SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

May 22, 2014

Pols load budget with pet projects, policy changes

BOSTON — Putting police officers on the streets of Lawrence, boosting funds for community preservation and helping a Beverly homeless shelter are among a slew of amendments to the $36.3 billion state budget offered by local lawmakers.

Only a fraction of nearly 150 amendments filed by North Shore and Merrimack Valley lawmakers are expected to survive when the Senate votes on its budget before the Memorial Day weekend. Most will be withdrawn or consolidated by legislative leaders through a process that largely happens behind closed doors.

Local senators’ requests range from money for pet projects to changes in tax law.

Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, filed amendments seeking $100,000 for the restoration of Topsfield Town Hall; $200,000 for the North Shore Life Sciences cluster and funding for studies of postpartum depression and other mental health issues; and $200,000 for Beverly’s River House homeless shelter.

“There’s such a huge need for shelters on the North Shore,” said Kate Benashski, executive director of River House, which serves about 35 women. “We, unfortunately, have to turn away people every night. This funding would go a long way to helping with our mission.”

Sen. Bruce Tarr leads fellow lawmakers with the most proposed amendments. The Gloucester Republican, who leads the Senate’s GOP minority, has filed 101 amendments to the budget, more than any other lawmaker. Many of them call for major changes to public policy.

More on Tarr's proposed amendments

“I’m down by percentage this year, they tell me,” Tarr joked. “Last year, I was at 14 percent of the amendments filed; this year I’m around 12 percent.”

Tarr has proposed reducing the state sales tax from 6.25 to 5 percent; exempting town and city governments from gas tax increases; giving tax breaks to corporations with fewer than 25 employees; and creating a tax amnesty that allows income tax delinquents to settle up without penalty.

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