Our Opinion: Senate budget holds bright spots for the Berkshires

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The machinery of lawmaking has been chugging away on Beacon Hill, and last Friday the state Senate produced a budget that holds some bright spots for the Berkshires if certain provisions manage to survive the bicameral conference committee process (Eagle, May 26).

Included among the proposed expenditures are additional investments addressing state needs that are particularly acute locally, as well as increased funding for the kind of programs that have made Massachusetts a beacon of progressivism for the rest of the nation.

Berkshire County, relatively speaking, is sprawling — which presents problems unique to the area in terms of simply getting around. The Senate has increased the state school transportation budget by $6.4 million. With the cost of fuel in Massachusetts rising almost daily, every hike in prices represents additional necessary outlay by Berkshire County districts out of proportion to that expended by more densely-packed districts to the east. Anything will help.

In another boost for the region, the Massachusetts Cultural Council snagged an extra $2 million in the Senate's plan. This may not seem like much out of a $41.5-billion overall state operating budget package, but the MCC and its executive director, Anita Walker, have long been friends of the area in terms of providing meaningful grant aid. Ms. Walker has told The Eagle she is aware of the critical role culture plays in the economic welfare of the county, and she has, in the past, been effective at determining which local arts and culture projects will deliver the most bang for the buck. Again, should the joint conference committee retain this measure for the governor to sign into law, there is a good chance that some of these extra funds will find their way here.

It's no secret that the Berkshires has its share of low-income residents as well as those with mental illness issues, including individuals battling substance abuse . Whatever the Berkshires can squeeze out of the $143 million tucked into the budget for addiction treatment, as well as other investments in health care for the poor, will be greeted by local aid agencies like manna from heaven.

Should some or all these funds be appropriated, it will be the job of the Berkshires delegation, which is well versed in the inside game of horse-trading in order to leverage its limited clout, to make sure the county has a seat at the table when it comes to doling them out.

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