Legislature Passes Balanced Fiscal 2016 Budget

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Celebrating the reboot of First Thursday Art Walk at 668 Centre St. on Thursday, April 3, 2014.

Philip Keith

State Rep. Liz Malia, D-Jamaica Plain, speaks. Celebrating the reboot of First Thursday Art Walk at 668 Centre St. on Thursday, April 3, 2014.

In early July the Legislature enacted a $38.1 billion state budget for fiscal year 2016. The spending plan prioritizes funding for education, housing assistance, behavioral health, substance abuse, and critical services and programs for our most vulnerable residents in the Commonwealth.

The plan includes $4.5 billion for education funding and $18.6 million for kindergarten expansion grants. Funding for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) increased by $17.9 million and will allow for the creation of approximately 764 new mobile vouchers, helping families move from emergency assistance housing to permanent housing.

In addition, through sponsored and cosponsored amendments and collaborative efforts with my colleagues, I was able to secure funding for programs that are of utmost importance to me and my constituents. Specifically, this budget includes $20.1 million for METCO, a critical path to education and opportunity in many of our communities, $6.0 million for Safe and Successful Youth Initiative to reduce violent events among youth, and $4.9 million for the Commonwealth Zoological Corporation, allowing for continued support of Franklin Park. The budget also extends the life of the Special Legislative Commission on LGBT Aging -- first of its kind in the nation -- beyond one year, enabling the Commission to assess the needs of LGBT elders and recommend ways to better serve them.

Mental health and substance abuse issues do not discriminate -- they affect people of every race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. This budget rightfully increases access to behavioral health care and establishes a multifaceted approach to fight the opioid epidemic. It funds a variety of adult mental health services at $434.1 million and children’s mental health services at $87 million.

The plan also includes $3.6 million for The Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project (MCPAP) to provide access to treatment for children with behavioral health needs, $500,000 for “MCPAP for Moms” to expand post-partum depression screening for new mothers, and $3.1 million for Recovery High Schools including $1 million to establish two new programs that will help address the needs of young people battling addiction. Under a new program included in the budget, the Department of Public Health is authorized to make bulk purchases of Narcan, an overdose-reversing drug, and distribute it to first responders. Additionally, it creates a Narcan bulk purchase trust fund that can be funded through public and private donations.

This budget is supported by a projected tax revenue growth of 4.8 percent and represents a common-sense approach that honors many commitments to taxpayers, families, and vulnerable populations. I look forward to working with my colleagues on MBTA reform legislation to ensure workforce protections are maintained as much as possible.

[Editor's note: State Representative Liz Malia, D-Jamaica Plain, is the longtime representative for the 11th Suffolk District.]