Baker Budget Plan Could Help Environmental Agencies Staff Up
By Katie Lannan
State House News Service
BOSTON -- Gov. Charlie Baker’s fiscal 2020 budget includes funding that would allow state environmental agencies to restore some staff lost in previous years, according to advocacy groups that said Baker’s proposal makes progress in “reversing the trend of significant cuts.”
The higher funding levels in the first budget of the Republican governor’s second term still fall well short of a commitment Baker made while running for office in 2014 to boost funding for the environment to 1 percent of overall state spending, according to Environmental League of Massachusetts figures.
Baker’s $42.7 billion budget increases environmental spending by 6 percent over last year, according to ELM and the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance.
Baker’s proposal appropriates $36.4 million for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, $60.8 million for the Department of Environmental Protection, $31.1 million for the Department of Fish and Game, $25.5 million for the Department of Agricultural Resources, and $97.1 million for the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Within DCR, Baker recommended funding the line item for state parks and recreation at $42.2 million, a nearly $2 million hike over this year’s budget.
ELM President Elizabeth Henry said Baker’s budget would grant DCR parks “a much needed modest increase that can go towards full time staff for unstaffed parks and to expand the Park Support Operations crew which is currently only 15 people for the entire state.”
Gabby Queenan, the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance’s policy director, said the nearly $3.3 million bump for the Department of Environmental Protection would still leave the agency at a lower staffing level than in fiscal 2015, but that it “represents a positive step forward in expanding the capacity of the agency tasked with protecting our water, land and air.”
MassDEP hit a staffing high point of 1,200 full-time personnel in 2009 and is now at around 670, according to ELM.
According to ELM, the nearly $251 million in environmental spending included in Baker’s plan would make up 0.58 percent of the total budget, up from 0.56 percent of this year’s budget.
At an October 2014 forum ahead of his election as governor, Baker said he could “promise you” he would restore state environmental funding to 1 percent of the budget “over the course of my administration.”
ELM and the Rivers Alliance said there’s still “a way to go” to reach that 1 percent level -- which would work out to roughly $421 million -- but the state is “making progress.”
The two groups also lauded Baker’s proposal, rolled out alongside his budget, to raise the excise tax on real estate transfers, with the corresponding revenue going toward helping municipalities cope with the impacts of climate change.
The groups plan to discuss their 2020 environmental budget priorities at a Feb. 26 State House briefing.
[Michael P. Norton contributed reporting]