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House Opens Budget Debate

House Opens Budget Debate

April 29, 2008

Yesterday the House began its debate on FY 2009 budget. With over 1500 amendments filed, the budget debate is expected to take most of this week. You can see the House budget and the filed amendments, summarized by topic, on the helpful House budget site.

Last night’s topic was revenue-related amendments. We won victories as the House voted on two tobacco-related amendments. HCFA and the ACT!! coalition has been working with Tobacco Free Mass coalition on these issues.

The first amendment was introduced by Watertown Rep. Rachel Kaprielian, a long-time champion of public health and tobacco control, was backed on the floor by Reps. Koutoujian, Straus and Hynes. It corrected an oversight in the revenue bill passed by the House two weeks. While the House bill included the $1/pack increase in the cigarette excise (earmarked for health reform), it neglected to include the customary assessment of the new tax on inventories held by retailers and wholesalers. This “floor tax” is critical to prevent hording and tax evasion. After a debate, the inventory provision passed by a 104-47 vote.

The second amendment, by Grafton Representative George Peterson, would have struck the provision in the House budget raising the tax on little cigars, by treating them as cigarettes. These “cigars,” often fruit-flavored and marketed towards teens, are a ready substitute for cigarettes and should be taxed equivalently. Rep. Straus spoke in opposition, and it was defeated on a 19-135 vote.

The House plans on taking up the mental health, mental retardation and disabilities consolidated amendments this morning. The Children’s Mental Health Coalition supports budget amendment #1026, an earmark and appropriation increase for the Child Psychiatric Access Project. The sponsor, Representative Balser, has been a tireless leader for children’s mental health issues.

This afternoon, the House plans on taking up the public health amendments. Up for debate will be 3 priorities for the Oral Health Advocacy Task Force.

Budget amendment #582, sponsored by Representative Scibak, would provide additional funding for Tufts Dental Services, which provides dental services to persons with special health care needs. Persons with special health care needs are at a higher risk for dental disease and for medical complications arising from poor oral health than the general population. Without this valuable program, most special needs individuals would not have access to appropriate dental care. This program serves over 16,000 individuals in clinics in Amherst, Baldwinville, Danvers, Palmer, Shrewsbury, Taunton, Waltham and Wrentham. (Thank you to the budget amendment co-sponsors, including Reps. Callahan, Canessa, D'Amico, DiNatale, Donato, Donelan, Ehrlich, Flanagan, Fox, Fresolo, Garballey, Garry, Gobi, Grant, Greene, Kennedy, Khan, L'Italien, Lantigua, Linsky, Walsh, McCarthy, O'Day, Peisch, Provost, Rush, Sanchez, Sannicandro, Spellane, Story and Turner).

Budget amendment #1132, sponsored by Representative Fagan, would provide increased funding necessary to strengthen the Massachusetts Office of Oral Health and provide it with the resources needed to effectively carry out essential functions. The Office of Oral Health at DPH is charged with preventing dental disease and improving oral health in all Massachusetts communities. The oversight and services provided by the Office of Oral Health are invaluable to the health of our communities. (Thank you to the budget amendment co-sponsors, including Reps. Canessa, DiNatale, Donato, Flanagan, Garballey, Gobi, Grant, Greene, O'Day, Scibak and Toomey).

Budget amendment #908, sponsored by Representative Kaprielian, would increase funding to the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program. Tobacco control is a critical component of public health, and the need for services will be heightened when the tobacco tax is raised. Thank you to the co-sponsors of this budget amendment, including Reps. Atkins, Brownsberger, Clark, D'Amico, DiNatale, Falzone, Fernandes, Flanagan, Garballey, Khan, Kocot, Koutoujian, McCarthy, McMurtry, Puppolo, Rush, Sanchez, Scibak, Smizik, Walsh, Walz and Wolf.

We urge the House to support all of these amendments.