This alert this morning from the Massachusetts Municipal Association on the Senate deliberations tomorrow on the state budget, highlighting issues important to towns. –
Monday, May 18, 2015
SENATE DEBATE ON FY 2016 STATE BUDGET BEGINS TUESDAY – CALL YOUR SENATORS
Lawmakers Will Decide the Fate of 942 Amendments
Please Call Your Senators Today on the Budget Amendments that Impact Key Municipal and School Priorities
The Massachusetts Senate will begin debating the $38 billion fiscal 2016 state budget on Tuesday, May 19th. The deliberations are expected to take several days, as Senators have filed 942 amendments to make changes to S. 3, the Senate 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. This Legislative Alert describes the most important amendments that will be debated.
Please Call Your Senators Today
Please call your Senators as soon as possible today to secure their support for those amendments that would help your community.
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 Senators, please make sure to thank them for the proposals in the Senate budget to increase Unrestricted General Government Aid by $34 million (matching the budgets from the Governor and House), and for the $18.2 million increase to fully fund the Special Education Circuit Breaker.
Please Click Here to Visit the Senate Budget Website to See the Amendments: The Senate budget committee recommendation (S. 3) and all proposed amendments are posted on the Legislature’s website at: https://malegislature.gov/Budget/FY2016/Senate/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 that sets minimum aid at only $20 per student for 245 cities, towns and school districts, an insufficient amount to maintain current school staffing and services. The Senate budget 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 Senators to Support Amendment 94 filed by Sen. Eldridge and Amendment 100 filed by Sen. Hedlund 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 House and 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 $56.5 million. Full funding of the statutory formula would require $133.5 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 SW&M budget would provide $80 million, which is still far below the necessary funding.
• Please ask your Senators to Support Amendment 616 filed by Sen. Chang-Diaz, and Amendment 608 filed by Sens. Hedlund and Moore. These critical amendments would fully fund charter school reimbursements due to cities, towns and regional school districts by providing the full $133.5 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 House and Governor are proposing a $1 million increase for fiscal 2016 to bring funding for McKinney-Vento reimbursements up to $8.4 million, yet the SW&M budget would level-fund the program at $7.4 million. Full funding for this state mandate would require $20.8 million, according to the most recent DESE projection.
• Please ask your Senators to Support Amendment 586 filed by Sens. Eldridge and Lesser, Amendment 569 filed by Sens. Lovely and Barrett, and Amendment 611 filed by Sens. Hedlund and Moore that would fund reimbursements due to municipalities and school districts for the cost of transporting homeless students from temporary shelters to school. In addition, please ask your Senators to Support Amendment 33 filed by Senator Lovely that would protect cities and towns that host homeless families from reduced room occupancy excise revenues as a result of the state’s emergency assistance (EA) program.
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. The Governor’s budget proposal would level-fund regional school transportation reimbursements at $51.5 million, dropping the reimbursement percentage down to 64 percent. The Senate 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 Senators to Support Amendment 545 filed by Senator Gobi and others, Amendment 522 filed by Senator Humason and Amendment 612 filed by Senators Hedlund and Moore that would build on the progress in S. 3, and bring transportation reimbursements to regional school districts closer to the original fiscal 2015 appropriation.
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 SW&M budget does not include any funding.
• Please ask your Senators to Support Amendment 574 filed by Sen. Gobi to fully fund the $3.9 million cost of transporting students to out-of-district placements in vocational schools.
Kindergarten Expansion Grants
177 cities, towns and regional school districts in every corner of the Commonwealth use this important grant program to support full-day access to local kindergarten programs – including communities in virtually every Senate district. 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. Real progress was made in the House budget, with Representatives voting to restore the program to $18.6 million. However, the SW&M budget would reduce the program down to $1 million. We strongly support restoring Kindergarten Development Grants to at least the fiscal 2015 post-9C level of $18.6 million, and are asking Senators to also consider restoring the program to the original $23.9 million level.
• Please ask your Senators to Support Amendment 549 filed by Senator Joyce and Amendment 613 filed by Senator Hedlund and others to level fund this account at the fiscal 2015 appropriation.
Circuit Breaker for English Language Learners
One of the many lessons learned from the six public hearings held by the Foundation Budget Review Commission last year and into this Spring is that cities and towns struggling to meet the educational needs of an increasing number of students with special needs separate from special education programs. This includes low-income and English language learner (ELL) students.
• Please ask your Senators to Support Amendment 550 filed by Senator Fattman that would establish a “circuit breaker” program for English language learners, laying the foundation for future financial assistance from the Commonwealth.
KEY BUDGET AMENDMENTS ON MUNICIPAL AID PROGRAMS AND MUNICIPAL MANAGEMENT POLICY
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 S. 3would level fund PILOT at $26.77 million.
• Please ask your Senators to Support Amendment 101 filed by Sen. Hedlund 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 Senators to Support Amendment 697 filed by Sen. Donoghue to increase funding for the Shannon anti-gang grant program. This amendment would add $2 million and bring total funding up to $8 million, which is the original fiscal 2015 appropriation.
Safe and Successful Youth Initiative
• Please ask your Senators to Support Amendment 813 , filed by Sen. Chang-Diaz to increase funding of the Safe and Supportive Youth Initiative from $5 million to $7.58 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 Senators to Support Amendment 428 filed by Sen. Wolf to increase funding for youth summer jobs from $11.5 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 Senators to Support Amendment 775 filed by Sen. Donnelly 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 775 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.
Funding for the State Rehabilitation Tax Credit
• Please ask your Senators to Support Amendment 17 filed by Senators Moore and Tarr. This amendment would increase the capitalization of the State Historic Tax Credit Fund from $50 million to $75 million, bolstering the adaptive reuse of historic buildings in communities across the state and providing an important piece of project financing for many rehabilitative developments.
Closing the Online Room Reseller Tax Loophole
• Please ask your Senators to Support Amendment 23 filed by Senator Montigny to ensure equitable taxation of hotel rooms purchased through online room resellers. Because of a glaring loophole, when a hotel reservation is made through an online hotel room reseller, the tax that is collected is based on an artificially low room rate, not on the room rate that the consumer actually pays. This amendment would ensure that internet resellers cannot avoid collecting and submitting the full state and local room occupancy excise tax based on the actual room rate charged to the consumer. Eliminating this loophole will ensure a level playing field for all parties.
Closing the Vacation Rental Tax Loophole
• Please ask your Senators to Support Amendment 70 filed by Senator Wolf to modernize the room occupancy tax. This amendment would make the lodging excise applicable to short-term or seasonal lodging rentals in private homes or other similar accommodations. Such short-term rentals have become increasingly popular and common with the expansion of the sharing economy and the advent of online booking sites like Airbnb for such rooms. As with the room reseller issue, eliminating this glaring loophole will provide a level playing field in the lodging industry, and ensure that the existing room occupancy tax is fairly applied in all appropriate instances.
KEY BUDGET AMENDMENTS ON CAPITAL SPENDING PRIORITIES
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 Senators to Support Amendment 54 filed by Senator Creem and others and Amendments 1 and 65 filed by Senators Tarr and Hedlund 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 Senators Today on the Budget Amendments that Impact Your Community!