STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS - LUNCH EDITION - TUESDAY, FEB. 11, 2014

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

SUSPICIOUS PACKAGE REPORTS ON THE RISE SINCE MARATHON BOMB

There has been increase in suspicious package reports since the Boston Marathon bombing last April, leading to some strain on the State Police units that respond to such incidents. "We're glad that they're turning out to be innocent, but it's the heightened vigilance and anxiety that I think we're seeing in the public," State Police Superintendent Col. Timothy Alben said at a fiscal 2015 budget hearing Tuesday in Fitchburg. The colonel told lawmakers that reports of suspicious packages have "gone through the roof" since last April. There is a bomb unit at Logan International Airport and one in Stow, Alben said. He told the News Service there is no requested budgetary increase for bomb-sniffing dogs. - A. Metzger/SHNS

OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE PROBING NEW PROCUREMENT PROCESSES

The latest Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee hearing is underway on Tuesday as lawmakers are looking for answers on what went wrong with projects to build new information technology systems for the Department of Revenue and the Department of Unemployment Assistance, which contracted with Deloitte for a system to process unemployment claims that has been plagued by malfunctions. Sen. Cynthia Creem, the chair of the Senate committee, started Tuesday's hearing by questioning Gary Lambert, chief procurement officer for the Commonwealth, on what the state was doing to improve its contracting processes and ensure proper oversight on the contract after it is awarded.


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Lambert said changes were still in the early phases of development, but officials are looking toward implementing a new seven-step process for procurement on major IT projects that would establish teams of varied disciplines to vet potential vendors and put the state's new chief information officer William Oates in charge of oversight. Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rachel Kaprielian, Registrar Celia Blue, Oates, and representatives from Deloitte Consulting LLP, who held the now scrutinized contracts, are all scheduled to testify. - M. Murphy/SHNS

BAKER PLEDGES LOCAL AID INCREASES

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker made a promise to cities and towns on Tuesday to never cut local aid and to increase funding for public schools and municipalities every year that the state realizes an increase in tax collections. Local aid accounts are usually increased from one year to the next, with some accounts periodically receiving level funding and governors occasionally trimming local aid during recessions. Baker, who declined to take the no-new-taxes pledge he took in his 2010 campaign, planned to be in Weymouth on Tuesday morning for a closed-door discussion on local governance with Weymouth City Council President Patrick O'Connor and Sen. Robert Hedlund, a Weymouth Republican. Announcing his "Community Contract," Baker said that if elected he would propose a budget that increases local aid by at least 75 percent of the state revenue growth rate in his first year in office, and 100 percent in subsequent years. He also said he would never put new mandates on cities and towns without sharing the cost at the state level, and vowed to work with cities and towns to set a minimum level of funding for the first two years of his administration so that cities and towns can have an expectation on which to build their budgets. "There is nothing more important to the health and safety of our communities than effective local government," Baker said in a statement. "My Community Contract will guarantee cities and towns see a local aid increase as state revenues grow and give local officials a seat at the table in the Baker administration." Gov. Deval Patrick in his final fiscal 2015 budget proposed level funding unrestricted local aid after an increase in fiscal 2014, and asked for a $100 million increase in Chapter 70 aid for public schools. Baker also said he would release the $100 million in Chapter 90 funding authorized by the Legislature last year that has been held back by the Patrick administration. Patrick released an all-time high $200 million for road repairs, but held the rest after the Legislature passed a smaller package of new taxes than the governor asked for. Patrick said the available funding for transportation is needed for other maintenance and expansion projects such as South Coast rail and the Green Line extension. - M. Murphy/SHNS