Category Archives: Massachusetts Municipal Association

MMA on new bills

This alert today from the Massachusetts Municipal Association with a summary of the onslaught of legislation just passed before the legislative session ended at midnight last night -


Friday, August 1, 2014

LEGISLATURE ENDS ITS FORMAL SESSIONS

Lawmakers Work Past Midnight to Complete Action on Major Bills

The Following Bills Were Passed Last Night and are on the Governor’s Desk:

• Economic Development Bill
• Gun Violence Reduction Bill
• Local Housing Authority Reform Bill
• Environmental Bond Bill
• Water Infrastructure Finance Bill
• Solar Net Metering Bill
• Information Technology Bond Bill
• MMA Analyzing “Shift Swapping” Collective Bargaining Bill


With a midnight deadline looming on Thursday night, members of the House and Senate worked past that time into the early hours of Friday morning to enact dozens of bills, including several major pieces of legislation that had been the subject of extensive negotiation between the branches.  The Legislature’s rules set July 31 as the last day for formal sessions and roll call votes.  From August 1 until a new Legislature is seated in January 2015, the House and Senate can only meet in “informal” sessions to consider issues that have unanimous support and do not require recorded roll call votes.

Among the dozens and dozens of bills that received attention and action this week, six major bills passed that will impact cities and towns, and the MMA is analyzing a seventh bill that would add “shift swapping” to collective bargaining.  These measures are on the Governor’s Desk and will require his signature in order to become law.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT BILL PROVIDES SOLID TOOLS FOR CITIES AND TOWNS
MMA Succeeds in Preserving Local Zoning and Permitting Authority for Wireless Antennas
Final Bill Omits the Proposal to Eliminate the Cap on Local Liquor Licenses

The final compromise economic development bill passed by the Legislature includes $10 million for Brownfields remediation, expands the successful I-Cubed infrastructure program and increases eligibility for the Economic Development Incentive Program, increases tax credits for the Housing Development Incentive Program from $5 million to $10 million and creates and capitalizes the Transformative Development Fund at $16 million for Gateway Cities, and retains broad eligibility standards for MassWorks grant funding.

In a major victory for the MMA and local officials, the Legislature rejected language that would have allowed the telecommunications industry to site wireless antennas in virtually any location regardless of local zoning.  This provision, which was included in the House bill and was not in the Senate version, was held in conference and did not become part of the final bill.  Thank you for your calls and letters to your legislators to maintain the fundamental right of local control of land use.

Unfortunately, the final compromise economic development bill passed by the Legislature does not lift the cap on the number of liquor licenses each municipality may issue, despite the strong support of the MMA and municipal leaders for this important economic development tool for local governments.  The Governor and Senate supported this important measure, but the House opposed it.  The MMA will continue fighting to return liquor licenses to local control in the next legislative session.  The bill did include changes reported in the media to allow Boston to appoint its own licensing board, and to add a limited number of licenses in Boston, provisions that originated in local legislation filed by the City.
Click here for a copy of the economic development bill
http://malegislature.gov/Bills/188/House/H4377

AN ACT RELATIVE TO THE REDUCTION OF GUN VIOLENCE
Final Bill Includes Major Program Expansions in Local School Districts
Discuss the Potential Impact with Your Superintendent as Soon as You Can

The media attention on the compromise gun violence legislation passed by lawmakers focused on the provision to allow police chiefs to go to court to prevent “unsuitable” individuals from accessing a firearms identification card for rifles and long guns.  However, the bill also contains a number of sections that apply to public schools and would add new responsibilities at the local level.  We urge you to immediately discuss the implications of the new mandates and programs in the gun control bill with your school superintendent to determine how the measure could impact your public schools and local budgets.

The law contains a Safe and Supportive Schools (S3) framework, which supporters claim will foster a “safe, positive, healthy, and inclusive whole-school learning environment.” DESE is required to develop guidelines and regulations outlining how the program should be implemented locally.  Cities, towns and school districts are not mandated to accept and implement the program, because the law stipulates that S3 must first be adopted by a vote of a school committee, and is subject to local appropriation.

The legislation does require that each school district must have at least one school resource officer and that each school possess a two-way radio communication device for use in communicating solely with police and fire departments in the event of an emergency, although these requirements are both subject to local appropriation. The MMA successfully advocated for the inclusion of language limiting potential legal liability for districts in both sections.

Under the bill, each school is required to create a mental health plan for its students, families, teachers, and administrators.  DESE is charged with developing the guidelines and requirements for implementation.  There is no state funding, and the program is a new mandate on cities, towns and school districts.  The MMA requested that this provision be held in conference because it is an unfunded mandate with major complexity, but the language remained in the final bill.  Similarly, each school must also provide suicide prevention training of at least 2 hours every 3 years for all licensed school personnel.  The MMA was successful in sponsoring language to limit legal liability for districts on both of these new requirements.

Click here for a copy of the gun violence prevention bill
http://malegislature.gov/Bills/188/House/H4376

HOUSING AUTHORITY REFORM

A compromise housing authority reform measure passed by the House and Senate would require the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to create a comprehensive training program focused on proper management for all housing authority board members. Further, DHCD will be responsible for creating a performance-based monitoring program for all housing authorities. The bill establishes a program based on best practices in collaborative capital, maintenance, and repair planning, with participation required for those housing authorities with under 500 state-aided units. An annual plan will be required of each housing authority for submission to the state. Each housing authority must contract with an external auditor, but must not use the same auditor for more than 5 consecutive years without a waiver. DHCD will develop a voluntary regional public housing innovation program open to up to 4 regional housing authorities, with the goal of achieving innovative models for public housing development and management. DHCD will also implement a centralized waitlist for state-aided public housing within a year.

Click here for a copy of the housing authority bill
http://malegislature.gov/Bills/188/House/H4374

$2.2 BILLION ENVIRONMENTAL BOND BILL

The Legislature enacted a sweeping $2.2 billion environmental bond bill that includes a broad range of resources that cities and towns can access, if the Administration releases the funds under its capital plan.  The initiatives include: $49 million for dam removal and repair; $120 million for coastal infrastructure projects; $111 million for urban parks; increases in conservation tax credits to facilitate local land preservation; and a provision sponsored by Sen. Richard Moore to require DEP to report to the Legislature on the costs created by the new Sustainable Water Management Initiative (SWMI) regulations.

Click here for a copy of the environmental bond bill
http://malegislature.gov/Bills/188/House/H4375

WATER INFRASTRUCTURE FINANCE BILL

The Legislature’s water infrastructure finance bill would add $50 million to the state revolving loan fund administered by the Water Pollution Abatement Trust (now renamed the Clean Water Trust).  Currently, the SRF program is capped at $88 million a year, and the bill would raise the program up to $138 million.  In the past, the WPAT did not release all available funds, and this legislation requires the state to release at least 80% to cities and towns. Further, the program will provide subsidized loans and/or principal forgiveness to more communities due to the increased capacity.  The bill also includes, at local option, the ability for communities to assess up to a 3% property tax surcharge to raise funds for water infrastructure related projects.  Unfortunately, the final bill did not include “water banking,” an innovative funding mechanism that would allow communities to create additional capacity for economic growth by charging fees to fund necessary water and sewer infrastructure improvements for new developments.  The Senate included water banking in its version of the bill, but the House, under pressure from the development community, balked and with time running out in the session, the measure did not remain in the bill.  The MMA will continue to prioritize this important tool.

Click here for a copy of the water infrastructure finance bill
http://malegislature.gov/Bills/188/Senate/S2342

SOLAR NET METERING BILL

Cities and towns have been very successful in promoting important solar energy projects, so successful that municipalities are now being stalled because of the statutory limit in the amount of solar energy that can be returned to the grid or sold to the utilities.  The statutory cap on “net metering” needs to be lifted in order to make additional solar projects viable.  Municipalities, environmentalists and solar developers joined forces to remove the cap on solar net metering, but some large utilities resisted strongly.  In the end, the Legislature passed a compromise bill that would offer a temporary solution by raising the net metering cap by enough to allow those municipal projects that have been stalled to now go forward.  However, it is expected that this problem will re-emerge next year, which will renew calls for a permanent solution.

Click here for a copy of the solar net metering bill
http://malegislature.gov/Bills/188/House/H4385

MMA ANALYZING “SHIFT SWAPPING” COLLECTIVE BARGAINING BILL

With breakneck speed, the Legislature acted in the final hours of the session to pass S. 1218, Sen. Ken Donnelly’s bill that would make shift swapping a subject of collective bargaining under Chapter 150E of the General Laws.  The bill was strongly supported by the fire unions, and had been lodged in the Senate Ways and Means Committee until the last day of the session.  The bill simply includes “employee and employee exchange of tours” in the list of items subject to collective bargaining under section 7 of Chapter 150E.  The MMA is analyzing the potential impact, and expressing its concern over the measure with the Governor’s office.

Governor’s Opioid Task Force

This article on the opioid addiction issue was in the Massachusett Municipal Association’s monthly newsletter, The Bulletin -


 

Opioid Task Force releases recommendations

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July 16, 2014

The governor’s Opioid Task Force on June 10 released recommendations in the areas of prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery that are intended to strengthen the state’s ability to respond to the opioid crisis.

The 36-member task force met three times over a period of 60 days. The task force comprised state and local officials, insurers, first responders, providers, patients, and the judiciary. Mayors Martin Walsh of Boston, Domenic Sarno of Springfield and Thomas Hoye of Taunton participated.

The task force was created following the governor’s declaration in March of a public health emergency relative to opioid overdoses. In response to the crisis, the governor pledged $20 million in state funding to boost treatment and recovery services. He asked the task force to develop priorities for how the funding should be spent.

The task force found that:
• There is a need for increased education for youth and families about the dangers of drug use.
• There is a need for increased education for prescribers to ensure safe and effective pain management.
• There are opportunities to improve the prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances.
• There is a need for centralized treatment resources, while individuals and families report challenges in accessing services beyond simply knowing where they are.
• Providers and consumers express concerns about barriers to access.
• Correctional facilities are an important site of care for opioid addiction.
• There is a need for peer support in the recovery process.
• There is a need for expanded recovery services across the state.

The task force recommended the allocation of the $20 million to 24 separate initiatives. The top three priorities of the task force included:
• Development of a central navigation system that could be accessed through a toll-free number to provide information about treatment options and current availability (at an annual cost of $1.45 million)
• Creation of pilot regional centers that provide assessment, drop-in counseling and referral to treatment on demand, leveraging existing treatment organizations (at an annual cost of $1.8 million)
• Development of prescription drug monitoring program infrastructure to support safe practices for the prescription of opioids and new regulations related to the Public Health Emergency and accelerated enrollment of prescribers (at an annual cost of $1.5 million)

The increase in fatal opioid overdoses in Massachusetts parallels a national trend, with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services deeming prescription opioid overdose deaths an epidemic in 2013.

For the full task force report, visit: www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dph/substance-abuse/opioid/report-of-the-opioid-task-force-6-10-14.pdf

Written by MMA Legislative Analyst J. Catherine Rollins

Medfield meals tax started 7/1/14

This article from the Massachusetts Municipal Associaiton -


192 communities have adopted local-option meals tax

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July 16, 2014

On July 1, eight communities joined the 182 that already assess a local-option meals tax, with at least two additional communities set to have the tax go into effect in October.

This brings the number of communities statewide that have adopted a local meals tax to 192, including the 19 communities that chose to enact a meals tax in the past year.

Though the meals tax is only three-quarters of 1 percent, it provides an opportunity for communities to bring in significant additional revenue. For example, revenue estimates from the Division of Local Services for fiscal 2013 show that Provincetown earned $518,320, Burlington earned $1.34 million, and Northampton earned $664,346.

Using revenue estimates from the Division of Local Services, the MMA calculated that the potential revenue that could have been collected by cities and towns if all communities had a meals tax was $110 million. Based on the number of communities that have adopted the tax so far, the MMA estimates that 90 percent of potential revenue is being collected and returned to cities and towns.

The towns of Dracut and Essex had the meals tax go into effect last October. Five communities – Grafton, Granby, Pembroke, Salisbury and Sharon – instituted the meals tax in January. Ashland and Marlborough had the tax go into effect in April.

Attleboro, Berlin, Bourne, Georgetown, Holyoke, Medfield, Plymouth, and Spencer had the tax go into effect on July 1. Carver and West Bridgewater will begin assessing the tax starting this October.

Using revenue figures from the DLS, the MMA calculated that 18 of these 19 communities are projected to collect more than $5 per capita from the meals tax, and 10 will collect more than $10 per capita, according to the Division of Local Services. Essex is expected to bring in $47 per capita, and Salisbury and West Bridgewater are projected to collect $28 per capita.

More than 260 communities in Massachusetts have the opportunity to collect at least $5 per capita from the meals tax. Out of these 263 cities and towns, 182 have adopted the meals tax, which means that 69 percent of cities and towns in Massachusetts that could collect significant revenue have taken advantage of the meals tax.

The local-option meals tax became law in 2009. Cities and towns that accept the provisions of Chapter 64L may levy a local meals tax of three-quarters of 1 percent, which takes effect on the first day of the calendar quarter following 30 days after acceptance.

Written by MMA Reasearch & Legislative Assistant Victoria Sclafani

MMA cell antennae alert

This today from the Massachusetts Municipal Association -


June 16, 2014

LOCAL ZONING THREATENED BY WIRELESS TELECOM INDUSTRY BILLS

BILLS WOULD STRIP CITIES AND TOWNS OF CONTROL OVER WIRELESS FACILITIES

HOUSE ADOPTS LAST-MINUTE INDUSTRY AMENDMENT IN ECON. DEV. BILL

SENATE BILL 2183 MOVES OUT OF COMMITTEE

PLEASE CALL YOUR SENATORS TODAY TO STOP THIS TAKE-OVER

The telecommunications industry is moving quickly to fast-track legislation to pre-empt virtually all municipal zoning or control over the siting of wireless antennas and equipment in Massachusetts.

These powerful companies are determined to pass a state law that would allow them to place wireless antennas and equipment on any building or structure in any location in any community, and override all zoning and any local provision or condition to protect neighborhoods and the public from unsightly and intrusive antennas.

The legislation has surfaced late in the session, and is advancing quickly through both the House and Senate. Local officials must contact their Senators and Representatives today to stop this effort to trample municipal control.

The Telecom Industry is Pursuing Two Routes

 • The Legislature’s Economic Development Bill. Last week, by a voice vote, House members attached this industry-written language to the House’s economic development bill (Sections 74 and 75 of H. 4181), which was passed by the House of Representatives and is now before the Senate. Senate leaders have pledged to propose their own economic development bill, and it is certain that the wireless telecommunications companies will attempt to attach the same language to override local control.

 • S. 2183 – “An Act Upgrading Mobile Broadband Coverage in the Commonwealth.” This stand-alone bill with language identical to Sections 74 and 75 of the House economic development bill has also been sent from the Committee on Telecommunications and Energy, and is now before the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The bill could advance at any moment.

Local officials must call their Senators immediately and tell them to oppose S. 2183 AND any attempt to pre-empt local control in the Senate’s economic development bill.

The Telecom Industry Bill Would Override All Local Decision-Making

S. 2183 and Sections 74 and 75 of the House economic development bill would allow telecommunications companies to “collocate” unlimited new antennas and equipment on any and all existing buildings and structures, regardless of the impact on neighborhoods or interference with public rights-of-ways.

The amendment would allow all wireless telecommunications companies to install or upgrade wireless antennas and equipment on any building or structure in Massachusetts. These structures could include commercial or residential buildings, water towers, cell towers and even homes – with NO effective local government authority to regulate. The telecom companies could ignore all municipal zoning provisions, ordinances and bylaws – including height limits, set-back requirements, or the ability to require aesthetic modifications to ensure the antennas and equipment blend in.

Municipalities would also have no recourse to ensure that unused or abandoned facilities must be removed in the future. The wireless telecommunications provider would only need to comply with the state building code, which is a very low technical standard.

The measure envisions no role for the general public, and fails to recognize that citizens have a right to basic zoning protections that guarantee accountability on the part of developers.

Under this proposal, in order to obtain a “collocation” permit, a mobile broadband provider would merely need to submit an application to the appropriate issuing authority in a municipality, and the city or town would have only 90 calendar days to review and act upon the “collocation” application, and could only reject applications that fail to meet the state building code. Under the language of the bill, telecom companies could start the “90 day shot-clock” by submitting incomplete applications, and have up to 45 days to complete their submissions, leaving cities and towns only 45 days to review a completed application.   If a municipality does not complete its review 90 days from the start of the “shot clock,” applicants could immediately go to court to compel the issuance of a license, short-circuiting the local process. This irresponsible provision would in no way benefit the community.

The cities and towns of the Commonwealth support expanding and upgrading wireless telecommunications services throughout the state for the benefit of consumers, but the expansion simply cannot come at the expense of the quality of life for residents.

Specific provisions of the bill include:

• No zoning ordinance or bylaw shall prohibit, regulate or restrict collocation of wireless facilities on existing structures in any way inconsistent with the industry legislation;

• The issuing authority of a city or town must grant approval of all applications for the “collocation” of wireless antennas and equipment on any existing building or structure (except utility poles), as long as the application complies with the state building code;

• Cities and towns must also approve all applications to expand existing stand-alone cell towers (including monopoles), unless the proposals would increase the height or width of the tower by 10 percent or 20 feet (whichever is more) – which means that the industry could take camouflaged antennas inside a monopole and attach a 20-foot wide antenna, and go up 20 feet, and communities would have no say;

• The issuing authority has only 90 days to approve the application – if cities and towns take longer than 90 days, then the telecom companies could immediately go to court, with approval virtually assured because the court’s only standard would be compliance with the state building code, and NO local bylaws, ordinances or zoning provisions would be allowed;

• Communities could NOT require companies to remove obsolete, abandoned or unused antennas and equipment; and

• Communities could not require a higher fee for reviewing an application than for other types of commercial applications, and fees for technical consulting would be capped at $1,000.

The FCC is Promulgating National Standards on Wireless Antenna Siting – But the Telecomm Industry is Working Feverishly to Win More Favorable Rules in Massachusetts

In 2012, Congress and the President enacted “The Spectrum Act” that will implement a nation-wide uniform process for the collocation of wireless antennas and equipment. At this moment, the FCC is promulgating final regulations that will govern the build-out of the wireless telecommunications network, and it is expected that the FCC will give industry its often-stated top goal of a time-limited expedited application process. The FCC’s rules are expected by September 2014.

Why is the telecom industry jumping to Massachusetts and other states to win a complete override of local zoning, when the FCC is on the verge of issuing its decision? The answer is clear: the FCC may give deference to local zoning rules, and allow cities and towns to act in the public interest. In particular, the FCC could allow municipalities to have zoning provisions, ordinances and bylaws on height limits, set-back requirements, or the ability to require aesthetic modifications to ensure the antennas and equipment blend in.

The Legislature should reject this fast-track attempt by the wireless industry to ignore the FCC process, and wait until the federal government issues its final rules later this year.

PLEASE CALL YOUR SENATORS TODAY AND ASK THEM TO OPPOSE ANY ATTEMPT TO PASS S. 2183 OR ANY AMENDMENT TO THE SENATE’S ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT BILL THAT WOULD STRIP CITIES AND TOWNS OF THE ABILITY TO REGULATE WIRELESS ANTENNAS. THE LEGISLATURE SHOULD WAIT UNTIL THE FCC MAKES ITS FINAL RULING ON NATIONAL STANDARDS.

After you call your Senators, please call your Representatives and tell them that Sections 74 and 75 of the House economic development bill (H. 4181) would strip communities of any control over wireless antennas – ask for their commitment to stop this attempt by the telecom industry to build whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want.

THANK YOU!

 

MMA alert on House bills

Massachusets Municipal Association alert this afternoon -


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

HOUSE MEMBERS ARE DEBATING THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT BILL RIGHT NOW (June 11)

PLEASE CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVES IMMEDIATELY AND ASK THEM TO:

SUPPORT AMENDMENT #2 TO RESTORE LOCAL CONTROL OVER LIQUOR LICENSES

OPPOSE AMENDMENT #53 WHICH WOULD STRIP CITIES AND TOWNS OF THEIR ZONING AUTHORITY TO REGULATE WIRELESS ANTENNAS AND TOWERS

The House of Representatives is debating a comprehensive economic development bill (H. 4165) this afternoon (Wednesday, June 11). There are two important issues that will be debated today and your legislators need to hear from you before they vote on these amendments, so please call their offices as soon as you can!

1) LOCAL AUTHORITY OVER LIQUOR LICENSES. The House bill excludes important language contained in Governor Patrick’s economic development bill that would lift statutory caps on local liquor licenses for bars and restaurants, and the MMA is supporting Amendment #2 to restore local control over liquor licenses. Please call your House members and ask them to support Amendment #2 to return control over liquor licenses to cities and towns and end the delays and missed opportunities that result from the time-consuming home rule process.

2) LOCAL CONTROL OVER WIRELESS ANTENNAS AND TOWERS. A last-minute amendment filed by telecommunications companies would strip cities and towns of much of their authority to regulate wireless antennas and towers.   The MMA is strongly OPPOSING Amendment #53, which would allow telecommunications companies to load existing buildings and towers with unlimited new antennas and equipment, regardless of the impact on neighborhoods. Please call your House members and ask them protect local authority over wireless antennas and cell towers by OPPOSING Amendment #53.

Amendment #53 would allow all wireless telecommunications companies to install or upgrade wireless antennas and equipment on any structure that has an existing wireless antenna. These structures could include commercial or residential buildings, water towers, cell towers and even homes – with NO effective local government authority to regulate. The expansion of these wireless antennas could add 20 feet of height or more to the supporting structure, and could extend 20 feet or more horizontally. Each wireless carrier could add additional height and width with each new antenna, so this increase in size could double or triple as new carriers file applications. And cities and towns would be stripped of their existing authority to require aesthetic modifications to ensure the antennas and equipment blend in.

In fact, the amendment removes all local authority to review environmental and aesthetic impacts of such a “collocation.” Municipalities would also have no recourse to ensure that unused or abandoned facilities must be removed in the future. The wireless telecommunications provider would not need to comply with any local land use or zoning ordinances or bylaws, and would instead only need to comply with the state building code.

Under this proposal, in order to obtain a “collocation” permit, a mobile broadband provider would merely need to submit an application to the appropriate issuing authority in a municipality, and the city or town would have only 90 calendar days to review and act upon the “collocation” application, and could only reject applications that fail to meet the state building code – a very low technical standard.  If a municipality does not complete its review in 90 days, the collocation application would be considered approved. This irresponsible automatic approval would remove local control and in no way benefit the community.

IT IS CRITICALLY IMPORTANT THAT YOUR REPRESENTATIVES HEAR FROM YOU TODAY. Please call your House Members and secure their commitment to SUPPORT AMENDMENT #2 and OPPOSE AMENDMENT #53.

 


 

House budget done

The Massachusetts Municipal Association’s alert this morning indicates that Representative Denise Garlick, after her assistance to the Town of Medfield yesterday at the hearing on its Medfield State Hospital bill, and her colleagues got the House budget finished.  This from the MMA -

Thursday, May 1, 2014

HOUSE PASSES FY 2015 STATE BUDGET BILL

SENATE PREPARING ITS OWN VERSION FOR DEBATE IN LATE MAY

Senate Ways & Means Committee on Target to Propose Its Spending Plan in 2 Weeks

Late on Wednesday, April 30, after three long days of debate, the House of Representatives passed a $36 billion state budget bill for fiscal 2015 that is slightly smaller than the overall budget filed by the Governor in January, but increases funding for several key municipal and education aid accounts, including the $25 million increase in Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) announced in the Legislature’s March local aid resolution. The budget process now shifts to the Senate, with the Senate Ways and Means Committee expected to release its version of the fiscal 2015 spending plan in approximately 2 weeks, with debate to follow a week later.

HOUSE BUDGET CLOSELY RESEMBLES THE PROPOSAL ORIGINALLY RELEASED BY HOUSE WAYS & MEANS ON APRIL 9TH.

While the members of the House waded through 1,175 amendments during three days of debate, most amendments were rejected, and the document is very close to the House Ways & Means Committee’s initial proposal. Here are the highlights of the budget as passed by the members of the House:

UGGA INCREASE – As pledged in the Legislature’s local aid resolution, the House budget increases Unrestricted General Government Aid by $25 million;

CHAPTER 70 UNCHANGED – The House budget would adopt the Governor’s proposed $99M Chapter 70 increase with no changes, with a majority of cities, towns and school districts receiving very low minimum aid increases of only $25 per student;

SPED CIRCUIT-BREAKER INTENDED TO BE FULLY FUNDED – The House budget would add $5M to the Governor’s original recommendation, with the intent of fully funding the Special Education Circuit Breaker program in fiscal 2015;

CHARTER SCHOOL REIMBURSEMENTS UP SLIGHTLY – The House budget would add $5M to the charter school reimbursement program, which would remain an estimated $33M short of full funding in fiscal 2015 and $28M short of full funding in fiscal 2014;

REGIONAL SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION – The House budget would add $2M to regional school transportation reimbursement account above the level-funding amount recommended by the Governor;

McKINNEY-VENTO FUNDING – The House budget level funds McKinney-Vento reimbursements, meaning that the budget would remain $7.5M short of full funding;

PILOT PAYMENTS – The House budget would restore $500K to Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes to level-fund the program, which is progress but still below full funding;

SHANNON ANTI-GANG GRANTS – The House adopted a compromise funding level to restore $2M to the Shannon Anti-Gang Grant Program, bringing the House budget up to $6M for fiscal 2015, although the fiscal 2014 funding level is $7M (the HW&M Committee recommended $4M for the program, and the MMA supported the amendment to fund the program at $8M a year, and the resulting compromise split the difference);

NET SCHOOL SPENDING EQUITY AMENDMENT ADOPTED – The House budget includes language to establish equity in calculating net school spending under Chapter 70 to allow all communities to count health insurance costs for retired school employees in fiscal years 2016 and beyond, phased in over 4 years, and allow DESE to waive penalties in the meantime (this important MMA-supported amendment was adopted by the House);

FREEZE ON RETIREE HEALTH CONTRIBUTIONS IN THE BUDGET – Language in outside sections 32 and 32A in the House budget would prohibit changes in retiree health insurance contribution percentages until July 1, 2016 for those communities that used the 2011 municipal health insurance reform law to make plan design changes or join the GIC, unless those communities voted to authorize a contribution percentage change before January 1, 2014 (the MMA opposed this section of the budget, and the House adopted an amendment to soften the language by grandfathering those communities that adopted the change before January 1 of this year);

REVIEW OF CHAPTER 70 FOUNDATION BUDGET FRAMEWORK IN THE BUDGET – The House Budget would create a Foundation Budget Review Commission with municipal representation to examine the Chapter 70 funding framework and recommend changes to adequately address funding needs in the future (this MMA-supported amendment was adopted by the House);

HOUSE AMENDMENT TO WEAKEN MUNICIPAL PERSONNEL LAWS WITHDRAWN – After the MMA’s strong objection and opposition, an amendment that would have weakened the prohibition on smoking for public safety personnel was withdrawn, and thus failed.

PLEASE CONTACT YOUR SENATORS TODAY: It is vitally important that you call your Senators as soon as possible to tell them how the House budget would impact your community, and ask them to improve the budget to address those accounts that impact you. Lawmakers must hear from you on these issues. Please contact MMA Legislative Director John Robertson at jrobertson@mma.org or 617-426-7272 x122 at any time if you have questions or need more details, and check the MMA website at www.mma.org for further updates as we continue to analyze the 230-page document and all last-minute amendments and changes.

THE SENATE WILL BEGIN DEBATE ON THE FISCAL 2015 STATE BUDGET IN JUST A FEW WEEKS. PLEASE CALL YOUR SENATORS TODAY AND URGE THEM TO BUILD ON THE LOCAL AID INCREASES IN THE HOUSE BUDGET AND INVEST EVEN MORE IN YOUR COMMUNITY.

 

My input to Reps on their budget deliberations

I just sent our state Representatives the email below to share with them my concerns and those of Massachusetts Municipal Association, as the House considers the state budget -

4/18/2014 12:34PM
Massachusetts Municipal Association’s budget positions
Denise Garlick. Shawn Dooley

Michael Sullivan; Kristine Trierweiler
===========================================================

Denise and Shawn,

I wanted to make sure that you were both aware of the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s positions on the pending budget issues that you are facing in the legislature, so I have inserted below the MMA’s itemization, for your information.    Please know that when I attend the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s meetings, that I almost invariably find that my views align with those of the MMA.

Thanks in advance for looking out for Medfield’s interests.

========================================
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

HOUSE DEBATE ON FY 2015 STATE BUDGET WILL BEGIN ON MONDAY, APRIL 28

Lawmakers Will Decide the Fate of 1,175 Amendments

Please Call Your Representatives Today on the Budget Amendments that Impact Key Municipal and School Priorities
The House is scheduled to begin debate on the $36 billion fiscal 2015 state budget on Monday, April 28.  The deliberations are expected to take several days, as Representatives have filed 1,175 amendments to make changes to H. 4000, the House Ways & Means Committee’s budget recommendation that was released on April 9.

Many of these amendments would directly impact cities and towns, including a number of welcome amendments that would increase funding for municipal and school aid accounts, and several unwelcome amendments that would have a negative impact on municipalities.  This Legislative Alert describes the most important amendments that will be debated.

Please contact your Representatives today: It is vitally important that you call your Representatives as soon as possible to secure their support for those amendments that would help your community, and ask them to oppose those amendments that would be harmful.  Lawmakers must hear from you on these issues.  Because of the great number of amendments, the summaries here are very brief.  Please contact MMA Legislative Director John Robertson at jrobertson@mma.org or 617-426-7272 x122 at any time if you have questions or need more details.

Read the proposed budget and amendments here: The House budget committee recommendation (H. 4000) and all proposed amendments are posted on the Legislature’s website at: https://malegislature.gov/Budget/FY2015/House/WaysAndMeans

No amendments allowed on UGGA or Chapter 70 funding.  Because of the Budget Order adopted by House members earlier this month, amendments and debate will not be allowed on proposals related to the two main Cherry Sheet accounts, Chapter 70 school aid and Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA).  When the Budget Order was adopted, House leaders said that funding levels for these essential aid programs were determined by the Local Aid Resolution adopted by the House in March.  Thus, H. 4000 would provide a $25 million increase in UGGA funding, and appropriate the same Chapter 70 amount that the Governor filed in January, an overall increase of $99.7 million, with most cities, towns and school districts receiving anemic minimum aid increases of $25 per student.

Amendments related to all other municipal and school aid accounts and to law changes are allowed under the Budget Order, including the following amendments that are highlighted below:

KEY BUDGET AMENDMENTS ON SCHOOL AND EDUCATION FUNDING

Support Funding for Reimbursements for Charter Schools Losses
Under state law, cities and towns that host or send students to charter schools are entitled to be reimbursed for a portion of their lost Chapter 70 aid.  The state fully funded the reimbursement program in fiscal 2013, but is underfunding the reimbursements called for in state law by approximately $28 million this year.  The Governor’s budget would level-fund charter school reimbursements at $75 million, which would guarantee a shortfall of $29 million in fiscal 2015.  The HW&M budget would increase reimbursements by $5 million, to a total of $80 million.  This represents slight progress, but the program would still be underfunded by $24 million.

Shortfalls in the charter school reimbursement program cause major fiscal distress in every community that has a significant charter school presence.  Only a small fraction of the public school students attend charter schools.  Underfunding this program would force cutbacks for the vast majority of students who remain in the traditional school setting.

Please ask your Representatives to support Amendment 993 filed by Rep. Malia and 26 others to fully fund charter school reimbursements due to cities, towns and regional school districts by providing the full $104.3 million necessary to meet the state’s obligation.  The MMA also supports Amendment 124 filed by Rep. Moran and others, and Amendment 412 filed by Rep. Peisch, as each of these amendments also intend to fully fund this essential account.

Support Funding for McKinney-Vento Homeless Student Transportation Costs
The HW&M and Governor’s budgets would level-fund reimbursements for the transportation of homeless students at $7.4 million, which is $7.5 million below the full reimbursement called for under the state’s unfunded mandate law.  Two years ago, the State Auditor ruled that the adoption of the federal McKinney-Vento law imposed an unfunded mandate on cities and towns.  The program was funded at $11.3 million in fiscal 2013 and cut to $7.4 million in fiscal 2014.  Level-funding the program would continue to impose a significant burden on those cities and towns that are providing transportation services to homeless children who have been placed in their communities by the state.

Please ask your Representatives to support Amendment 999 filed by Rep. Heroux and 38 others, Amendment 772 filed by Rep. Stanley and others, and Amendment 747 filed by Rep. Poirier and others.  All of these amendments would fully fund the $14.9 million in reimbursements due to municipalities and school districts for the cost of transporting homeless students from temporary shelters to school.

Support Net School Spending Equity Under Chapter 70
Please ask your Representatives to support Amendment 1166 filed by Rep. Fennell and others to allow all municipal and regional school districts, at local option, to count spending on health insurance for retired school employees toward the “net school spending” requirement under Chapter 70.  Unfortunately, current rules exclude these costs from net school spending in some districts, but allow the costs to count in others.  This year, there are harsh financial penalties facing many cities, towns and school districts unless the law is changed to provide parity for all communities.  This amendment would ensure equity by providing all cities, towns and districts with the ability to count insurance costs for their retired school employees.

Support Funding for Regional School District Student Transportation
Funding for school transportation costs is vital to regional districts and member cities and towns, particular in sparsely populated parts of the state. The HW&M budget would provide $53.5 million for regional school transportation reimbursements, which is $2 million more than this year and an improvement over the Governor’s level-funded budget, but is still nearly $7 million below fiscal 2008 levels and is far below the $78 million required for full funding. Decades ago, the state promised 100 percent reimbursement as an incentive for towns and cities to regionalize, and the underfunding of this account has presented serious budget challenges for these districts, taking valuable dollars from the classroom.

Please ask your Representatives to support Amendment 266 filed by Rep. Turner and 38 others, Amendment 493 filed by Rep. Naughton, and Amendment 619 filed by Rep. Kuros.  All of these amendments would increase transportation reimbursements to regional school districts by an additional $4 million to bring fiscal 2015 funding to $57.5 million.

Support Funding for Out-of-District Vocational Education Student Transportation
The fiscal 2014 state budget included a $3 million item to reimburse communities for a portion of the state-mandated cost of transporting students to out-of-district placements in vocational schools.  This account recognizes the significant expense of providing transportation services for out-of-district placements, as these students must travel long distances to participate in vocational programs that are not offered locally, and state law mandates communities to provide the transportation.  The HW&M budget would reduce this funding level by 50%, down to an underfunded level of $1.5 million (the Governor’s budget eliminated all funding).

Please ask your Representatives to support Amendment 543 filed by Rep. Lombardo to fully fund the $3.8 million cost of transporting students to out-of-district placements in vocational schools.

Oppose Automatic Approval of Regional School District Stabilization Funds
Please ask your Representatives to oppose Amendment 151 that would establish a system of automatic approval of the establishment of stabilization funds in regional school districts.  Chapter 71 of the General Laws provides a fair and reasonable approval process through which member cities and towns may authorize the establishment of a stabilization fund in the local regional school district.  Amendment 151 would allow a fund to be established if a member city or town did not call a Town Meeting within 60 days to reject the proposal.  Most stabilization funds are capped at a reasonable level, but the stabilization funds in regional school districts are allowed to grow at a huge level up to double the levy ceiling in member communities.  Because of the enormous amount of taxpayer dollars at stake, this automatic and expedited approval mechanism should be rejected, and towns and cities should have a full say in the process.

Support the Formation of a Foundation Budget Review Commission
The foundation budget school spending standard that guides Chapter 70 funding was first enacted as part of the landmark 1993 education reform law and has largely remained unchanged since that time.  In addition to the need to adjust the foundation budget to reflect the many substantial changes that have occurred in public education over the past 20 years, the current foundation budget structure clearly understates many key education expenses, and does not fully reflect the cost of operating modern school systems, as evidenced by the fact that cities and towns spend $2.1 billion more to run their schools than the amount called for in the foundation budget.

Please ask your Representatives to support Amendment 243 filed by Rep. Ehrlich and 33 others, and Amendment 771 filed by Rep. O’Connell and others, to re-establish the Foundation Budget Review Commission under Chapter 70 for the purpose of reviewing the way that the foundation budget is calculated.

KEY BUDGET AMENDMENTS ON MUNICIPAL AID ACCOUNTS AND MUNICIPAL MANAGEMENT POLICY

Support and Preserve Municipal Decision-Making Authority on Health Insurance
Outside Section 32 of the HW&M budget would unilaterally extend a 3-year freeze on changing retiree health insurance contribution percentages by an additional two years.  Under existing law, any city or town that used sections 22 or 23 of Chapter 32B (the 2011 municipal health insurance reform law) to implement plan design changes or join the GIC is prohibited from changing retiree health insurance contribution percentages until July 1, 2014.  Section 32 would extend that freeze for two more years, until July 1, 2016, for any municipality that adopted or is planning on adopting provisions of the 2011 municipal health insurance reform law. This proposed change would reverse planned contribution changes that have already been adopted by some cities and towns, and would delay the ability to take action on retiree contribution percentages in many others.

Please ask your Representatives to support Amendment 498, which would strike Section 32 from the HW&M budget and preserve the decision-making power of cities and towns to determine health insurance contribution percentages for retirees.  Municipal officials have been operating in good faith under the current law, and it is unfair and unwise to interfere with their authority to act in the best interests of local taxpayers, employees and retirees.

Oppose Attempts to Circumvent and Weaken Municipal Personnel Laws
Please ask your Representatives to oppose Amendment 804, which would significantly weaken the smoking prohibition for public safety employees.

Because of special provisions in state law that established a work-related presumption for heart and lung disease for public safety personnel, state law mandates a no smoking rule for public safety employees.  Under Chapter 32 of the General Laws, any police officer or firefighter with heart disease and any firefighter with lung disease or lung cancer is automatically eligible for a disability pension, but the enactment of these presumptions included an absolute ban on the use of tobacco products because smoking and tobacco use is the primary and overwhelming cause of heart and lung disease and cancer. Under Section 101A of Chapter 41, employees who violate this strict prohibition are subject to dismissal.  This has been the law since 1988.

But Amendment 804 would reverse 26 years of standing law and personnel policy, and instead mandate that cities and towns offer a smoking cessation program to those who violate the policy and keep the presumption in place for these employees in spite of their use of tobacco products, with only a subsequent violation being grounds for removal.  All public safety personnel are aware of the no smoking rule, and violations must be addressed fully because the special treatment and protections that are in place were granted only on the condition that these employees refrain from tobacco use.  Amendment 804 would remove a very important taxpayer protection, and should be rejected.

Support Funding for Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILOT)
Please ask your Representatives to support Amendment 753 filed by Rep. D’Emilia to add $3.5 million to increase funding of payments to cities and towns in lieu of taxes for state-owned land (PILOT).  This is a particularly important Cherry Sheet program for the cities and towns that host and provide municipal services to state facilities that are exempt from the local property tax.  The Governor’s proposed budget would cut $500K from the program, and the HW&M budget would restore the $500K to level-fund the account at this year’s level of $26.9 million.  Amendment 753 would bring the account up to $30.4 million.

Support Funding for the Shannon Anti-Gang Grant Program
Please ask your Representatives to support Amendment 383 filed by Rep. Brady and 43 others to increase funding for the Shannon anti-gang grant program that has helped cities and towns respond to and suppress gang-related activities.  This amendment would add $4 million and bring total funding up to $8 million, which is the same level proposed by the Governor.

Support Funding for the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative
Please ask your Representatives to support Amendment 386, filed by Rep. Brady and others to increase funding of the Safe and Supportive Youth Initiative from $4 million to $9.5 million. The program seeks to reduce youth violence through wraparound services for those most likely to be victims or perpetrators, and is vital to violence prevention efforts in dozens of communities.

Support Funding for Summer Jobs for At-Risk Youth
Please ask your Representatives to support Amendment 427 filed by Rep. Fox and others to increase funding for youth summer jobs from $8 million to $12 million. This funding is critical to providing employment opportunities for at-risk teenagers in our cities and towns, especially with youth unemployment rates climbing.

Support Transparency in Water Management Regulations
Please ask your Representatives to support Amendment 70 filed by Rep. Peterson to require the Department of Environmental protection to appear before the Legislature’s Committee on the Environment, Natural and Agriculture to explain the terms and implementation of proposed regulations governing water management before the regulations can be finalized.

The state’s Sustainable Water Management Initiative proposes dramatic changes to permitting under the Water Management Act by establishing new biological categorizations and basing water withdrawal thresholds on new and unprecedented stream flow criteria. This regulatory scheme would limit water withdrawals, the main source of water system revenues, and at the same time increase costs for water suppliers by imposing additional mitigation measures.

KEY BUDGET AMENDMENTS ON CAPITAL SPENDING PRIORITIES

Support Funding for Dam and Seawall Repairs
Please ask your Representatives to support Amendment 1155 filed by Rep. Cantwell and others to appropriate $10 million for the Dam and Seawall Repair or Removal Fund.  There are approximately 3,000 dams in Massachusetts, most of which are in disrepair and causing damage to the environment and posing public safety risks. In 2011, the State Auditor reported that the state’s aging and neglected stock of dams poses a “significant threat to public safety’’ and requires an estimated $60 million in repairs.  Additional funding, along with the law enacted last year limiting the amount of nutrients in fertilizers, would go a long way toward improving the health of our lakes, rivers and streams.

Support Brownfields Redevelopment Funds
Please ask your Representatives to support Amendment 915 filed by Rep. Walsh and others and Amendment 121 filed by Rep. Moran and others to increase available funding for Brownfields redevelopment projects.  This funding is critical to the successful redevelopment of former industrial sites and will enhance local economic development efforts across the state, and improve the environment.  Amendment 915 would allocate up to $45 million from the fiscal 2014 year-end surplus to Brownfield projects, and Amendment 121 would provide a $30 million appropriation in the fiscal 2015 state budget.
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Best,
Pete
Osler L. Peterson, Attorney at Law
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