The Massachusetts Municipal Association today asked me to lobby our legislators about pending items, and in response I sent our Senator and Representatives the email below:
Dear Senator Timilty, and Representatives Garlick and Dooley,
I have generally come to have great faith in the Massachusetts Municipal Association, and therefore when the MMA asks me to support things, I usually believe that doing so is the right thing to do.
For your information, I have inserted below the MMA’s agenda for the remainder of your legislative session:
June 27, 2016
PLEASE CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVES AND SENATORS TODAY TO ENSURE THAT CITIES AND TOWNS ARE PROTECTED DURING THE LEGISLATURE’S END OF SESSION SPRINT
With Just 5 Weeks Remaining in the Session, Now is the Time to Ask Legislators to Address Municipal Concerns and Priorities
With the end of the formal legislative sessions just a few weeks away (the two-year legislative session will end on July 31), the House and Senate are looking at a long list of bills, large and small, that will need final approval by July 31 or have to start anew next January. Many of these bills would significantly impact cities and towns.
Please talk with your legislators this week and ask them to prioritize cities and towns during the end-of-session rush. The major issues in play include the following:
Balancing the Fiscal 2017 State Budget without Harming Cities and Towns
The House and Senate have each approved $39.5 billion state budget proposals for fiscal year 2017 (H. 4201 and S. 2305), and are now negotiating a final consensus bill. However, this process has been thrown into disarray by a major slump in state tax collections. The Governor has announced that fiscal 2017 revenues will certainly come in far below earlier predictions, saying that the shortfall is at least $450 million and as much as $750 million.
The Legislature has passed a temporary 1-month budget to cover state obligations through the end of July and provide some breathing room for legislators while they dramatically scale back their fiscal 2017 budget. It is imperative to remind your legislators that cities and towns have already set their budgets based on reasonable estimates of local aid and education funding. Any cuts to municipal or school accounts would trigger major budget problems in all 351 cities and towns. Any cuts at this point would be incredibly disruptive.
Ask your legislators to oppose cuts to Cherry Sheet Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), Chapter 70 school aid and other municipal and school aid accounts that are included in your local sending plans. Also ask your legislators to oppose Section 46 of the Senate budget (S. 2305), which would strip cities and towns of their ability to change contribution ratios for retiree health insurance, and make it extremely difficult to address runaway OPEB costs.
Now is the Time for the Senate to Pass the Municipal Modernization Act
The Municipal Modernization bill filed by the Governor last December has moved through a long process, and has received unanimous approval by the House. H. 4419 includes over 200 sections to streamline and update state laws and regulations that interfere with the administration of local government. Although some of the stronger reforms in the original bill have been taken out, the Municipal Modernization Act still includes a wide array of long-overdue and very welcome updates to municipal finance and administrative laws.
Please ask your Senators to promise swift and timely action on H. 4419 to make sure that the bill makes it to the Governor’s Desk. This must be a key priority for legislators – there is absolutely no reason to delay action on this long-overdue legislation.
Ask Your Senators and Representatives to Oppose the New Unfunded Mandates in the Municipal Solid Waste/Recycling Bill (S. 2308)
This week, the Senate is expected to take up legislation to require cities and towns to reduce municipal solid waste to a maximum of 600 pounds per capita by 2018 and 450 pounds per capita by 2022. This bill (S. 2308) would provide NO financial support, meaningful technical assistance or effective pathway to achieve these mandated limits. In effect, S. 2308 is the classic example of an unfunded environmental mandate. The bill is well-intentioned, but completely fails to recognize the financial limitations that exist in cities and towns, and makes no effort to have the state assume any responsibility for providing any funding or resources. Please ask your legislative delegation to oppose this bill. The Senate could vote as early as Tuesday, June 28, so it is important that your Senators hear from you as soon as possible.
Click here to download a copy of MMA’s letter to the Senate outlining the problems the legislation would cause.
Ask Your Representatives to Reject the Intrusions on Local Zoning Passed by the Senate
On June 9, the Senate approved a surprisingly broad and intrusive housing and zoning bill (S. 4419) that completely overrode an earlier planning bill that had been in the works for years. The Senate-voted bill would override important features of local zoning bylaws and ordinances and expose cities and towns to lawsuits. The bill would require cities and towns across the state to make zoning changes to create “as-of-right” multi-family housing districts or face legal action brought by either the attorney general or builders and land developers seeking permits. S. 4419 would also require accessory apartments to be permitted as-of-right and would override the dozens and dozens of accessory apartment bylaws currently in place based on special permits. In effect, the bill would grant unprecedented new “as-of-right” powers to for-profit developers, with NO requirements that these developers produce any affordable units. Instead, developers would be incentivized to pursue high-end, luxury developments, making it harder for communities to meet their affordable housing goals. The bill also made significant changes to weaken the inclusionary zoning provision that local officials have been promoting for many years, and would provide only a limited authority to collect development impact fees. The bill would also subject municipal zoning codes to challenge under the state’s anti-discrimination statue.
Please ask your Representatives to hold and take no action on the Senate’s housing bill. It is too late in the year to try to finalize a bill of this importance and with such major differences between the original planning bill and the Senate re-write. Unfortunately, work on this this important issue must wait until next year. Rushing S. 4419 through at this time would have an extraordinary impact on municipal zoning, with very little understanding of the consequences for downtown development and the quality of life in neighborhoods throughout the state.
Other Bills on the House and Senate Calendars
There are dozens of bills on the ongoing House and Senate calendars that would have an impact on local government, including many that have posted there for weeks or months awaiting action. There are more than 60 of these bills on the House calendar alone. Some would help cities and towns, but many would reduce local revenues or impose new unfunded mandates. As the legislative session draws to a close, there will be pressure brought to bear in both branches to quickly approve these long-held bills.
Ask your legislators to keep an eye on bills moving from the House and Senate calendars to make sure there are no burdensome special interest bills that make it to the Governor’s desk. Extra vigilance is needed at the end of session.
MMA Board Votes to Oppose Marijuana and Charter School Ballot Questions
As the final signatures are being submitted for the statewide ballot questions, we want to update you on the vote of the MMA Board of Directors earlier this month. On June 14, the Board voted unanimously to approve the recommendation of the Municipal and Regional Administration Policy Committee to oppose the marijuana ballot question (H. 3932). The Board also voted unanimously to support the recommendation of the Fiscal Policy Committee to oppose the charter school ballot question (H. 3928). The MMA will be providing more information on the ballot questions next month, after each receives final approval to appear on the ballot at the November 8, 2016 election.
If you have any questions on the issues highlighted above, or on any other measure, please contact MMA Legislative Director John Robertson or any member of the Legislative Division at 617-426-7272.
Osler L. Peterson, Esq.