On Pittsfield visit, House Speaker DeLeo hopeful on budget, transit deals
PITTSFIELD -- Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo anticipates state budget and transportation financing discussions will move forward in the next couple of weeks, he said during a visit to the Berkshires Thursday.
DeLeo, a Winthrop resident, toured the Hillcrest Center campus in Lenox and Hillcrest Dental Care in Pittsfield Thursday. He was the guest of honor and recipient of the 2013 annual "Irish" Person of the Year award at the 12th annual Robert "Bees" Prendergast St. Patrick's Reception, a benefit for Hillcrest Educational Centers.
DeLeo's visit in the Berkshires comes before a "very busy" next two weeks in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, he said.
The fiscal budget could be delivered on April 10, DeLeo told The Eagle Thursday, the same day President Barack Obama will release his federal budget outline.
"Even before that," he said, "I'm hoping to deliver a piece of legislation on transportation."
According to reports by The Associated Press, DeLeo has indicated that House Democrats would be likely to deal with transportation financing apart from the budget as a whole.
"In many ways, they're interrelated, especially when it comes to the financing of it," DeLeo said. "One of the biggest issues is where we're going to find a revenue source for transportation."
Issues with regional transit authorities have come out of Western Massachusetts, DeLeo said, and also "making sure the roads and bridges are in good repair, and to make sure that the folks in the Berkshires get paid attention to and get proper funding."
During a private political caucus with Democrats in Boston on Wednesday, DeLeo called Gov. Deval Patrick's call for a $1.9 billion tax increase to fund education and transportation improvements "fantasy land," according to reports.
"Poor choice of words, I suppose," DeLeo told The Eagle.
He said that he was referring to the fact that proposed figures from lawmakers have been either too high or two low, and both are unrealistic.
"I did not mean any disrespect when I stated that, but I just wanted the representatives to hear from me that there's got to be somewhere between zero and $2 billion that we'll get to."
DeLeo, who has been a proponent of anti-bullying and special education, began his day in the Berkshires by touring Hillcrest Center, a residential campus serving adolescents with extreme psychiatric, emotional and behavioral disorders.
At one point, DeLeo sat with several female students and one male student who took turns asking him questions. He bantered back and forth with them a few times.
DeLeo's dedication to special education and anti-bullying is why he merited this year's "Irish" Person of the Year award, despite not being Irish, Hillcrest President and CEO Jerry Burke said.
"He's gone to schools like ours all over Massachusetts, so he knows our issues," Burke said.
DeLeo also toured Hillcrest Dental in Pittsfield and listened to a presentation, which discussed plans for a Hillcrest dental clinic that could open at North Adams Regional Hospital as early as July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year.
"The lack of dentists in the Berkshires is a growing problem," said Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, who toured alongside DeLeo all day. "The need is there, the county recognizes it, and Hillcrest has done a great job with it and stepping up to the plate."
The Robert "Bees" Prendergast St. Patrick's Reception was held afterward at the Pittsfield Country Club, with many shamrocks and green decorations.
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