Politicians find more than 400 ways to spend taxes
The state's supplemental budget for fiscal 2006, known as House bill number 4440 and approved last week by the House of Representatives, was a fast-moving money train. It contained more than $300 million that local legislators did their best to hop onto on the fly.
The House took up the legislation, which contained millions for various road projects and state colleges on Monday. By Tuesday the bill had been larded down by individual state representatives with more than 400 separate amendments designating that approximately $2 billion state tax dollars be spent on specific projects, some large and others small.
In the case of amendment 145, reps from Newton, Belmont, Amherst, Orange, Andover, Fall River and Dennis added an amendment to give $5 million to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund provided that not less than $3 million be used to increase the supply of permanent and transitional housing for people with cognitive and physical disabilities, with a priority to be given to former residents of state hospitals.
On a smaller scale Rep. Demetrius Atsalis of Hyannis set aside $100,000 for the Cape Cod Maritime Museum in Hyannis. Asking for a slice of the fiscal pie, Rep. Cleon Turner of Dennis asked for $25,000 for a Visitor's Information Center for the Dennis Chamber of Commerce.
In addition to providing state tax dollars to pay for police to direct traffic in Tisbury, Rep. Turkington also filed amendments that earmarked $100,000 for the Barnstable County Department of Health and the Environment to use for Lyme Disease prevention activities on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket; $50,000 as a matching grant to the Woods Hole Community Association for the installation of an elevator in the Woods Hole Community Center; $85,000 for the reconstruction of a boat ramp in North Falmouth; $250,000 for improvements to beach facilities at Surf Drive Beach in Falmouth; a matching grant of $200,000 for the Falmouth Economic and Development Corporation for the creation of the Regional Technology Development Center of Cape Cod "to foster sustainable development of knowledge-based commercial ventures" in the Upper Cape region; $150,000 for a study of a site for a municipal public safety complex in Nantucket; $1,000,000 for the construction of the Old South Road Bicycle Path and Connector located on Nantucket; and in his largest request, $2,500,000 for the restoration, renovation and improvements to the Franklin Park Zoo located in Dorchester and the Stone Zoo located in Stoneham.
Not all of the 400 amendments survived the bill's trip through the House. Approximately 120 were adopted by the House, raising the cost of the budget bill to $317.2 million. The survivors, including two filed by Mr. Turkington - money for Tisbury traffic and a Falmouth boat ramp - must now survive the Senate process.
Reporter Craig Sandler, writing for the State House News service in a weekly round-up of legislative activity, said, "Neither House Ways and Means, nor the speaker's office, could say as of Thursday how much had been added to the supplemental budget taken up Tuesday, only because so many of the more than 400 amendments pending Tuesday night had been redrafted on the fly and adopted without debate. And for the rank-and-file membership, and in the districts, this is not seen as profligacy or scandal: it's seen as new police equipment and senior centers and bridge repair."