All wet: Taxpayers tapped for $1.1 million on state workers' bottled water
Jan. 09--Taxpayers are picking up the $1.1 million tab for state workers to drink bottled water, an approximate 23-percent increase in the past five years.
"That's a tremendous waste of resources and money," said Kirstie Pecci, director of the Zero Waste Project at the Conservation Law Foundation. "That's amazing to me."
Pecci said it would "make much more sense" to install water refill stations for people to use in various government buildings, which would "save the state a lot of money in the long run," and benefit the environment.
The state's spending on bottled water and rental costs for equipment have steadily climbed by more than $200,000 over the past five years. In 2014, the state spent $892,843, followed by $920,272 in 2015, $913,806 in 2016, $1.17 million in 2017 and $1.1 million in 2018, according to state records.
Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said, "The number is ironic, particularly given that the state Department of Conservation and Recreation's entire budget for the watershed management (program) is $1.1 million."
The top three spenders over the years has been the Executive Office of Health and Human Safety, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, and the Executive Office of Education, respectively. Other constitutional offices including the attorney general, the state auditor and the judiciary are also included in the total amount spent.
At HHS, which spent $286,312 on bottled water in Fiscal Year 2018, an official noted that the state agency has 22,000 employees across 154 locations.
In the Office of Public Safety and Security, which spent $184,923 on bottled water, an official cited the agency's large size, with approximately 2,600 state police employees and 4,500 workers at the Department of Correction throughout 16 prison facilities and offices across the state. The Executive Office of Education did not return requests for comment.
Gov. Charlie Baker, who has been criticized in the past by environmental groups, earned a "C" grade from the ELM and admitted on the campaign trail that he failed to fulfill his promise to devote 1 percent of the state budget to environmental agencies during his first term.
Baker's office referred comment to the Operational Services Division office, which cited "over 100 competitive statewide contracts" that it manages and negotiates on behalf of executive branch state agencies "so that taxpayer dollars are spent as carefully as possible, and all vendors associated with water services offer environmentally-friendly options that clean and reuse 5-gallon bottles numerous times."
Meanwhile, taxpayers also spent $242,415,557 during Fiscal Year 2018 for water provided by the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority, which has been rated among the best in the nation. That number reflects the MWRA service area, including Boston and 41 other communities, according to spokeswoman Ria Convery.
Measures have been taken at the state level before to ban the state from spending money on bottled water, including a bill filed in 2017 by former State Rep. Chris Walsh (D-Framingham), and before that in 2014. Both bills failed.