For State Sen. Sal DiDomenico, the past summer has been unusually busy as he has spent the warm weather months with an inside seat to the State Budget process, serving a member of the Conference Committee that hashed out the funding document this year and completed its work earlier this month.
As vice chair of Ways & Means – appointed by new Senate President Stan Rosenberg – DiDomenico was guaranteed a seat on the important Committee, which is made up of members of the House and Senate.
“This was my first time on the Conference Committee and as a vice chair you play a larger role in creating the budget and I was responsible for certain parts of it from the beginning to the end,” he said. “Early Education was my priority…We increased early education by $18.5 million. That’s one of the largest increases we’ve seen…To be in the Legislature a little over five years, it’s a huge thing for me and knowing the Senate President had the confidence in me to put me in that leadership team role. It’s no secret if you’re the vice chair of Ways & Means you can do a lot of good things for a lot of people and that includes a lot of good things for your district as well.”
In Charlestown, some of those local things included $25,000 for Charlestown Against Drugs (CHAD) and $10,000 for maintenance of the Korean War Memorial in the Navy Yard.
An overall victory for the entire district and for working families in Charlestown was the Earned Income Tax Credit increase.
“This was a major goal for the senate president and for me,” he said. “It’s a benefit that’s widespread across my district. There was no district across the state that would have been impacted more than my district if it had been cut. It’s an important program to help working families. It was important we held on to that in the Conference Committee and we did. It would have been a 15 to 22 percent cut to the program if we hadn’t. It’s a major win for my district.”
Another benefit districtwide were increases to the Shannon Grant for Public Safety that will increase youth jobs in Charlestown, Everett and Chelsea. A key part of that was accounting for the minimum wage increase, which could have had the effect of decreasing youth jobs had the difference not been made up.
“We did account for the minimum wage increase,” he said. “There was a concerted effort to account for that and to increase jobs for our youth. If you just increase it a little, you end up losing some of those jobs because of the increase in minimum wage.”
Another change to the Budget process this year, for the first time in a long time in the Senate, was the re-introduction of district earmarks. For quite some time, the Senate hasn’t allowed members to request specific earmarks for their districts. That all changed when Rosenberg came in, DiDomenico said.
“This was the first budget in a long time where members were allowed to prioritize different items in their own areas,” he said. “We haven’t had that in the Senate budget process since I’ve been here. We did that because each senator knows their district better than we do. It’s a common sense thing.”
DiDomenico said he spent many long meetings in discussions over the budget this summer, and praised the staff and number crunchers that help the process along. He said there were different goals and priorities within the Committee, but there was nothing that couldn’t be overcome.
He also said President Rosenberg operated by giving a great deal of leeway to the Committee, something that often gets lost in the heat of negotiations.
“He allowed us to do our job,” he said. “He not only said that, but also he lived by it. He was true to his word on that.”
DiDomenico said he leaves the process with a great deal of respect for it and also a good feeling of what was created.
“Overall, it’s a great budget for my district and the entire Commonwealth,” he said. “It was a lot of work. Not being part of the budget before, you don’t realize how much work and research goes into it; it’s really a collaborative effort to do a lot of good things for a lot of people.”