Meeting with community advocates and activists in Hyannis for a budget forum on March 25, Cape Cod's legislative delegation, led by Senate President Therese Murray and State Senator Dan Wolf, offered an honest if sobering assessment of what's in store for the coming fiscal year.
"This fiscal year will certainly be one of the most difficult we have seen so far, but the Commonwealth, unlike many other states, is well on its way to recovering from this worldwide recession and faring much better than most states," Murray said. "While the nearly $2 billion gap between revenue and expenses means that funding for crucial programs may be slightly less than last year, I will work to ensure that no one program or line item is disproportionately cut as we move forward in the budget debate."
Senator Wolf took the opportunity to thank those assembled at the headquarters of the Community Action Committee for Cape Cod and the Islands "for providing amazing services to our community and the Commonwealth," adding that cuts in human service funding hurt both those who need help most, and those providing it.
"You're part of the middle class we keep talking about that is losing its buying power," he added. "We need to get on a trajectory so that five to ten years from now, we've solved these funding problems and even in off years, we can do what we need to do."
Joining Murray and Wolf at the forum and adding additional perspectives were State Representatives Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown), Cleon Turner (D-Dennis), Demetrius Atsalis (D-Barnstable), Randy Hunt (R-East Sandwich), and David Vieira (R-Falmouth).
Murray noted that she is "very concerned" that the Department of Mental Health in particular has taken "deep cuts" in the last three years, and hopes to keep further reductions to a minimum. But every human service program is likely to feel the affects, she said.
Those attending included BL Hathaway of the Tri-County Collaborative for Oral Health Excellence, who hoped that funding for dental care such as fillings and root canals could be returned for adults receiving public assistance.
"I wish I could, but I can't make that promise," said Murray.
Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO Wendy Northcross wondered whether casinos, if created, might ease the budget crisis.
The answer: With specifics of any proposal still uncertain, and a budget that needs to be in place by the end of June, not for this coming year at the least.
Barnstable County Commissioner Sheila Lyons made a strong pitch to the delegation for state support to help address Cape Cod's wastewater problems, while Commissioner William Doherty urged funding for workforce development boards to help people qualify for good jobs, and Commissioner Mary Pat Flynn drew attention to the county's need to address CMED, the emergency medical call-in system. Former state Representative Ruth Provost, who now runs the Boys and Girls Club of Cape Cod, reported that funding for her organization has decreased dramatically in recent years, but credited the legislature with "doing its best" in tough circumstances.
Other organizations represented included Cape Cod Child Development, Housing Assistance Corporation, Cape Cod Healthcare, Duffy Health Center, and the Harwich and Chatham school districts (soon to regionalize into the Monomoy School District).
Wolf noted that as a freshman Senator and someone with a strong business background, he arrived at the State House in January looking to see if public tax funds are being used wisely.
"Most of the money I see being spent is being spent well," he said. "It's really a situation where we don't have the necessary revenue."