Record funding for public schools. More than $1 billion in local aid for cities and towns. A controversial plan to cut prescription drug costs.
These are the big-ticket items that generated headlines when Governor Charlie Baker signed the state’s $43.3 billion budget on July 31. But buried deep within the document are dozens of pet projects, some of them obscure and each one the result of intense behind-the-scenes lobbying by state lawmakers. Derided as pork-barrel projects, the earmarks fund everything from fireworks to fuel tanks. Given limited resources, critics say such projects should be chosen according to need and merit, not political influence. Here’s a sampling of a few that made it through the gantlet on Beacon Hill.
STATE HOUSE ELEVATORS: $227,610 to maintain the State House’s 16 newly installed elevators. The elevators, relied upon to ferry tourists and politicians escaping the press, were recently in the spotlight when WCVB-TV reported that they feature bronze fixtures, dark cherry laminate, marble-tiled floors, and state seals, and cost $10,299,000 to install — $483,160 more than anticipated. The latest round of state funding will pay for an elevator mechanic, ongoing maintenance, and emergency repairs, state officials said.
STONE BARN ROOF REPAIRS: $50,000 to repair the roof of a 19th-century stone building in Hemlock Gorge in Wellesley, believed to be one of the last remaining industrial structures on the Charles River. The Stone Barn might have originally been part of Newton Iron Works. Recently, it’s been maintained by the Friends of Hemlock Gorge, which hosts twice-annual volunteer luncheons. John Mordes, group’s president, said if the roof is not fixed, the building could be ruined, destroying a rich bit of history. “I was certainly someone who opposed the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska,” he said. “But this is a worthy project.”
SUDBURY RIVER WATER CHESTNUTS: $20,000 to remove invasive water chestnuts that are choking the river, despite efforts to remove them by hand and with a water-chestnut harvesting machine that resembles a giant floating tractor. “The geese and the ducks can’t even move through it, and fish can’t even come up for air,” said Robert D. McArthur, Framingham’s conservation administrator. The state funding, he said, will help pay for a contractor to spray the water chestnut leaves with herbicide three times a year, in hopes of finally killing the plant.
MUDDY RIVER WATERGOAT: $12,000 to buy a “Watergoat” to strain trash from the Muddy River, the meandering urban brook that runs through the Emerald Necklace, from Jamaica Pond to the Fenway. The contraption — actually a net attached to buoys and a long boom — will stretch across the river and trap bottles, cans, and wrappers without entangling turtles, birds, and fish, said Caroline Reeves of the Muddy Water Initiative, an environmental group. “It’s not a farm animal but, like a goat, it gobbles up the trash, and we are so excited about it,” she said. The earmark will pay for the $5,900 device, two engineers to install it, and a contractor to haul away the garbage, as part of a broader effort to restore the river, Reeves said.
THE DAUGHTERS OF SAINT PAUL: $15,000 to repair the roof on the Jamaica Plain home of the Daughters of Saint Paul, a group of Catholic nuns who run a publishing house and spread the Gospel through books, magazines, and other media. The congregation, founded in Italy in 1915, counts some 2,000 members in 52 countries. Representative Nika Elugardo, a Jamaica Plain Democrat who sponsored the earmark, said it was the only one of five local projects she requested that was funded this year. Still, she said, she was pleased. “It seemed to me that Ways and Means made a strong effort to make sure everybody got something,” Elugardo said, referring to the powerful House panel that oversees state spending.
MARSHFIELD DOG PARK CLEANUP: $10,000 to help the Friends of the Marshfield Dog Park, a citizens’ group, clean up the town’s first dog park, once it is built. Steve Darcy, the group’s president, said the park’s location has not yet been announced and it may not open for another two years. But the state funding, he said, will pay for lawn-mowing, a contractor to clean up waste, and a plastic-bag dispenser mounted on a post.
JULY FOURTH FIREWORKS SHOW: $50,000 to help the Boston Symphony Orchestra produce the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, the annual July Fourth extravaganza that draws an estimated 500,000 people to the Esplanade. The show receives corporate funding from Eaton Vance and Bloomberg, but the orchestra said it still ends up with a nearly $1 million annual shortfall to stage the event. Orchestra officials said the $50,000 will help pay for the TV broadcast and concert, guest artist fees, installation of the sound towers and giant screens along the Charles River, and the fireworks show. In the future, the BSO said it is committed to finding additional private funding.
LUNENBURG GAS TANKS: $165,000 to remove and replace underground fuel tanks at the Lunenburg Department of Works. The tanks, used to gas up the town’s police cruisers, fire engines, and school buses, are 25 years old and at risk of leaking, Police Chief James P. Marino said. “We want to prevent something from happening,” he said. “It’s not something you want to take a chance with.”