2011 State House Priorities

Rep. Conroy Set Priorities for the Year

Jan. 10, 2011 – The major news at the State House this month has involved three interrelated topics – the introduction of over 5,000 new bills, a big legislative initiative from the governor around pension reform, and an agreement on revenue estimates for the fiscal 2012 budget year.

Earlier this month, we started a new two-year state legislative session, and I introduced two categories of bills that I will try to get passed into law over the next 24 months.

The first category includes bills that came from several of you – constituents who contacted me with an idea and asked me to craft a bill around it.

The second category consists of bills that stem from my own ideas.

Undoubtedly, there will be a third category of bills that emanate from town meetings in Lincoln, Sudbury and Wayland this spring. In fact, a bill related to property tax relief for seniors passed in Sudbury Town Meeting last week, and I’ll introduce it as soon as I receive the necessary paperwork from the town.

Constituents periodically send or tell me ideas about bills, which is great. Keep them coming. Many of the ideas are good ones, like the one I heard yesterday about a simplified state income tax form. Some are very narrow; others are best addressed at the federal level. I use criteria to evaluate each one and conduct research around the issue in question.

What is the problem the constituent is seeking to address? Is legislation the best means of addressing the problem, or is a letter to the governor or his deputy in the executive branch more appropriate? Does it fall under the attorney general’s jurisdiction? Do we have all the facts? Who would be helped and (potentially) hurt by the bill? How many people will it affect? Is it both fair to all parties and financially responsible?

Other questions and areas of evaluation arise depending upon the idea and the issue.

A sample of the constituent-inspired bills that I introduced last week, and which I will advocate for throughout the legislative process, include:

  • Allocate after a year all unclaimed class action lawsuit settlement funds to the Rainy Day fund.
  • Change the default response to “no” with regard to allowing credit card companies to share cardholders’ personal information with third parties.
  • Allow income eligible seniors to take advantage simultaneously of the property tax circuit breaker credit and the deferred property tax program.

I am also introducing new bills that would reduce our state and local financial liabilities without raising taxes:

  • Allow municipalities to take advantage of sophisticated and lower-cost investment management of funds dedicated to health care costs for municipal retirees.
  • Allocate portions of the annual tobacco settlement funds and any future attorney general tax settlements to pay down state liabilities related to health care costs of state retirees.
  • Reduce high-cost incentives currently in place that encourage state employees to retire early.
  • Evaluate the significant costs related to municipal and state public employee workers compensation and disability claims, and recommend ways to enhance public employee safety and reduce future claims.

I will also continue to work actively on pension reform and health care cost control. On pensions, I have participated in detailed discussions with the governor’s office on the pension reform proposal that he just introduced last week.

The challenge we face as financial stewards involves reducing our unfunded liabilities, being fair to state and municipal employees, while maintaining our excellent credit rating as a state and not burden taxpayers. We don’t want to go the way of Illinois, which because of its pension crisis, raised corporate and income taxes over 33 percent each earlier this month.

On health care cost control, I’ll be involved in crafting a compromise that takes into consideration the concerns of all the stakeholders – taxpayers, the business community, doctors, hospitals, insurers, medical device makers, life sciences companies, and information technology providers, among others.

Health care payment reform is the first, second and third priority of the business community because it will reduce costs for small businesses and allow them to create new jobs.

Of course, throughout this year’s difficult budget process, I’ll be ensuring that we spend taxpayer dollars as efficiently and as effectively as possible.

At $20.5 billion, our expected revenues for FY12 are higher than the past three years – a sign of economic recovery – but still below the FY08 levels.

In state government, we will continue to do more with less, as we have in the past few years.

As always, I welcome your ideas on increasing our non-tax revenues, while saving taxpayer dollars though prudent and judicious reform of government activities. We live in a constantly changing world, and there is always room to improve the way government works, just like in the private sector.

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