I just emailed our Representatives to ask them to support the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s priorities as they vote this week on the budget issues. The MMA set forth its positions on those House budget issues in an alert to me (a copy of the alert appears below) –
Monday, April 28, 2014
HOUSE DEBATE ON FY 2015 STATE BUDGET BEGINS TODAY – CALL YOUR REPS.
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 of Representatives will begin debating the $36 billion fiscal 2015 state budget today (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 earlier this month.
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 Call Your Representatives Today
Please call your Representatives as soon as possible today 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 firstname.lastname@example.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, and to support Amendment 1144 filed by Rep. Conroy 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.