millennium when, in a ballot initiative, Bay Staters voted to cut the state income tax rate from 5.95 percent to 5 percent. That translates into an annual $2 billion reduction in what the state can spend on the public’s health, safety and well-being.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation has shown that the gap between projected revenue and spending to maintain current services is $800 million. So the problem is on the tax side. Before the 2000 initiative, the state was taking in 7 cents on every dollar earned — now it’s around 6 cents.

Last year, the governor’s fiscal year 2017 budget recommended $200 million for environment and recreation programs, a cut of $14 million below the fiscal year 2016 budget. Those cuts have to stop and the environmental budget must be restored.

Ironically, it is one of the smallest parts of the state budget that effects every resident of the commonwealth and is often the first to be cut. It is time for Beacon Hill to get back to devoting 1 percent to the nature of Massachusetts in the upcoming budget.

Jack Clarke is director of public policy and government relations.

Mass Audubon’s Legislative Priorities for the 2017-2018 Session

by Karen Heymann

As we head into a new legislative session on Beacon Hill we are rolling out Mass Audubon’s legislative priorities, along with a fresh legislative report card (to be released in February) on the prior 2015-2016 session.

And while we can’t promise perfect scores for all, we can promise that the votes we score are based on the environmental roll call votes that align with our legislative priorities, which we deliver to every Senator and Representative at the start of each session.

Activity is ramping up again at the Massachusetts State House with the start of the 2017-2018 session

For over 100 years Mass Audubon has advocated for the nature of Massachusetts, and our legislative priorities reflect our continued full court press on climate change, land conservation and wildlife protection.

Some of our top priorities you will recognize from last session: climate adaptation, Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding, and land conservation tax credits. The good news is that some progress was made last session on climate adaptation in the form of an executive order by Governor Baker, and that House and Senate leaders are actively discussing the need for creating new revenue – something we have not heard in recent years.

Coastal properties like these will be more vulnerable to sea level rise if climate change continues at current rates. Photo credit: John Phelan

Our priorities focus on creating a long-term, statutorily-required process around climate change preparedness; pushing for more funding for a green budget, CPA, and land protection; and expanding the state’s focus on pollinator health to include a broad range of pollinator species as well as their habitat.

We will plan to rally other organizations and members around key issues, meet with legislators one-on-one, hold legislative briefings, testify at committee hearings, and keep our readers up to date on our needs and progress. Stay tuned for detailed fact sheets, updates on bill numbers and ways you can get involved!

Karen Heymann is Legislative Director

The Intern Intel Report #3

By Kylie Armo

Kylie here, back with a final report on my summer as a Conservation Policy Intern at Mass Audubon.

July 31st, 2016 marked the end of formal sessions in the 2015-2016 Massachusetts legislative session, and the last few weeks have revolved around pushing through a final round of legislation and getting a jump start on preparations for next session.

End of the Session Rush

Once formal sessions have concluded, all bills in the House or the Senate that haven’t made it through the entire legislative process and been enacted into law automatically die. In order for these bills to be considered further, they must be re-introduced during the next session and start again from square one. Consequently, everyone from legislators to lobbyists is keen to push through their priority bills before the clock runs out.

At Mass Audubon’s Legislative Affairs office, we primarily focused on the enactment of An Act to promote energy diversity (H. 4385, aka the “energy bill”), and more specifically the inclusion of a climate adaption management plan (CAMP) within that bill. My latest contributions to CAMP advocacy involved the delivery throughout the State House of materials aimed at raising climate resiliency awareness. With that goal in mind, I delivered informational packets on CAMP to the energy bill conference committee members and distributed invitations to a Boston sea level rise presentation to all legislators.

Though the energy bill was successfully passed on July 31st, and included landmark offshore wind procurements, our climate adaptation provisions were unfortunately stripped from the final bill. All is not lost however, and Mass Audubon will continue to push for climate legislation on Beacon Hill.

The comprehensive energy bills mandates the largest procurement of offshore wind in the nation

The comprehensive energy bill mandates the nation’s largest offshore wind procurement. Photo credit: Kim Hansen

Thinking Ahead to 2017  

In the midst of these final acts of formal policy making, plans and preparations for the next legislative session are also being formulated.

I recently attended a meeting focused on water policy at The Nature Conservancy that included planning for the 2017-2018 session. Comprised of advocates dedicated to the protection of the Commonwealth’s water resources, the group reviewed their positions on water legislation and discussed policy priorities for the next session. As climate models project that Massachusetts’ current drought conditions will only become more frequent and intense in the future, engagement with sustainable water polices at the state level is increasingly important.

The Quabbin Reservoir is the primary water source for Boston

The Quabbin Reservoir is the primary water source for Boston. Photo credit: Alexander Glazkov

Another recent meeting focused on the preparation of the Environmental League of Massachusetts’s (ELM) recommendations for the FY18 state budget, which are annually circulated via their Green Budget publication. ELM’s Green Budget, which Mass Audubon supports and advocates for each year, urges funding for environmental agencies at levels enabling them to sufficiently fulfill their duties and safeguard the health of Massachusetts citizens and natural resources. For the past few years, just 0.6% of the state operating budget has been allocated to the environment – that’s less than a penny for every dollar in the budget. Organizations like ELM and Mass Audubon want to restore environmental funding to at least 1% of the total operating budget.

Witnessing strategies being developed for the next legislative session serves as an inspiring reminder that there are skilled, passionate, and hard-working advocates fighting each and every day to ensure that our laws protect the people and nature of Massachusetts. I have been fortunate to work and learn alongside these individuals and organizations, particularly as a team member of Mass Audubon, a leader in the field whose engagement with conservation policy is thoughtful, science-based, and impactful.

It has certainly been an educational and unforgettable summer. Thanks for reading and following along on my journey – I hope it has provided some interesting insight into environmental policy on Beacon Hill!

Kylie Armo is Conservation Policy Intern, Summer 2016

Help Trailside Keep its Funding in the State Budget

Update: Great news! The legislature voted to override the Governor’s veto that included Trailside funding, restoring the full $500,000 originally designated for Trailside. Thanks to everyone who contacted their legislator to help make this happen!

Original post: In reviewing the budget submitted to him by the legislature earlier this month, Governor Baker made $256 million in cuts through vetoes. Unfortunately, these cuts included Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum funding.

Legislators began making overrides to select vetoes last weekend, but so far they have not taken action on the Trailside cut. They still have a chance to make this change during formal sessions this weekend. Please contact your legislator to tell them you support funding for Trailside in the budget.

Trailside Museum Sanctuary Director Norman Smith educating visitors. Photo © Kent Harnois

Trailside Museum Sanctuary Director Norman Smith educating visitors. Photo © Kent Harnois

Trailside is the interpretive center for the state-owned Blue Hills Reservation and features a natural history museum and outdoor exhibits of rescued wildlife. Mass Audubon operate the museum in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, which means we receive a crucial component of Trailside’s funding through the state budget each fiscal year.

A quick call or email to your legislator asking them to support Trailside funding (within line item 2810-0100) in the state budget can make a big difference. Thank you for your advocacy!