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Senate would add school funds; Extra money axed for county jail.

Byline: John J. Monahan

BOSTON - The state Senate yesterday added more money to its budget for regional school transportation, full-day kindergarten, and a state college emergency messaging system, but rejected a Republican proposal to increase local school aid by $25 million along with a bipartisan $2.8 million increase to cover rising fixed costs for the overcrowded Worcester County Jail in West Boylston.

The new spending, totaling $35 million, was added to the Senate plan over two days of debate that ended yesterday, bringing the total Senate budget to $26.71 billion. The budget will be reviewed by a joint conference committee that will work out differences with the House's $26.91 billion version approved last month.

The largest single increase is an additional $472 million for insurance plan subsidies for low-income earners as part of the state's new health insurance program

The budget also provides $6.2 million in new home care funding to help an additional 260 nursing home-eligible elders remain in their homes. Another provision would put up $5 million to increase the personal needs allowance for seniors in long-term care facilities from $60 to $72.80 per month, the first increase in 16 years.

The Senate budget allocates $3 million in increased state payments in lieu of taxes to communities hosting state facilities; $6.5 million in extended learning time grants; $21.3 million for community policing programs; and $4 million in state grants to communities to pay for an additional 50 local police across the state.

The Senate approved amendments adding $250,000 to set up an emergency text message system at state college and university campuses; a $4 million increase to $6 million for expansion of all-day kindergarten; $2 million in additional funds for regional school transportation aid; and a $1.7 million increase in senior lunch programs.

The additional funds for the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction failed to get approval despite support from five senators from Worcester County. The money was sought to cover rapidly increasing fixed costs and staffing increases caused by overcrowding at the jail.

Sheriff Guy W. Glodis, who also is seeking up to $100 million in bond funds from the state to expand the jail, earlier this week said he was urging judges to consider the overcrowding when setting bail for those accused of nonviolent and minor offenses. He maintained that would help reduce the problem that stems largely from an increase in people held awaiting trial.

Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre, assistant vice chairman of the Ways and Means committee, said yesterday that while the Worcester County jail needs more funding, additional money was not available in the budget.

"It's a very responsible budget. It is lean but not mean. It's very fiscally realistic," Mr. Brewer said.

"We are mindful of (the overcrowding) and we need to do something," he said. Mr. Brewer said Sheriff Glodis "is sitting on a tinderbox up there and it will explode one of these days. But we can only deal with the hand we've got at this time."

A budget amendment from Sen. Karen E. Spilka, D-Ashland, calls for the MBTA to complete a study by December on the effects of train crossings along the Worcester-Framingham-Boston rail line and ways to increase

commuter rail service.

Mr. Brewer, who sponsored an amendment to increase regional school transportation funding said that addition to the budget would bring the state share of regional school bus costs up to 90 percent. He said the additional $2 million would get the state closer to meeting unfulfilled commitments to pay the full cost of regional school buses and raises the overall regional school transportation spending from $57.3 million to $59.3 million next year.

An amendment by Sen. Robert A. Antonioni, D-Leominster and Sen. Edward M. Augustus Jr., D-Worcester, was approved to increase state funds for expanding kindergartens from part-time to full-day classes

from $2 million to $6 million, next year. The House budget calls for a $4 million increase. Mr. Brewer also sponsored an amendment for an increase of $2 million in the state's local school aid reserve funding. Those funds could be used to address gaps in fairness of the Chapter 70 local school aid spending.

The increase: The new spending, totaling $35 million, was added to the Senate plan.

The next step: The Senate budget, at $26.71 billion, will be reviewed by a joint conference committee.

The quote: `It's a very responsible budget. It is lean but not mean. It's very fiscally realistic.' - Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 25, 2007
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