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Energy and Environment Officials Make Case for Funding

By Charlie Deitz


Pittsfield, MA – State agencies in Massachusetts have suffered numerous cutbacks over the course of the last three budget cycles. As the legislature draws up their 2012 budget forecast, agency heads are given a chance to plead for funding in a series of public hearings. WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief Charlie Deitz reports that the state department of Energy and Environmental Affairs had their hearing in Pittsfield this week

The house and senate committees on ways and means are hosting departmental hearings all over the state, the hearings while open for public attendance are closed to public comment, so the lawmakers and executive staffers can tussle over each individual line item. Tuesday morning, the executive office of energy and environmental affairs secretary and the 6 department commissioners met with ways and means committee members at Berkshire Community College. Here they are defending the 192 million dollar allotment that Governor Patrick has written into his budget proposal. Although this represents level funding, the Mass Budget and Policy Center's Budget Browser shows the environment and recreation spending has dropped some 80 million dollars in the last 5 years. Secretary Rick Sullivan says the governor's budget calls for an expanded bottle bill.

The 192 million dollars includes the 6.5 million in proposed revenue from the bottle bill, but the proposal has been floated since 2010 and still hasn't been enacted, Sullivan says it's time has come. Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Kenneth Kimmel explained to the committee the new revenue would be targeted at helping communities beef up recycling programs.

Additionally the DEP would use bottle bill money to offset staff losses and help communities cope with new EPA guidelines regarding storm water. Another major concern from the committee is job losses, the hearing allows the department heads to explain how many people have been laid off already because of multiple budget reductions.

And Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Ed Lambert says his house has had similar cutbacks.

The agencies are also responsible for explaining their future goals, in spite of drastic budget cutbacks. Scott Soares, commissioner at the department of agricultural resources says the Fed has been good to Massachusetts farmers offering low interest loans and funding, but that could change.

Secretary Sullivan, formerly the mayor of Westfield, and most recently the DCR Commissioner before his promotion to secretary, notes that the governor's budget proposal used to be the floor and the house and senate would add funding where they deemed necessary, but that's been turned on its head in recent years with the governor's proposal being the most optimistic, and legislators having to go in and carve out spending plans, which is why he and his team are appealing to the ways and means committee to maintain Governor Patrick's budget.

State Senator Ben Downing, vice chair of the senate ways and means committee, says that even though revenue has been above benchmarks for several months, the main factor in determining the 2012 budget will be health care.

This hearing was the formal public portion of the process, but Downing and his house colleagues will be hearing from EEA and several other agencies over the next month as they go to bat for funding. The House is expected to release its budget in April.