MMA alert on the state budget

This from the Massachusetts Municipal Association, on the state budget, last week –

Thursday, April 25, 2013





Late on Wednesday night, the House of Representatives completed three days of debate on its version of the fiscal 2014 state budget, passing a $34 billion budget plan by a 127-29 vote.  The House members also passed a one-year $300 million Chapter 90 bill by a unanimous 155-0 vote.  Both measures now head to the Senate, where the MMA is urging swift action on Chapter 90 to ensure that cities and towns can move quickly on important road projects without losing more of the construction season.

House Approves $34B State Budget Bill

Amendments Add $5M to Chapter 70, $3M to SPED Circuit Breaker, $500K to Regional Transportation, $2.5M to Shannon Anti-Gang Grants

Amendment to Weaken the Public Safety Residency Requirement Rejected

House members spent 3 days sifting through 888 amendments, including many proposals to increase funding for key municipal and education accounts.  With a bottom line that is $1 billion lower than the Governor’s budget proposal, there were many accounts that legislators were interested in expanding.  In the end, however, House members were moderate in adding back additional funding, although there were a number of areas where progress was made.

The budget includes a $21 million increase in unrestricted general government aid, and this key priority was retained in the final version of the House budget with no changes.

Now that the House has completed its work, it is the Senate’s turn to act.  The Senate Ways and Means Committee is expected to release its version of the fiscal 2014 state budget in mid-May, with Senate debate expected during the week of May 20.  After that, the House and Senate will form a conference committee to hammer out a final version to enact before July 1.  Please review the House action outlined below and contact your Senators to highlight important priorities that you need addressed during the budget debate, especially concerning unrestricted municipal aid, Chapter 70, and the key accounts outlined in this and previous MMA Action Alerts.

Chapter 70 Education Aid

Even though the budget proposed by the House Ways and Means Committee provided a $109 million increase to Chapter 70 to fully fund the foundation budget formula and provide a minimum increase of $25 per student to every city and town, the initial allocation of aid did not include implementation of the 2006 reforms to establish a “target share” equity standard, which is one of the major reasons why the aid distribution in the proposed House budget was significantly lower for many communities and school districts than the budget offered by Governor Patrick in January.

With dozens of House members sponsoring amendments to increase the Chapter 70 distribution, mostly to fully or partially implement the target share reforms, Representatives voted to add $5 million more to Chapter 70 to fund a 15 percent phase-in of target share aid.  Because of the complexity of the formula, the distribution of these funds is limited to a small number of communities and school districts, especially those close to their foundation level with a higher-than-average growth in students.


Special Education “Circuit Breaker”

The House Ways and Means Committee deserves praise for adding $5 million to the Special Education Circuit Breaker account, partially restoring the $11.4 million cut that was imposed by the Governor last December using his 9C powers.  During the debate, House members voted to add another $3 million to the program, resulting in a final House budget that adds $8 million more to the circuit breaker account than in the Governor’s original budget.

Student Transportation Reimbursements

In December, the Governor cut regional student transportation reimbursements by $1 million, lowering the account to $44.5 million.  The House Ways and Means Committee proposed restoring the $1 million, and during the floor debate, Representatives added another $500,000 in funding, to bring the program up to $46 million.  Full funding would require $78 million.

Shannon Anti-Gang Grant Program

The Shannon Anti-Gang Grant Program was funded at only $2 million in the House Ways and Means budget, and during debate Representatives voted to add $2.5 million to the program, to bring it up to $4.5 million.  This account is crucial to assist those communities dealing with very challenging public safety and gang-related issues.  The program is funded at $6.25 million this year.

Representatives Reject Amendment 30, Which Would Have Undermined the Public Safety Residency Law

The MMA strongly opposed Amendment 30, which would have effectively eliminated the statutory 10-mile residency requirement in state law for police officers and firefighters by unilaterally increasing the limit to 35 miles.  Police officers and firefighters are required by law to live within 10 miles of the community in which they work.  Many cities and towns have included residency provisions in their collective bargaining contracts, and this amendment would interfere with those agreements, disrupting the management of their public safety departments.  A majority of communities have not included any residency provisions in their contracts, as the 10-mile range works well for them, and these localities would suddenly face serious management and logistical issues.  The MMA fought this amendment because it would have negatively impacted police and fire departments across the Commonwealth, and Representatives did not adopt the amendment.  It will be important to monitor this issue to block any attempt to add this item during the Senate budget debate in May.

House Unanimously Passes $300M Chapter 90 Bill

In the midst of the final night of its state budget debate, the House unanimously passed a $300 million Chapter 90 bond bill for fiscal 2014, which would boost funding for the local road and bridge program by 50 percent.  The increase – and expedient passage – have long been top priorities of the MMA and local officials statewide.

House and Senate leaders and the governor are all in agreement on a $300 million funding level for Chapter 90 for fiscal 2014 and beyond.  Any remaining debate is over the details of proposals to raise additional revenue for transportation projects. Leaders in the House and Senate have stated, however, that transportation finance bills passed by each branch earlier this month would cover the $100 million increase in Chapter 90. The unanimous House vote last night appears to reflect that assurance.

The Chapter 90 bond bill now heads to the Senate, and we urge local officials to contact their Senators to make sure the legislation receives immediate consideration .  The release of authorizations for the Chapter 90 reimbursement program has been delayed in each of the past two years, causing cities and towns to miss the bulk of the construction season. This year, the MMA and local officials have expressed concerns that Chapter 90 might again be held up by extended State House debates about new revenues and a multi-year transportation package, which is why the association has been pushing hard for a stand-alone Chapter 90 bill for fiscal 2014.

Legislative leaders have been responsive to the MMA’s concerns. When House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray announced a House-Senate transportation finance framework on April 2, supported by the House and Senate Ways and Means and Transportation committees, the plan included a one-year, $300 million Chapter 90 bill as companion legislation. Rep. William Straus of Mattapoisett, House chair of the Transportation Committee, ushered the Chapter 90 bill through the House.

The House adopted one amendment to the bill, which would require cities and towns to use their authorizations from any given year within five years or seek a waiver from the Department of Transportation due to special circumstances. The MMA will be working with the Senate to ensure the workability of the language of this provision.

Swift consideration by the Senate is an urgent priority because the Chapter 90 legislation must go through several additional steps before becoming law and taking effect.  After Senate approval, the bill will need a final vote in the House and Senate, and the bond bill must be signed into law by the Governor.  Then the Legislature will need to pass a “terms” bill to set the terms of the state bond to support the $300 million.  After that measure becomes law, the Governor must then release the full $300 million for distribution.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s