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POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: In matters of health and budget, the answer in Mass. is red – News – MetroWest Daily News, Framingham, MA

To crack down on get-togethers leading to new cases in the high-risk community, Framingham will no longer issue warning letters to hosts of illegal gatherings before levying fines. Now, one such gathering will earn party hosts a $500 fine.

It’s raining. But is it pouring?

Weather-wise, it’s dry, with a critical drought declared Friday in the southeastern part of the state and significant drought levels elsewhere. But on the fiscal front, it’s time for budget managers to figure out just how much the climate has dampened since Gov. Charlie Baker filed a $44.6 billion spending plan in January, way back when the anticipated 2.8% growth was considered modest.

By the time Ways and Means Chairs Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Sen. Michael Rodrigues and Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan convened economic experts on Wednesday — their third such huddle of this budget cycle — any expectation for the $31.15 billion in revenue collections that Baker built his budget around had evaporated.

Instead, the revenue projections that were described as “optimistic” during the summit were those that, if you were more a glass half-empty type, could also be called “least bleak.”

That includes the $29.6 billion estimate put forth by Tufts University’s Center for State Policy Analysis, and the $29.2 billion offered by the Beacon Hill Institute. The Beacon Hill Institute’s number, representing a decline over last year’s tax haul, could perhaps only be deemed optimistic in comparison to the forecasts already shared earlier in the day — $27.27 billion from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, and a range of $25.9 billion to $28.37 billion from the state Department of Revenue.

However big the gap is, it’ll be up to Michlewitz and Rodrigues to figure out how to plug it in the budget proposals they ultimately put forward for their respective branches to vote on.

Whenever that ends up happening.

No more warnings

On Wednesday, the number of cities and towns placed into that high-risk red category on the department’s color-coded metric — those with an average daily incidence rate of more than eight cases per 100,000 residents — swelled to 40, up from 23 a week earlier.

Statewide, the incident rate rose to 7.3 cases per 100,000 residents in this week’s report, up from 5.7 last week.

To crack down on get-togethers leading to new cases in the high-risk community, Framingham will no longer issue warning letters to hosts of illegal gatherings before levying fines. Now, one such gathering will earn party hosts a $500 fine.

And with a two-week average daily case rate of nearly 13 people per 100,000, Framingham’s school system announced that it would scale back plans to return to in-person learning.

And in Natick? Well. The Board of Health voted last week to levy fines as high as $1,000 for each violation of the board’s safety measures intended to protect the community against COVID-19.

Tuesday’s 3-0 vote takes into account a state nuisance law.

In most cases, violators may receive a warning for a first infraction, said board Chairman Peter Delli Colli said. But the next one could result in a $300 fine — or higher — depending on its severity.

“Fines are not in the best interest of the community, but we want to discourage behaviors,” Delli Colli said.

Anti-virus song

A student at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester used a little inspiration from Billy Joel to create a COVID-19 rallying song for the start of the new academic year.

Mason Wheaton, a first-generation college student who plans to graduate with an associate degree in music next spring, self-wrote and self-recorded “We Can Fight the Virus,” which is sung to the tune of Joel’s 1989 hit “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

“Mason is an example of the incredible talent that we see in so many of our students,” said Quinsigamond’s president, Luis Pedraja. “This was a fun and effective way to demonstrate what we can and should be doing to fight the virus. Mason’s song will resonate with many in the days and weeks to come.”

Music Professor José Castillo thought of Wheaton when the college asked him to find a student to perform a parody motivational song.

“My responsibility was to choose the perfect performer for the song. Someone who would not only have a beautiful voice and musical talent, but also someone who would make the lyrics come to life and add a special charisma to the overall project,” he said.

Wheaton intends to eventually transfer to UMass Amherst on her way to becoming a vocal teacher, but said she is grateful to have started her higher education at Quinsigamond.

Her song can be found at www.QCC.edu/fight-the-virus.

Early voting

Mail-in voting has already begun and this Saturday commences an early voting period that runs through Oct. 30. Four days of weekend voting will be held in every community during that period.

“Those planning to vote in person do not need to submit their Vote by Mail applications,” Secretary of State William Galvin’s office clarified in a Sept. 11 press release advising voters about vote-by-mail applications.

Citing advice from the U.S. Postal Service, the secretary has asked voters to submit their vote-by-mail applications no later than Oct. 20. Mail-in ballots that are not received by local election officials on or before Election Day (Nov. 3) must arrive no later than Nov. 6 and be postmarked by Nov. 3 in order to be counted.

Elected officials in Massachusetts have defended the massive mail-in system as a properly functioning one, rejecting the claims of President Donald Trump who is trying to sow doubt about the integrity of mail-in voting and its expanded use across the nation.

Virtual Halloween

Candy bars on cookie sheets at the end of driveways. Virtual costume contests. And a protective face mask accompanying one of those more traditional monster ones.

Those are among the tips Baker and the Department of Public Health gave out last week week for ways to safely celebrate Halloween this year, in lieu of the haunted houses, festive hayrides and bustling trick-or-treat routes that could give the highly contagious coronavirus ample opportunity to spread.

And don’t even think about bobbing for apples.

In Salem on Tuesday, Baker said he’d leave it up to local officials to decide how to handle the spooky holiday. Mayor Kim Driscoll said she’s working with municipal health officials on guidance for pandemic-era Halloween celebrations in a city famous for its haunted happenings.

“We’re purists,” she said. “Folks are probably going to go out.”

They said it…

“(Animal Control Officer) Melinda (MacKendrick) showed up with a bucket of grains, and she thought they’d come running, but they turned their noses up.” — Kelly Marston, manager at Uhlman’s Farm Ice Cream in Westborough, describing the reaction — or lack thereof — of four escaped cows last Sunday when the town’s animal control officer tried to lure them home with their usual meal. Alas, a bucket of waffle cones eventually did the trick.

“We think we can better serve the public and ourselves by flipping again and having this board consider holding the special Town Meeting, which is now scheduled for Nov. 9, at the high school.” — Milford Town Administrator Richard Villani, suggesting that the town pivot from a previous plan to host the meeting in three different venues.

Contributors to the Political Notebook this week include Deputy Director of Multimedia Dan O’Brien, Scott O’Connell of the Telegram & Gazette and the State House News Service..

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