|By Chris Maza
School Committee Vice Chair John Fitzgerald above
State Rep. Brian Ashe below
Reminder Publications submitted photos
LONGMEADOW State Rep. Brian Ashe appeared before the School Committee on May 13 to discuss the state's budgeting process and what the district should expect in terms of Chapter 70 aid for fiscal year 2014.
Ashe told the committee that the Committee on Ways and Means' budget that was approved by the House of Representatives represented an increase of approximately $200,000 in state funding for Longmeadow.
"I know that's not a huge amount, but a couple hundred thousand dollars can fill some gaps," he said.
The Ways and Means budget's Chapter 70 recommendation of $4.3 million for Longmeadow was lower than Gov. Deval Patrick's proposal by $122,432.
Ashe added that the additional money is a sign of economic turnaround for the state; pointing out that Chapter 70 funding had been cut in recent years because of the recession.
"Massachusetts has been pulling out of it a lot quicker than most other states around the country," he said.
Ashe explained that a complex formula, which includes the value of property, income and a town's financial situation, is used to determine Chapter 70 funding, which often leaves Longmeadow with less to gain in state funding.
"Longmeadow has very high property values and very high income compared to a lot of other communities, so we get less in the end," he said.
School Committee member James Desrochers asked Ashe at what level he foresaw the final Chapter 70 contribution coming in. Ashe said, one way or another, the schools should see an increase. How much, however, was the question.
Ashe said, "It's difficult to say because when it goes to the Senate, theirs could be lower, it could be higher, and then the final conference committee is just a couple members from the House, a couple members from the Senate and a couple members from the governor's team."
The Senate's proposal for Chapter 70 aid for Longmeadow, which was released on May 15, was identical to the House's recommendation.
School Committee member John Fitzgerald, who at the April 15 School Committee meeting regarding the budget had been open with his criticism of Ashe's lack of support for the governor's budget, took the opportunity to bring his objections to the state representative.
Fitzgerald started out by asking Ashe to clarify his stance on the budget to this point.
"Specifically, you voted for the House Ways and Means budget. Can you give us your thinking on why you couldn't bring yourself to support the governor's budget?"
Ashe responded, "We don't vote on the governor's budget. It doesn't matter if you support it, if you love it, If you hate it. The governor's budget is a shell that we get ... We get that as a template and then we take it from there."
Ashe further explained that much like the system in Longmeadow where department heads make budget recommendations and requests, the governor's team builds his proposed budget. Once presented, he said, the House prepares its own version.
"It's just like the Senate won't vote on ours [and] they won't vote on the governor's; they'll vote on their own budget and then a combination of all three will be voted on," he said.
Fitzgerald further pressed the matter, continuing to ask why Ashe did not support Patrick's proposed budget.
"Could you please explain why you voted for the House Ways and Means budget and not the governor's?" he said. "Shouldn't you, if you're a supporter of the governor and I assume as a Democrat you are shouldn't you have voted against House Ways and Means? House Ways and Means is not all that helpful to public education."
Ashe retorted by stating that the House Ways and Means budget did reflect increases in funding to higher education and Chapter 70 aid, stating the difference between the two budgets in regards to education was the fact that the budget he voted to approve "wasn't as aggressive as some people would have liked."
Addressing Fitzgerald's comments regarding his support of the governor, he added, "John, you've got to remember in office I don't represent all Democrats. I represent Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Seventy percent of the people I represent are not Democrats. I have to represent everybody in my district 40,000 constituents."
Turning back to the governor's budget, Ashe said that while he liked aspects of the proposal, it presented serious challenges that he didn't feel were in the best interests of the public.
"Honestly, did I like [the governor's budget]? Yeah, he had a lot of great things in there, but I would be done if I ever voted for his budget, if we voted on that," he said. "It was much too oppressive for today's time. People don't have palate for taxes right now."
Fitzgerald retorted, "When have they ever had a palate for taxes?"
"Never," Ashe responded. "But [the governor's budget] was extremely aggressive and we're just coming out of a serious budget crunch. We're just moving out of the recession. Now isn't the time to tack on taxes again. Before I got into the House, there was a surplus in the House and a surplus in the Senate where they could take care of a lot of these things. Why tax people now if we are heading back in that direction shortly?"
Fitzgerald questioned Ashe's statements, asserting that Patrick's proposal contained cuts to the income tax that would "get rid of some of the loopholes and take the burden off of lower income people and place it where it properly demands, in my judgment, on the shoulders of those with the means to pay."
"They had surplus in these hard times," Fitzgerald said. "I agree with you that we shouldn't be taxing the poor. The reason you tax the rich because they've got the money. That's why Robin Hood used to rob the rich and help the poor."
Ashe reiterated that the House does not vote on the governor's budget and called the discussion "moot."
Committee Chair Michael Clark suggested reforming the formula that determines state aid to take into account other tax bases besides residential to give consideration to towns like Longmeadow whose taxes come primarily though residential property taxes.
Ashe said there has been discussion about reforming it and it was his hope that as the state's economic situation continues to improve, there can be "a better wholesale look at Chapter 70."
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