Wednesday, April 25, 2012
SENIORS DISRUPT HOUSE BUDGET SESSION, DELIVER LIST OF POLICY DEMANDS
By Kyle Cheney and Michael Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 24, 2012…..Senior citizens frustrated with theLegislature's handling of transportation and other public policy issues disrupted House budget deliberations Tuesday, prompting House leaders to declare a recess and instruct court officers to clear thepublic galleryof protesters.
"We got kicked out. I've never been kicked out of anyplace," Cathy Laroche, 70, of Fall River told the News Service while standing outside the gallery with her sisters, Ruth Grant, 76, and Claire Karl, 75.
The protest began shortly after 3 p.m. with House Speaker Robert DeLeo presiding. As protesters began to express themselves, Rep. Paul Donato(D-Medford) took the gavel and asked them “respectfully” to quiet down. When they didn’t, Donato quickly declared a recess, after which courtofficers swarmed the gallery, shouting at the protesters, including some in wheelchairs, and directing them to the exits.
As lawmakers resumed work on the budget, protesters outside the gallery warned of life-threatening consequences of pending fare hikes on theMBTA. Assembled by the Massachusetts Senior Action Council and the TRiders Union, the noisy but swift protest was the tensest moment of largely staid budget deliberations that began Monday and have
primarily unfolded behind closed doors.
The protest, involving about 200 seniors, transit rider advocates and their supporters, occurred as lawmakers milled about the chamber waitingto begin afternoon deliberations on transportation amendments to the$32.3 billion state budget proposal.
“It’s an emergency situation for people with disabilities and seniors because they’re facing fare hikes that could endanger their living situation,” said John Robinson, a Somerville resident and member o fSenior Action Council. Robinson said seniors and disabled residents might be forced to choose between paying for rides to work or their medical appointments and putting food on their table.
As they were ejected, protesters serenaded lawmakers with a rendition of“God Bless America” and then resumed chanting outside the House chamber,yelling “Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.” The Senior Action Council’s slogan, according to the group’s web site is, “Don’t just take it. Take charge!”
Protesters were equipped with a list of budget priorities assembled by the council. The priorities include investing in public transportation and blocking planned service reductions, ending the waiting list for homecare services, restoring a program intended to help seniors pay forprescription drugs, and raising revenues and taxes.
“Massachusetts is facing a nearly $1.5 billion budget deficit yet theservices and programs that help keep our communities strong are needed now more than ever,” according to the council. “We must take a balanced approach to the fiscal crisis and raise additional revenue so that we canmaintain the services we need and value. We support tax reforms thatwill raise substantial new revenue while holding down increases for lowand middle income families.”
The House budget, unlike the spending plan unveiled in January by Gov.Deval Patrick, includes no new taxes or fees, with House leaders sayingtheir approach is aimed at keeping down tax burdens as Massachusetts looks to accelerate its economic recovery.
Other council priorities include ensuring that a personal needs allowance for nursing home residents is maintained at $72.80 per month, reinstatinga policy that allows MassHealth nursing home residents to keep their beds if they leave for a hospital stay, increasing supports for councils onaging to help those organizations cope with an increasing elderly population.
About 15 minutes after it began, the protest subsided and seniors began filing out of the State House. Some visitors criticized their tactics as“disorganized” and said they would have been better off taking theirmessage to reporters. “They have to learn how to hit the media, but itdoesn’t just mean disorganization,” complained Mary Crozier, an elderly Boston resident who ripped the prosters’ tactics.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill) told colleagues at the outset of this week’s budget debate that the House’s budget proposal “maintains essential services while at the same time charges the administration with the responsibility of continuing to provide and deliver those services as efficiently as possible.”
But Tuesday’s protest underscores the fact that many in Massachusetts disagree.
The protest is largely an outgrowth of a decision by the MBTA earlier this month to embrace a budget-balancing plan that asks disabled riders to, in some cases double the amount they pay for the T’s RIDE service.The board of the MBTA, facing a projected $160 million budget shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year, backed a plan that would raise subway and bus fares, impose modest service cuts and eliminate a subsidy on ferryriders. The cuts could go deeper, T officials have warned, if theLegislature doesn’t back the agency’s plan to draw $51 million from a motor vehicle trust fund surplus.
Posted by Michaelann Bewsee