Governor Baker has an extra $ 500 million to dole out, maybe. Where will it go to ?

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The report issued by Auditor Suzanne Bump this week, that our state spent about $ 500 million for Medicaid billings, unnecessarily, has further tarnished the reputation of former Governor Patrick. He was already the butt of blame for a $ 250 million Health Connector failure; for mismanagement at Department of Families and Children; and for numerous Transportation confusions and collapses. Now this.

Less commented upon is that the $ 500 million duplication frees up quite a bit of state budget dollars for other needs. Governor Baker’s fiscal year 2016 budget identified about $ 161 million in  duplicative or ineligible Medicaid Spending. The Auditor found an amount more than triple that much. Some of the excess funds will surely be applied to the $ 1.8 billion shortfall anticipated for 2016; but I am thinking that many of the extra dollars will be applied now to pressing pr9ogrtajmns.

I don’;t really have to guess at this, it is happening even as I write. The Governor as allocated some $ 82.7 million for MBTA winterization work. Just today his office announced some $ 5 million for regional school transportation (link here : http://www.thelandmark.com/news/2015-06-18/Front_Page/Governor_Baker_grants_5_million_for_Regional_Schoo.html ) . Yesterday he announced some $ 1.25 million to fund the Shannon Grant youth safety and anti-gang initiative. (Link here : http://www.mass.gov/governor/press-office/press-releases/fy2015/1-25m-granted-to-combat-youth-violence-gang-activity.html ).

Fall River is getting $ 56,000 to combat gang violence ( link here : http://www.heraldnews.com/article/20150618/NEWS/150616153 ) and Taunton, $ 45,000. The City of Lawrence is to receive extra funding for community outreach efforts. Clearly these grants will not be the only. Clearly Governor Baker is awarding state funding to cities on a case by case basis.

That’s how Baker operates : careful decisions, one by one where possible. Granting funds to communities separately allows the public to recognize (and judge) them separately — as I am doing in this column. This is part of the baker system for creating transparency.

That said, the bulk of the $ 500 million found by Auditor Bump seems available still; so, where will it be allocated to ? The Governor has not yet said — at least tome — but surely much of that money will go to the following : conservation, probably including Cambridge’s magazine Beach reclamation; early education expansion, where feasible; addition chapter 70 funding for public school districts, especially to foster growth of charter schools and other school innovation; and some money, surely, to pay for the infrastructure that will be needed first by the Boston 2024 Olympics, later by all the rest of us.

Allocating this money, if it happens, will relieve the fiscal year 2017 state budget of some of the new funding demand s sure to be made after two budget years of retrenchment. That’ll be welcome political news to Speaker DeLeo as to the Governor; because in a fiscal year in which state funds are available, there’s a long long line of supplicants wanting to have at it, each with a wri8ttem justification sure to rend your heart.

Certain to head the list of fiscal year 2017 supplicants is the T. It faces almost $ 7 billion of deferred maintenance, upgrades, repairs, and perhaps expansion. Baker’s top to bottom reform agenda for the T seems almost decided upon and ready for implementation now. If so, demands for new T funding will definitely follow. The mantra for ,most people has been “reform, then revenue.” With reform full in place this year, revenue cannot be put off.

And one other thing : the Carmen’s union threatens, if its present advantages are curbed, to invoke the Transit Act of 1974 and cut off Federal financial assistance to the T operation. The threat will portend much less if the Governor has a big part of $ 500 million extra dollars on hand to fill in where the Federal assistance pulls out.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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