As we close out 2011, it’s appropriate to review accomplishments at the State House over the past twelve months, with a particular eye toward how new laws will affect Lincoln, Sudbury, and Wayland. I welcome your feedback on these achievements so that I can better serve our communities.
Expanded gambling was passed into law after many years of debate. As many know, I actively spoke out against this initiative over the past five years, in part because of the risk it poses to maintaining local aid for our towns. Those of us who are skeptical about the amount of new revenue or new jobs that gambling could bring to the state will shift our attention to ensuring that this new law is implemented appropriately and transparently. Unintended consequences and unanticipated conflicts may arise. Know that I will be watching closely on your behalf.
Redistricting, a constitutional requirement stemming from the U.S. census every 10 years, led to three changes affecting Lincoln, Sudbury and Wayland. For the new maps, see http://www.malegislature.gov/District/ProposedDistrictMaps. At the federal level, Congressman Ed Markey’s district (currently the 7th Congressional and under the new redistricting law, the 5th) includes Lincoln, Wayland, and nearly all of Sudbury. The state Senate districts remained mostly the same: Lincoln remains in the 3rd Middlesex district, now served by state Sen. Susan Fargo. Wayland remains in the Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex district, now served by state Sen. Richard Ross. Sudbury remains split between the 3rd Middlesex district and the Middlesex and Worcester district, now served by state Sen. Jamie Eldridge. The 13th Middlesex district, which I am privileged to represent, shifted west: Lincoln was dropped and is now part of the 9th Middlesex district with Waltham, currently served by state Rep. Tom Stanley. The eastern precinct of Wayland shifted to the 14th Norfolk district, made up of Weston and Wellesley and currently represented by state Rep. Alice Peisch. One precinct in Framingham was added, and four precincts in Marlborough were added to the 13th Middlesex district.
We also reformed the state pension system under new legislation. The new law increases the retirement age for new state employees, increases for the first time in over 10 years the cost of living allowance base for state retirees and teachers, and prevents pension system manipulations that lead to excessive costs for the state. The new law is projected to save the Commonwealth more than $5 billion over 30 years, and will help address an issue that I have made a priority for the past five years: lowering the state’s unfunded pension liability, which currently exceeds $15 billion.
Earlier in the year, we passed a balanced and prudent budget of $30 billion, with nearly half of that amount providing health and social safety net services to citizens who are not able to afford such assistance. It also included important priorities for our towns, which I strongly advocated for: education and unrestricted local aid, special education circuit breaker local aid, early intervention services, regional school transportation, suicide prevention, and METCO. The final budget also included provisions that allow towns and cities to purchase health care for municipal employees at lower costs, which could save taxpayers up to $100 million.
I successfully added three new ideas into the final budget. The first will allocate significant portions of settlement funds garnered by the attorney general and secretary of state into the Stabilization Fund, rather than have those funds spent as settlements are reached throughout the year. The second will help towns and cities lower their health care costs for retirees by allowing municipalities to invest their health care trust funds in the state’s Health Care Security Trust, which has been achieving a much better return on investment than most towns and cities have been able to achieve. Third, I crafted language in the final budget that dedicates the tobacco settlement funds toward the state’s own unfunded health care liabilities, which will greatly reduce the $15 billion unfunded liability.
We supplemented that budget this fall with investments in rebuilding our infrastructure, our rainy day fund, and local aid to cities and towns, with over $180,000 going to Lincoln, Sudbury and Wayland.
Massachusetts became the 48th state in the nation to adopt anti-human trafficking legislation. The crackdown on human trafficking, which is being hailed as the toughest legislation of its kind in the nation, also establishes important protections for victims and children to help them access necessary services. In addition to defining offenses and sentences for offenders, the legislation establishes an Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force and ensures that victims of human trafficking are regarded appropriately under the law. I filed a similar piece of legislation last session, and am pleased that the legislature has addressed this important issue.
Formal sessions in the legislature will resume in January 2012 and last until July 31, 2012. I welcome your recommendations for legislative initiatives that we in the legislature should be supporting in 2012.
Tom Conroy is state representative for Lincoln, Sudbury, and Wayland and can be reached at Thomas.Conroy@MAHouse.gov or 617-722-2430.