BOSTON (State House News Service) - Snow blew noiselessly outside the basement windows of the Gardner Auditorium, but the wet, white stuff played a role in the budget hearing there, mostly by keeping people away.
A parade of executive directors and activists sat at the card table in front of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committee Friday, though others were kept away by the weather.
The hearing was the culmination of a series of budget hearings lawmakers held around the state the past few weeks, soliciting input from administration officials. Friday was the first chance for members of the public to weigh in on Gov. Deval Patrick's budget, which includes $1.9 billion in new revenue. At the start of the hearing, 27 people had signed up to speak.
"It has been very stressful trying to find an opening in one of the early childhood education programs in my community due to the lack of slots and vouchers available," read the testimony of Melissa Ramos, a Springfield resident who spoke with Stand for Children Massachusetts.
Ramos did not make the drive from Springfield, but her testimony was delivered at the hearing. Chinedu Okongwu, a Dorchester resident, arrived straight from his overnight shift as a security guard at Harvard University and read the testimony to the committee members.
"She couldn't make it down because of the weather," Okongwu told the News Service. Ramos called him on Thursday with the news, he said. Okongwu said, "I'm willing to help out."
Some lawmakers were unable to make it to the meeting, as well, though by the time Patrick spoke to the committee, nearly every committee seat was filled.
Neither Sen. Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster) nor Cheryl Coakley-Rivera (D-Springfield) made it to the State House, though they had planned to be in charge of the hearing. Instead, the meeting was run by a legislator who lives closer to the State House, Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett).
A Nantucket Democrat who spent Thursday at a budget meting near Boston, Rep. Timothy Madden had the opposite problem.
"Today and yesterday, there wasn't transportation to the islands. It wasn't an option," Madden said.
Activists on both sides of the budget debate were hampered in their attempts to travel to the State House. Four realty market advocates spoke against Patrick's planned elimination of specific tax proposals, though their compatriot Annie Blatz, of Brewster, wasn't able to make it.
"She was going to talk about the lead paint tax credit," said Greg Vasil, CEO of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board. The positive aspects of the tax credit were discussed by Vasil and others.
"People aspire to home ownership," Vasil told the committee. He said, "Oftentimes people look at tax credits as something for the rich. In this case this is something for everyday people."
The weather also provided a touchstone for the diverse group that alternatively sought more state funding or protection from plans to raise revenue.
"Double the budget for snowplowing in the Commonwealth," joked George Bachrach, of the Environmental League of Massachusetts.
Copyright State House News Service