This alert came today from the Massachusetts Municipal Association, and shows the issues in the state budget debate that the MMA feels are important to towns -
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
SENATE BEGINS DEBATE ON FY 2014 BUDGET ON WEDNESDAY, MAY 22
PLEASE CALL YOUR SENATORS NOW TO SUPPORT KEY AMENDMENTS
Please Ask Your Senators to Vote for Additional Funding for Municipal and School Priorities
On Wednesday, May 22, the Massachusetts Senate will begin debate on S. 3, the fiscal 2014 state budget offered by the Senate Ways and Means Committee. This is a $33.9 billion proposal that is $900 lower than the budget filed by the Governor in January. Debate is only expected to last for a few days, so there is no time to lose!
The MMA supports 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. We support the language in section 3 that would begin a limited four-year phase in of including 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.
We also applaud the recommendation to cover the estimated full state share of the special education “circuit breaker” program at $253 million, an increase of $10 million over the current fiscal 2013 level of funding. We support the $3 million appropriation to reimburse cities and towns for the cost of transporting students to out-of-district vocational education programs. These core Senate Ways and Means Committee budget initiatives are deeply appreciated and are very important at the local level for the support of public schools.
Senate members have filed 725 amendments, and the MMA has analyzed all of them, and is working with legislators to advance key items that would benefit cities and towns. These amendments would add funding to important municipal and school accounts. The MMA is also opposing one amendment (Amendment 58), which would extend the residency limit for police and fire personnel to 35 miles away, instead of the current 10-mile limit.
PLEASE DISCUSS THE FOLLOWING AMENDMENTS WITH YOUR SENATORS:
SUPPORT THE $21 MILLION INCREASE FOR UNRESTRICTED GENERAL GOVERNMENT AID (UGGA)
The budget proposed by the Senate Ways and Means Committee does NOT include the $21 million increase for unrestricted municipal aid (the UGGA account) that the House embraces in their version of the fiscal 2014 budget.
Adequate funding for Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) is a top priority for cities and towns in every corner of Massachusetts. Cities and towns rely on this essential local aid account to fund vital municipal and education programs, including police, fire and emergency response, public works, libraries, youth and senior programs, local schools, and much more. As you know, this account has been cut by $416 million since fiscal 2008, leaving local government with fewer resources to provide the basic services that taxpayers and businesses depend on every day. As a result of this reduction, reliance on the property tax to fund municipal budgets is at its highest point
in 30 years. The Senate Ways and Means budget would level-fund 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.
Please ask your Senator to support Amendment 49 filed by Senator Donoghue and others that would use $21 million from the fiscal 2013 year-end surplus to bring UGGA distributions to cities and towns up to $920 million in fiscal 2014. This is an essential amendment to provide much-needed assistance to every city and town.
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 S. 3 would fund the account at only $76.4 million.
Please ask you Senators to support Amendment 384 filed by Senator Chang-Diaz and others to fully fund the state’s share next year at $103 million. This is 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.
OPPOSE AMENDMENT 58, WHICH WOULD UNDERMINE THE PUBLIC SAFETY RESIDENCY LAW
The MMA is strongly opposing Amendment 58, which would effectively eliminate 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. Please ask your Senators to oppose Amendment 58 – this would be a major policy change that would impact police and fire departments across the Commonwealth, and should not be considered in the state budget.
Also ask your Senators to instead support Amendment 445 filed by Senator Brownsberger that would strike Section 37 in the budget bill and leave the residency law unchanged. As written, Section 37 would be a major policy change that would impact police and fire departments across the Commonwealth by presenting a local avenue for public safety unions to go to Town Meeting or Councils to change the residency limit to 35 miles. We believe that the state law works as it is written. No bills have been filed regarding the public safety residency issue, and thus we ask you to keep the law in place, rather than acting on an issue that hasn’t even been the subject of legislation or public hearings.
FULLY FUND THE MCKINNEY-VENTO MANDATE REIMBURSEMENT
Please ask your Senators to support Amendment 361 filed by Senator Lovely and Amendment 390 filed by Senator Creem that would increase from $6.1 million to $11.3 million the appropriation to pay for the unfunded state mandate to provide transportation services to homeless students to schools outside the local school district. This would level fund the program at the fiscal 2013 amount, following the recent reversal of the 9C cut imposed by the Governor in December.
SHANNON ANTI-GANG GRANT PROGRAM
Please ask your Senators to support Amendment 436 filed by Senator Donoghue and others that would increase funding for the Shannon Anti-Gang Grant Program from $6.3 million to $7.8 million. This program is crucial to assist those communities dealing with very challenging public safety and gang-related issues.
STUDENT TRANSPORTATION REIMBURSEMENTS
Please ask your Senators to support Amendment 322 filed by Senator Moore that would add $2 million to reimbursements to school districts to help pay for a portion of the costs of transporting students (increasing the account to $51.5 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 additional funding would certainly help all communities in regional school districts. It is important to note that this amendment would build on the impressive and very much appreciated increase proposed in the Senate Ways and Means Committee budget.
PAYMENT-IN-LIEU-OF-TAXES FOR STATE-OWNED LAND
Please ask your Senators to support Amendment 55 filed by Senator Rodrigues that would increase from $26.3 million to $27.3 million the reimbursements paid under the law to cities and towns that host and provide municipal services to state facilities. PILOT payments are vitally important for those cities and towns that host state facilities, and the program has been underfunded for many years.
PAYING FOR EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES
Please ask your Senators to support Amendment 110 filed by Senator Donnelly that would strike Section 92 of S. 3, as that section 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 address 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.
PROTECTION OF THE PUBLIC FROM WEST NILE VIRUS
Please ask your Senators to support Amendment 63 filed by Senator Ross to allow municipal health departments, public works staff, and mosquito control agencies to use their own trained workers and seasonal employees to control West Nile carrying larvae that are developing in catch basins, instead of being required to use highly specialized professional pesticide applicators.
SENATE BUDGET DEBATE WILL START ON WEDNESDAY, MAY 22
PLEASE CONTACT YOUR SENATORS TODAY
PLEASE ASK YOUR SENATORS TO OPPOSE AMENDMENT 58 AND SUPPORT THE OTHER AMENDMENTS LISTED ABOVE
PLEASE CHECK THE MMA WEBSITE (WWW.MMA.ORG) FOR FURTHER UPDATES DURING THE WEEK.