Senate adopts its budget


A Massachusetts Municipal Association alert this morning (copy below) indicates that the Senate passed its version of the state budget last night, and since the Senate voted more monies that the House, it goes to a conference committee now –

Friday, May 24, 2013

SENATE FINISHES DEBATE ON FY 2014 BUDGET

Senators Add Funding to Several Key Accounts

Senate Would Tie UGGA Increase to FY 2013 Surplus

State Budget Now Goes to Conference

Late last night, on Thursday, May 23, the Massachusetts Senate concluded debate on its $34 billion version of the fiscal 2014 state budget.

The full Senate embraced the Senate Ways and Means Committee recommendation to increase the appropriation for Chapter 70 school aid by $130 million over the fiscal 2013 level of funding, $15 million more than voted by the House last month, and included language in section 3 that would begin a limited four-year phase-in to include the health care cost of retired teachers as “net school spending” under Chapter 70.  This is an important change that would more accurately count school spending and bring greater integrity to the state’s system of school finance.

Senators also appropriated $253 million to fund the estimated full state share of the special education “circuit breaker” program, an increase of $10 million over the final fiscal 2013 level of funding, now that the Governor has reversed the earlier 9C reduction.   The Senate budget also includes a $3 million appropriation to reimburse cities and towns for the cost of transporting students to out-of-district vocational education programs.

Senate members considered 725 amendments, including many that the MMA promoted to add funding to key municipal and education accounts, and others that would impact the administration of local government.

The next step in the process will be for the House and Senate to appoint members of a special conference committee to iron out the differences and present a consensus budget to legislators prior to the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1.

Here is a summary of Senate action on the key amendments and issues highlighted in the MMA’s budget Action Alert sent on Tuesday, May 21:

SENATE ADOPTS AMENDMENT TO PROVIDE A $21 MILLION INCREASE IN UNRESTRICTED GENERAL GOVERNMENT AID, CONTINGENT ON USING SURPLUS REVENUES FROM FISCAL 2013

The budget proposed by the Senate Ways and Means Committee did not include the $21 million increase for unrestricted municipal aid (the UGGA account) that the House embraced in its version of the fiscal 2014 budget.

The Senate Ways and Means budget would have level-funded UGGA at $899 million, in contrast with the House budget, which would increase the UGGA distribution by $21 million, bringing municipal aid up to $920 million for fiscal 2014.  The House budget reflects expected growth in Lottery revenues next year, which is now the main revenue source for UGGA distributions, and provides communities with a 2.3 percent increase, which is very modest when compared to the 4.4 percent growth in state spending that is contemplated in the Legislature’s fiscal 2014 budget framework.

The Senate adopted an amendment to use $21 million from a possible fiscal 2013 year-end surplus to bring UGGA distributions to cities and towns up to $920 million in fiscal 2014.  This approach is similar to the $65 million UGGA allocation that cities and towns received in November of 2011 during fiscal 2012, funded with surplus revenues from fiscal 2011.  The benefit is that cities and towns would likely receive the $21 million increase during fiscal 2014, but the disadvantage is that these funds are not guaranteed, and cannot really be budgeted for ongoing operations.  The MMA will be calling on the Conference Committee to adopt the House approach, which would guarantee the $21 million increase in your local aid base.

THE SENATE DID NOT INCREASE REIMBURSEMENTS FOR SCHOOL AID DEDUCTIONS FOR CHARTER SCHOOL TUITION

DESE estimates that it would require $103 million to fully fund the state’s obligation to reimburse cities and towns for a portion of the Chapter 70 aid lost to charter schools, as required in the 2010 education reform statute.  H. 1 included an appropriation of $80.3 million, but the Senate budget would fund the account at only $76.4 million.

The Senate rejected an amendment to fully fund the state’s share next year at $103 million. This remains a very important priority for those communities that host charter schools – without full funding, programs for students in the traditional public school system will be harmed.

THE SENATE ADOPTED AN AMENDMENT MAKING THE PUBLIC SAFETY RESIDENCY LIMIT A SUBJECT OF LOCAL COLLECTIVE BARGAINING

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 more restrictive residency provisions in their collective bargaining contracts, and the Senate adopted an amendment to allow collective bargaining to decide whether to exceed the 10-mile limit.  The MMA is gravely concerned that this amendment would make a critical management right, the determination of whether to exceed the 10-mile limit, subject to bargaining and arbitration.  The MMA will be working to strike this amendment from the final version of the budget.

THE SENATE ADDED $1.25 MILLION TO THE McKINNEY-VENTO MANDATE REIMBURSEMENT, BRINGING THE ACCOUNT UP TO $7.35 MILLION

Senators voted to add $1.25 million to the original appropriation to pay for the unfunded state mandate to provide transportation services to homeless students to schools outside the local school district. The Senate now stands at $7.35 million, compared to the House appropriation of $6.1 million.  The fiscal 2013 appropriation is $11.3 million, now that the Governor has rescinded his earlier 9C reduction.

SHANNON ANTI-GANG GRANT PROGRAM

Senators adopted an amendment to fund the Shannon Anti-Gang Grant Program at $7 million, which is $2.5 million more than the House budget, and $750,000 more than this year’s funding level.  This program is crucial to assist those communities dealing with very challenging public safety and gang-related issues, which is why the Senate funding level deserves to prevail.

SENATE ADDS $2 MILLION MORE TO REGIONAL SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION REIMBURSEMENTS, BRINGING THE ACCOUNT UP TO $51.5 MILLION

The Senate approved an amendment to add $2 million more to reimbursements to school districts to help pay for a portion of the costs of transporting students, increasing the Senate funding for the account to $51.5 million.  The House voted to fund the account at $46 million, and the current funding level is $45.5 million.  DESE estimates that it would require $78 million to cover the state’s full share of this program, which demonstrates how far the Commonwealth is from meeting its commitment.  The MMA will be advocating for the Senate number.

$1 MILLION ADDED TO THE PAYMENT-IN-LIEU-OF-TAXES FOR STATE-OWNED LAND ACCOUNT, BRINGING THE SENATE UP TO $27.3 MILLION

The Senate voted to increase the PILOT program from its current funding level of $26.3 million up to $27.3 million.  The Governor and House budgets would level fund the account.  PILOT payments are vitally important for those cities and towns that host state facilities, and the program has been underfunded for many years.

SENATE BUDGET INCLUDES PROBLEMATIC PROVISION ON EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES PAYMENTS

Section 92 of the Senate budget would make a detrimental change to how cities and towns set fees for emergency medical services.  Cities and towns set fees and charges for a wide variety of municipal services strictly limited by state law to the cost of providing the service.  This is the same rule that applies to local rate setting for emergency ambulance services and ensures that rates are reasonable and prevents insurance companies from shifting costs to local property taxpayers through below-cost reimbursements.  The Senate approved legislation last session that clarified this authority, but that important measure was vetoed by the Governor.  While Section 92 would block the increasingly problematic “pay the patient” tactic used by insurance companies, it would take a step back by allowing the commissioner of insurance to set local rates through regulation, and would undermine a local process that is currently fair and working well across the Commonwealth.  The MMA will be working to improve or strike the provision from the final fiscal 2014 budget.

PLEASE CHECK THE MMA WEBSITE (WWW.MMA.ORG) FOR FURTHER UPDATES AS ANALYSIS OF THE SENATE BUDGET CONTINUES.

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