Thursday, September 30, 2010

Republican legislators in Massacusetts block spending $400 million, some of which is for home services for people with disabilities

From The Republican in Massachusetts:

BOSTON – Republican state legislators on Sept. 27 blocked a $400 million bill to spend federal aid, at least temporarily halting money to pay for services such as home care for the disabled, shelter for the homeless, prisons and state police.

The bill, unveiled by Democratic leaders in the state House of Representatives, seeks to spend $400 million, part of the state’s share of a $26 billion aid package approved last month by Congress and President Barack Obama.

Rep. Charles A. Murphy, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said that unless the bill is approved, the state would need to close a couple of prisons and cut human services. Murphy said money in the bill would also stop possible layoffs of state police.

“We’re not free-wheeling, tax and spend Democrats,” said Murphy, a Burlington Democrat. “We have money the feds provided us and we came up with a fiscally prudent plan.”

Republicans cried foul after Democrats attempted to move the bill in the state House of Representatives. During informal sessions that started Aug. 1, a bill can be blocked by only one legislator.

Rep. Karyn E. Polito, a Shrewsbury Republican and candidate for state treasurer, objected and brought the session to an abrupt end. Polito said she stopped the bill on the House floor because the state is in a fiscal crisis and needs to be careful.

“I’m not going to be a rubber stamp for more spending we can’t afford,” Polito said.

According to Murphy, the bill calls for spending $230 million. An additional $195 million would be deposited in the state’s rainy day fund, he said.

The bill includes $5.4 million to reduce a waiting list of low-income elderly people seeking basic home care, $22 million for shelter for homeless families, $18 million for the state Department of Corrections, and $6 million to prevent layoffs of state police.

The bill also includes $11.6 million to pay for contracts for unions of certain public employees around the state.

Most of the money in the bill would go to programs operated by MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program for the poor and disabled.

Gov. Deval L. Patrick criticized the move by Republicans.

“We have prisons at risk of closing, we have people with developmental disabilities who are in halfway houses that will close, we have children who are developmentally delayed whose services are in jeopardy,” Patrick said. “We’ve been working on this for six weeks and until now, the Republicans have been working with the legislative leadership on the House side, and I just wish they’d get back to business.”

Albert H. Norman, executive director of Mass Home Care in Montague, said the money is critical for cutting in half a 3,000-person waiting list for home care for the elderly. The $5.4 million in the bill would provide home care services for about 1,500 low-income elderly people, Norman said.

“It’s a travesty to sit on money Congress meant to be delivered to low-income people,” Norman said.

A total of $22 million would be for shelters, transitional housing and short-term housing for homeless families across the state. Contracts with private agencies under this program expire at the end of December.

“If that doesn’t get passed, there’s no money to provide shelter,” said Jane Banks, assistant program director for the private, nonprofit Center for Human Development in Springfield.

Rep. George N. Peterson, a House Republican leader from Grafton, said Republicans may allow the bill to proceed by Thursday.

“We’re not adverse to the spending,” Peterson said. “We want some time to be able to look at that kind of spending and see if it makes sense.”

Murphy, the House Ways and Means chairman, said the bill was released on Friday night, providing Republicans plenty of time over the weekend to review the legislation.

“We’ve got real needs we are trying to address,” Murphy said. “If Karyn Polito wants to play politics, God love her. I’m trying to get some work done.”