The House budget passed on Beacon Hill provides much-needed funding for higher education and local aid, but does not match the funding for the early education programs proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick. Trade-offs always have to be made in the budget process, but if the House had approved the governor’s proposed tax hikes on candy and soda those trade-offs would be lessened.
The antipathy of House leadership toward those taxes is puzzling. As beyond raising revenue, the taxes would put a user fee on products that contribute to obesity and diseases, like diabetes, that raise health care costs in the state. Those twin benefits should make it easy for Beacon Hill to sign on to the tax hikes.
The House adds $25.5 million to the local aid account which the governor had level-funded. The governor, a strong advocate of early education, had proposed an increase of $15 million for early education programs, but the House only went for a $7.5 million hike. The critical importance of early education in a student’s performance later in school has been well-established in recent years, and an $18 million increase in local aid while the governor’s $15 million hike for early education funding is met would be a better balance.
On Friday, 102 state representatives, including the entire Berkshire delegation, backed an amendment to reverse proposed cuts to the state arts funding and instead boost funding for the Massachusetts Cultural Council to $16 million for the next fiscal year, $5 million more than the current year. Budget cuts for cultural funding have a tangible economic effect in a region like the Berkshires, and increases pay dividends. The council proposes to use $2 million of the increased funding for arts education during and after school and the YouthReach initiative for at-risk teens, and programs that challenge kids and keep them away from bad influences pay long-term dividends.
Obviously, many good programs are competing for a limited amount of tax money. A strong case can be made in the course of that competition, however, for youth programs whose benefits will be seen for decades to come.