GOVERNOR BAKER’S FY 2017 BUDGET :FIRST LOOK

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^ presenting the 2017 Budget : Governor Baker with Lt Governor Polito (l) and Budget chief Kristen Lepore (r)

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Two days ago Governor Baker launched his proposal for next year’s State Budget. With Lieutenant Governor Polito at his side, and with his budget chief Kristen Lepore on stage as well, he spoke at length to 100 journalists by word and by graphs.

It’s a $ 39.6 billion dollar request and covers every sort of state service — some scarcely, others more generously. There were two surprises :

First, Baker proposes to pay the entire chapter 70 reimbursement money given to school districts in which students choose charter school options — including a substantial amount of reimbursement money that the state has previously agreed to pay but has not. The budget’s total chapter 70 fund gets a $ 72.1 million boost that includes $ 20 million to fund reimbursement.

Second, although Baker’s budget adds $ 187 million to the MBTA’s contract obligations, it says nothing about Green Line expansion. When I asked where Green Line expansion (through Somerville to West Medford) stood, he repeated what he has said for the past few months : that he is awaiting the Fiscal Control Board’s recommendations how to proceed and that the estimated $ 3 billion job cost cannot stand. As he told me, “we have to take care of what we have first because a million riders depend on it.”

I’ll say more about the Green Line later in this report, as well as other transit proposals.

Another key feature of the 2017 Baker budget is its $ 206 million deposit into the Stabilization Fund — fancy name for a cash reserve available in case the State’s revenues fall unexpectedly short. Many interests, from education to transit and roads to beds for opioid addicts in treatment, would surely like to have that $ 206 million, but Baker is right to set it aside, given that even his fiscally cautious budget admits to a $ 635 million gap between expenses and revenue. (To be sure, this figure is an improvement over FY 2015’s $ 1.8 billion “gap.”)

Mas for soending mite, the budget provides some $ 30.5 million to pay for 281 new hires, including licensed social workers, to fill in gaps in coverage of the many children and parents who are, necessarily, under DCF supervision or monitoring.

Another surprise, at least for me, was to find in my mailbox, the morning after Baker’s Budget conference, that he is filing legislation to provide $ 918 million in capital funding to the state’s municipalities. I quote from the announcement :

” today filed legislation to advance job creation and economic growth by empowering communities and regions to reach their potential, expanding workforce development efforts to close the skills gap and connect residents with economic opportunities, and investing in emerging technologies to set the stage for future job growth across the Commonwealth.

“The legislation, “An Act to Provide Opportunities for All,” reflects and begins to implement several aspects of the Baker-Polito Administration’s comprehensive economic development plan, including investments of up to $918 million in capital funding for local infrastructure, Brownfields site cleanup, Gateway Cities development, development site assembly and site readiness, smart growth housing, workforce development, emerging technologies, and community-based innovation.”

Quite frequently in his first year, Baker has announced money grants to communities. Only the $ 918 million number is unusually large. Where does the money come from, to fund legislation of this sort, if not from the Budget ? Yet nothing was said of it at the budget press conference, nor was it itemized in Baker’s budget graphs. Perhaps that’s because this $ 918 million targets the education and development of a 21st Century, private sector  workforce and includes several features likely to raise red flags in the public education establishment. To quote further from the announcement :

“One of the things we are focused on in the Baker administration is creating opportunities for all residents. With this economic development plan we will ensure more people get skills, education and training to fill the jobs employers have open now and in the future,” said Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald L. Walker, II. “The $75 million in Workforce Skills Capital grants will enable career and technical training programs to give students the skills they need to compete for jobs in today’s high-tech environment.”

“This economic development plan will not only help replicate what works, but will also offer critical tools to allow municipalities, higher education institutions, and the private sector to leverage partnerships in more areas of the Commonwealth than ever before,” said Education Secretary Jim Peyser. “It will also significantly expand the administration’s commitment to growing a stronger pipeline of students who will be ready to meet current and future workforce needs, especially in emerging STEM fields.”

Peyser’s and Walker’s statements read a lot like the capital spending and business-with-education partnership plans touted recently by Boston Mayor Walsh : plans that aroused quite a fracas among Boston supporters of teacher-led, teacher-directed public education. As I read Baker’s legislation, he means to create a new kind of education and employment path, integrating school and career. This aligns well with the purposes and content of the PARCC test that, unnecessarily, the State is now replaci8ng with an upgraded MCAS test. The replacement of PARCC by upgraded MCAS will delay implementation of school-to-career curricula by a year or two, but Baker is making smart use of the extra time to put in place a Statewide equivalent of the school to career pathway being planned by Mayor Walsh.

Baker, like Walsh, is smart to build  a new school-purpose, school-partnership pathway before taking on reform of schools themselves.  Once the new education platform stands, in both state and city, the teacher establishment will find itself having to make the leap from the old platform to the new or else be set aside. I suspect that the teachers will choose not to be set aside.

I now return to transit matters. The MBTA and Commuter rail are the one part of state services that Baker’s 2017 budget does not take full charge of. I understand, of course, that Baker wants to make sure that “what we’ve got” works well enough to gain the public’s full confidence. But the Boston region’s economy is growing rapidly; transportation is essential to it. If the T doesn’t get its necessary expansions in place, some other means of transit will do the job — probably not very well for low-income workers. These depend entirely on the T. Included in their requests, at least in my East Boston community, is to connect “Eastie” to the Airport, via a direct Silver Line link, so that our numerous airport workers can get to their jobs without having to make four (4) T transfers.

When I asked Baker if there are any Silver Line plans, his response suggested that my request was the first he had heard of it. And what of a Red Line t.o9 Blue Line connection, that some locals have proposed ? that and other T expansions — the Blue Line to Lynn — would seem essential to an ever busying Boston area economy involving a million commutes. Will Baker’s next bite of the apple, his FY 2018 budget take cognizance of these T needs ? One hopes so.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE : As I readied this story for publication, the following Green Line Expansion e-mail came to me from frank DiPaola, the MBTA’s General manager. I QUOTE IT IN FULL. Please read it carefully :

“A Green Line Extension Update from MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola

January 29, 2016

I want to update you on the status of the Green Line Extension project. As work on determining the future of the project continues, I look forward to both informing and hearing from you. Please do not hesitate to share comments and ideas with us at info@glx.com.

On December 14, 2015, at a joint meeting of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board and the Board of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, a resolution was jointly and unanimously adopted that laid out the Boards’ position on additional funding for the Green Line Extension project. The resolution also incorporated key lessons learned from a recent ‘look-back’ analysis. In their resolution, the Boards recognized that, “the Green Line Extension is a long-standing commitment under the state’s Clean Air Act State Implementation Plan which has many transportation, economic development and environmental benefits not only for Cambridge, Somerville and Medford but for the greater Boston region and economy.” But, the resolution finds, “the Green Line Extension as procured and designed is not affordable or cost-effective for the MBTA given its other needs; and the existing Construction Manager/General Contractor contract documents do not provide sufficient cost reliability or risk allocation for the MBTA.”

The resolution states that “until a cost-effective, affordable version of the project has been redesigned and re-procured, cancelling the project and investing the unspent Commonwealth share of the project funding on the core MBTA system will remain an option for both Boards.” The resolution sets out a series of conditions that must be met for the Green Line Extension project to proceed, including:
•Undertaking value engineering and redesign to substantially reduce the cost of delivering the project while maintaining its core functionality. This work is already underway (some additional information can be found here).
•Developing a re-procurement strategy that will ensure that a reliable cost estimate, viable cost reduction strategies, and appropriate risk allocation will be incorporated into the GLX project going forward.
•Putting in place new project management both within the MBTA and for needed third-party professional services.
•Limiting additional Commonwealth funding and instead focusing on obtaining any needed additional funding from other sources, such as the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization and the municipalities, landowners, and developers benefitting from the project.

Pursuant to this directive, MassDOT and the MBTA are working together to develop and execute a 90-day plan that will result in a report to both the MassDOT Board of Directors and the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board on whether and how to proceed with the project. This 90-day review will focus on four areas: (1) project management; (2) redesign; (3) re-procurement; and (4) the development of a reliable cost estimate and schedule. Preliminary information on the 90-day review can be found here.

I ask for your patience and assistance as we work through this very challenging situation. The GLX Project Team and MassDOT/MBTA as a whole are focused on addressing the issues as quickly and as thoughtfully as possible. However, we must make sure that we completely understand the current cost-to-complete of the overall project, as well as the implications of any changes to the project design.

Over the next months, the MBTA will be holding public workshops to hear from you on potential redesign and cost-savings strategies. We will post information about those meetings on the Green Line Extension website.

It is crucial that we approach these challenges with cooperation and collaboration. In that spirit, I urge you to share your thoughts, concerns, and suggestions at info@glxinfo.com.

Thank you for your continued interest in the Green Line Extension project.

Sincerely,
Frank DePaola
MBTA General Manager

 

 

 

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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