This today from the Massachusetts Municipal Association on what is important to towns in the state budget. Highlights are the $50/pupil minimum state funding for education (currently it is at $25/pupil) and $25m. for the CPA –
Thursday, April 23, 2015
HOUSE DEBATE ON FY 2016 STATE BUDGET BEGINS MONDAY – CALL YOUR REPS.
Lawmakers Will Decide the Fate of 1,096 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 $38 billion fiscal 2016 state budget on Monday, April 27. The deliberations are expected to take several days, as Representatives have filed 1,096 amendments to make changes to H. 3400, the House Ways & Means Committee’s budget recommendation that was released last week.
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 an unwelcome amendment 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.
When you call your Representatives, please make sure to thank them for the proposals in the House budget to increase Unrestricted General Government Aid by $34 million (matching the Governor’s recommendation), for the $8.3 million increase intended to fully fund the Special Education Circuit Breaker, and for restoring $18.6 million to Kindergarten Development Grants.
Please Click Here to Visit the House Budget Website to See the Amendments: The House budget committee recommendation (H. 3400) and all proposed amendments are posted on the Legislature’s website at: http://malegislature.gov/Budget/FY2016/House/ChamberActions
KEY BUDGET AMENDMENTS ON SCHOOL AND EDUCATION FUNDING
Adequate Chapter 70 Minimum Aid for Municipal and Regional Schools
The MMA is calling for a sufficient funding increase for Chapter 70 school aid to ensure that all municipal and regional school districts are able to reach the “foundation” level of spending, implement the equity provisions adopted in 2006, and provide an adequate amount of minimum aid that ensures that all schools receive an increase in fiscal 2016.
The Governor proposed a fiscal 2016 Chapter 70 increase of $105.3 million, which includes minimum aid of only $20 per student for 245 cities, towns and school districts, an insufficient amount to maintain current school staffing and services. The HW&M recommendation would increase minimum aid to $25 per student, but in reality this still leaves too many schools unable to maintain quality school programs. Recognizing that the Foundation Budget Review Commission will not file its report until mid-2015, far past the deadline for inclusion in the fiscal 2016 state budget, the MMA is urging the House to adopt a higher minimum aid amount to prevent further erosion in school financing at the local level.
• Please ask your Representatives to Support Amendment 663 filed by Rep. Cutler and others to increase the “minimum aid” amount to $50 per student. This amendment would benefit 245 cities, towns and school districts, and give these communities a better chance of maintaining the quality of their existing education programming.
Reimbursements for Charter School Losses
The diversion of Chapter 70 school aid away from public schools to pay tuition to charter schools has imposed a major and growing financial burden on cities and towns, a problem made more acute as the state grants more charters and existing charter schools expand. Local officials strongly support full funding of the Commonwealth’s commitment under section 89 of Chapter 71 of the General Laws to reimburse school districts for the loss of a portion of their Chapter 70 aid that is redirected to fund charter schools.
In fiscal 2015, it is expected that cities and towns will be forced to divert $444 million to fund charter schools, 10 percent of all Chapter 70 dollars. This illustrates the importance of this issue to local governments, and why it is critical for the state to meet its commitment to this program. The original $80 million appropriation in the fiscal 2015 general appropriations act was $30.5 million below the full funding amount required in the statutory formula, which was signed into law only a few years ago. The problem has deepened with two rounds of 9C cuts to this account ($3.1 million), increasing the fiscal 2015 shortfall to at least $33.6 million.
The funding shortfall means that cities and towns are receiving only a fraction of the reimbursements due according to state law. This is impacting a large number of communities, including some the state’s poorest and most financially distressed cities and towns. Thus, the underfunding of the charter school reimbursement formula is harming the most vulnerable and challenged school districts and communities.
The Governor’s fiscal 2016 budget would level fund charter school reimbursements at $76.9 million, even though local payments to charter schools are expected to increase by $55 million. Full funding of the statutory formula would require $130.5 million. Without these funds, cities and towns will face another major shortfall next year, and result in cutbacks for the vast majority of students who remain in the traditional public school setting. The HW&M budget includes the Governor’s recommendation for this account.
• Please ask your Representatives to Support Amendment 822 filed by Rep. Ultrino and others, and Amendment 795 filed by Rep. Malia and others. These critical amendments would fully fund charter school reimbursements due to cities, towns and regional school districts by providing the full $130.5 million necessary to meet the state’s obligation.
McKinney-Vento Homeless Student Transportation Costs
In fiscal 2013, the state budget provided $11.3 million to fully fund the state-mandated costs that resulted from the Commonwealth’s adoption of the federal McKinney-Vento Act. The State Auditor ruled that the McKinney-Vento program was an unfunded mandate on cities and towns, and the Legislature provided full funding soon after that ruling. Under the program, communities are providing very costly transportation services to bus homeless students to schools outside of the local school district. However, the fiscal 2014 state budget reduced McKinney-Vento reimbursements to $7.4 million, underfunding this state mandate. Full funding for this year is estimated at $19.8 million, but the Commonwealth level-funded the program at $7.35 million, creating a shortfall of $12.5 million in the current fiscal year.
The Governor proposed a $1 million increase for fiscal 2016 to bring funding for McKinney-Vento reimbursements up to $8.4 million, which is the amount provided in H. 3400. Full funding for this state mandate would require $20.8 million, according to the most recent DESE projection.
• Please ask your Representatives to Support Amendment 620 filed by Rep. Heroux and others that would fully fund reimbursements due to municipalities and school districts for the cost of transporting homeless students from temporary shelters to school.
Regional School District Student Transportation Reimbursements
Funding for transportation reimbursements to regional school districts is vital to all regional districts and their member cities and towns, particularly in sparsely populated parts of the state. The Legislature appropriated $70.3 million for fiscal 2015, but, unfortunately, Governor Patrick used his 9C powers to cut the amount in November by 27 percent, an unexpected $18.7 million loss, returning the program to fiscal 2014 levels just months after coming closer to full funding. Decades ago, the state promised 100 percent reimbursement as an incentive for towns and cities to regionalize, and the consistent underfunding of this account has presented serious budget challenges for these districts, taking valuable dollars from the classroom. Governor Baker’s budget proposal would level-fund regional school transportation reimbursements at $51.5 million, dropping the reimbursement percentage down to 64 percent. The House Ways and Means Committee would restore $5 million to this key program in fiscal 2016, and bring funding up to $56.5 million, a positive and helpful increase, yet still below the funding needed.
• Please ask your Representatives to Support Amendment 744 filed by Rep. Benson and others that would increase transportation reimbursements to regional school districts by an additional $4 million to bring fiscal 2016 funding to $60.5 million.
Out-of-District Vocational Education Student Transportation
The fiscal 2015 state budget included $2.25 million item to reimburse communities for a portion of the $3.8 million cost of transporting students to out-of-district placements in vocational schools, as mandated by state law. 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. Governor Patrick slashed all funding with his November 9C cuts, a painful mid-year loss. The Governor’s fiscal 2016 recommendation and the HW&M budget do not include any funding.
• Please ask your Representatives to Support Amendment 151 filed by Rep. Durant and others to fully fund the $3.9 million cost of transporting students to out-of-district placements in vocational schools.
Kindergarten Expansion Grants
Cities, towns and regional school districts across the Commonwealth use this important grant program to support full-day access to local kindergarten programs. Funding for the program in the fiscal 2015 general appropriations act was $23.9 million before being reduced through two rounds of 9C cuts to $18.6 million. The Governor’s budget recommendation would eliminate all funding in fiscal 2016, an extremely disruptive step that would force participating communities to immediately decide whether to end or scale back their current kindergarten programs or cut other school and classroom services. The MMA applauds the recommendation in H. 3400 to restore funding for Kindergarten Development Grants to the fiscal 2015 post 9C level of $18.6 million, and is asking House members to restore the program to the original $23.9 million level.
• Please ask your Representatives to Support Amendment 502 filed by Rep. DiNatale and others to level fund this accounts at the original fiscal 2015 appropriation.
KEY BUDGET AMENDMENTS ON MUNICIPAL AID PROGRAMS AND
MUNICIPAL MANAGEMENT POLICY
Please ask your Representatives to Oppose Amendment 601, Which Would Circumvent and Weaken Municipal Personnel Law by Allowing Tobacco Users to Qualify for the Public Safety Heart-Lung and Cancer Presumptions
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 601 would reverse 27 years of standing law and personnel policy, and instead mandate that a smoking cessation program be offered to those who violate the policy while keeping the presumption in place for these employees, in spite of their use of tobacco products. 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 601 would remove a very important taxpayer protection, and should be rejected.
• Please ask your Representatives to Oppose Amendment 601, which would significantly weaken the smoking prohibition for public safety employees.
The Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILOT) program is a particularly important program for the cities and towns that host and provide municipal services to state facilities that are exempt from the local property tax. This account is underfunded at $26.77 million this year, and is still below fiscal 2008 funding. Many of our state’s smallest communities rely heavily on PILOT payments, and shortfalls in this account have a significant impact on their ability to deliver basic municipal services. House One and H. 3400 would level fund PILOT at $26.77 million.
• Please ask your Representatives to Support Amendment 961 filed by Rep. D’Emilia to add $3.5 million to increase PILOT payments to cities and towns, and bring the account up to $30.3 million.
Shannon Anti-Gang Grants
• The Shannon Grant program has been very effective in enabling cities and towns to respond to and suppress gang-related activities. Please ask your Representatives to Support Amendment 945 filed by Rep. Brady and others to increase funding for the Shannon anti-gang grant program. This amendment would add $3.25 million and bring total funding up to $8.25 million, which is the original fiscal 2015 appropriation.
Safe and Successful Youth Initiative
• Please ask your Representatives to Support Amendment 907, filed by Rep. Vega and others to increase funding of the Safe and Supportive Youth Initiative from $6 million to $9.5 million. The program seeks to reduce youth violence through wrap-around services for those most likely to be victims or perpetrators, and is vital to violence prevention efforts in dozens of communities.
Summer Jobs for At-Risk Youth
• Please ask your Representatives to Support Amendment 572 filed by Rep. Scibak and others to increase funding for youth summer jobs from $9 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.
Protection of Municipal Emergency Medical Services
• Please ask your Representatives to Support Amendment 1040 filed by Rep. Cantwell of Marshfield and others that would prevent the practice of “pay the patient,” by insurance companies, which undermines the ability of cities and towns to fund and operate responsive and efficient ambulance services that are at the core of emergency medical services in Massachusetts. “Pay the patient” would force communities to pursue their own residents to recoup thousands of dollars in ambulance expenses, a system that is inefficient and subject to abuse. Amendment 1040 would also clarify that municipalities are authorized to set a fair rate for ambulance services. Cities and towns set fees and charges for a wide variety of municipal services very strictly limited by state law to the cost of providing the service. This is the same rule that would apply to rate setting for emergency ambulance services. It would ensure that rates are reasonable and prevent insurance companies from shifting costs to local property taxpayers through below-cost reimbursements.
KEY BUDGET AMENDMENTS ON CAPITAL SPENDING PRIORITIES
Brownfields Redevelopment Funds
• Please ask your Representatives to Support Amendment 753 filed by Rep. Walsh and others to increase available funding for brownfield 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. This amendment would appropriate $15 million to recapitalize the Brownfield Redevelopment Fund.
Community Preservation Act Funding
During fiscal 2015, 156 cities and towns collected the local Community Preservation Act (CPA) surcharge and are eligible for state matching grants in fiscal 2016. The Division of Local Services (DLS) estimates that the balance in the state trust fund will be sufficient to provide a first round match of only 18 percent of the surcharge levied by each city and town. This would be the lowest state match in the program’s history.
• Please ask your Representatives to Support Amendment 881 filed by Rep. Kocot and others that would dedicate a portion of any fiscal 2015 year-end state budget surplus, up to $25 million, to supplement the fiscal 2016 state match. The fiscal 2014 state match was supplemented by $25 million from the fiscal 2013 year-end surplus, and $11.4 million was made available last year from the fiscal 2014 surplus.
Please Call Your Representatives Today on the Budget Amendments that Impact Your Community!