I received the following Massachusetts Municipal Association Alert this afternoon, along with a request to call the legislators about the Chapter 90 funds bottled up on a conference committee –
SENATE COMPLETES STATE BUDGET DEBATE
Fiscal 2013 Budget Plan Goes to Conference Committee
On Friday afternoon, May 25, the Senate completed debate on its version of the fiscal 2013 state budget, with local aid clearly identified as a top priority for Senators. The Senate budget follows the budget passed by the House in April, which also invested heavily in protecting and restoring key local aid and education accounts.
House and Senate action is expected today to formally establish the budget conference committee, which will have until the end of the month to agree on a final compromise plan. While June 30 will be the ultimate deadline, most observers agree that the initial target date to reach agreement is June 20, which would give the Governor ten days to review the budget in time to sign it into law on July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.
The House and Senate each devoted $130 million more to local aid and education accounts than the budget submitted by the Governor in January. Because each branch chose different ways of allocating the increases, the budget conference committee will need to resolve the differences during their deliberations.
Here are the key local aid items that will be resolved by the conference committee:
UNRESTRICTED MUNICIPAL AID (UGGA): The Senate plan includes $900 million in unrestricted municipal aid, and the House plan devotes $899 million. The budgets would provide a major increase over the $834 million recommended by the Governor ($66 million more in the Senate plan, $65 million more in the House budget). The good news is that the House and Senate are united in their efforts to guarantee a substantial increase in the base for municipal aid. The MMA applauds each branch, and will work to secure the higher level of funding.
CHAPTER 70 EDUCATION AID: The Senate plan includes a $180 million increase in direct school aid, and the House proposes a $163.8 million increase. Each budget would guarantee a $40 per-student increase in Chapter 70 for each school district. The Senate budget would add additional funds for â€œtarget share aidâ€ to about 100 school districts. Both plans are higher than the Governorâ€™s $145.6 million increase, which would have level-funded about two-thirds of the school districts across the state. The House and Senate budgets each represent significant improvement, and the MMA will be advocating for the Senate allocation.
SPECIAL EDUCATION CIRCUIT BREAKER: The original budget submitted by the Governor in January level-funded the program at $213.1 million. The House added $8.45 million, and the Senate is pushing for full funding, adding $29 million to bring the account up to the $242 million necessary for the state to meet its obligation to reimburse 75 percent of eligible expenses. This is a vital account that benefits every municipality and school district across the state, and the MMA will be pressing hard for full funding.
McKINNEY-VENTO SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION MANDATE: The House of Representatives made a major statement in their budget when it included $11.3 million to fully fund the McKinney-Vento mandate for the transportation of homeless students to their schools that was triggered when the state adopted the federal program. Earlier this year, the state Auditor ruled that this is an unfunded mandate, and urged state officials to fund the requirements of the program. The House budget created a new line item in the budget to provide full reimbursement to cities and towns. The budgets submitted by the Governor and the Senate contain no funding for the program. The MMA will be advocating for the full $11.3 million.
COMMUNITY PRESERVATION ACT: Both the House and Senate budgets contain language to expand the program, allowing cities and towns to expend funds to improve and renovate existing recreational facilities, and allowing communities to use non-property-tax dollars to meet a portion of their funding requirement (CDBG and other funds). However, the House plan provides a powerful permanent mechanism to add up to $25 million a year in additional state funding on a recurring basis (devoting the first $25 million of any end-of-the-year budget surplus to the CPA program), while the Senate would provide a one-time $5 million transfer from the stateâ€™s General Fund. The MMA and other stakeholders will be advocating for the House plan.
The MMA is analyzing the complete budgets passed by the Senate and House, and will be providing further information and updates. In the meantime, please contact your legislators on the key budget items above, and urge them to support the maximum local aid increase possible.