Friday, April 11, 2003
Atkins sees more state cuts
"We are moving into a domain of life and death decisions" about the state budget in general and the environmental budget in particular, according to State Representative Cory Atkins, who was speaking at the Conservation Commission breakfast on Tuesday, April 8. "We are not getting numbers from the administration, so we don't know where we are [in the budget process]," she added. With a $3-4 billion shortfall and with further reductions inevitable, Atkins referred to the budget situation as "a state of triage."
Atkins and State Senator Susan Fargo were both invited to the early morning meeting, but Fargo cancelled at the last minute due to illness. Atkins held forth vigorously and volubly on her own, never veering far from the structure of the state budget, the budgeting process and the impact on statewide conservation activity.
Jay Luby, representing the Carlisle Conservation Foundation, asked about the availability and certainty of CPA (Community Preservation Act) funding. She explained that CPA funds may not be as readily available as initially thought, because Governor Romney's new budget has done away with line items which are a means of identifying and earmarking funds for specific purposes. Without line items all budget items become part of the same pool, and no item is earmarked for specific purposes. Thus, every item is competing for available funds and none is protected. As Atkins put it, "Money is just being whisked away."
There is another problem for conservation monies. Operating funds have been decreasing for several years. Conservation agencies have coped with this situation by shifting employees from the operating to the capital budget. According to Bernie McHugh of the Mass. Land Trust Coalition, "If capital budgets are slashed, the impact on environmental agencies will be devastating. It's not just a matter of losing land, it's a matter of losing services that live off the land."
State impacts local budget
Carlisle Selectman John Ballantine worried about preparing a realistic budget to present to Town Meeting in view of continuing uncertainty where and when the cuts would be made. Atkins stated that the Romney administration is pushing more things into the property tax. This translates as shifting many costs to local government. As further cuts are made, Atkins says, the town can anticipate picking up more needed services in its own budget.
What to do?
Atkins feels that the public is not getting information that will help them understand the current situation. She also feels that the public needs to communicate with state administrators about environmental and conservation issues that are important to them. McHugh suggested that the following people could be contacted for input about conservation issues: Stephen Burrington, Deputy Chief, Office of Commonwealth Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org; Stephen Pritchard, Chief Operating Officer, Executive Office of Environmental Management, at email@example.com; and Betsy Sure Gross, Community Preservation Coordinator, Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard said that she will try to re-schedule Susan Fargo at a future breakfast. The public is invited to attend these breakfasts, which are held in the Clark Room at Town Hall on the first Tuesday of the month from 7:45 a.m. to 9 a.m.
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