To the editor:
In light of The Salem News’ commentary (”The silence of the sheep on Beacon Hill,” April 15), we are compelled to provide both some context for our vote, as well as highlight the deliberative and democratic committee process. You correctly point out that we voted to prohibit amendments to the fiscal year 2015 budget process relating to welfare reform and local aid. What you fail to mention is we did this because we have already addressed both this legislation session. Both the House and the Senate debated and passed comprehensive welfare reform, and a legislative conference committee is in the process of hammering out a final bill.
That welfare reform bill, passed unanimously in the House, makes it illegal to use EBT cards to transfer welfare money overseas; creates a fraud detection program to assist the Bureau of Program Integrity and makes the process of verification (determining who gets assistance) far more stringent than the current practice.
Local aid, you ask? Just a couple of weeks ago, we unanimously passed a joint resolution with the House and Senate agreeing on what local aid would be. We proposed an increase of $125 million for unrestricted local and education aid. In fact, this is the third consecutive year in which Democrats in the House increased both unrestricted local aid and local education aid. This is done to give local cities and towns certainty as they go into budget season and town meeting in the spring. To the contrary, uncertainty would come with leaving this open to the end of the full budget process — usually in late June.
It might be interesting to ask Republicans, and those that support them, why they are so intent on re-debating issues they voted yes on in this session.
Finally, we must also commend Speaker DeLeo for his efforts and commitment to resist significant policy decisions in the “outside sections” of the budget, coincidentally heretofore criticized by this very paper. With thousands of bills filed each legislative session, the real policy work takes place at the committee level, as it should. We have many public hearings, listen to all the experts and advocates on every side of an issue, and make final decisions on whether a bill merits full review by the House. This, in our opinion, is democracy as it should be — from the bottom up rather than the top down. As members of leadership, we very much appreciate the speaker’s deference to our expertise on matters of energy policy and veterans affairs.
So, no, we should certainly not take up matters already addressed legislatively in the budget, nor should we dilute the committee process to allow members who’ve already lost a debate a second bite at the apple.
State representative, Salem
State representative, Beverly