|Earlier this morning, the Legislature’s budget conference committee reported out a lean $40.2 billion fiscal 2018 state budget plan that is based on a $700 million reduction in expected tax revenues for next year. Very weak tax collections this year have created a $440 million hole in the FY 2017 budget, and forced lawmakers to make a $700 million downward adjustment in their FY 2018 forecast.
The House and Senate have scheduled formal sessions for this afternoon (Friday, July 7th), and it is expected that legislators will vote to approve and send the budget to Governor Baker today. The Governor will then have 10 days to sign, veto or recommend changes to the appropriations and outside sections.
While the Legislature’s budget enacts widespread reductions in state budget accounts, Representatives and Senators are clearly protecting and prioritizing municipal and school aid, as the conference committee budget (H. 3800) makes key investments in local aid priorities, including a $39.9 million increase in unrestricted municipal aid (UGGA), a $119 million increase in Chapter 70 school aid, and a $4 million increase in special education reimbursements. The remaining accounts are generally level funded.
Legislators recognize that cities and towns have already passed their fiscal 2018 budgets, which is why they protected the UGGA and Chapter 70 increases that were announced earlier this year and included in the House and Senate budgets. Any last-minute reductions in UGGA or Chapter 70 would have disrupted local budgets and forced mid-year cuts. Fortunately, lawmakers went to great lengths to prevent this.
Please Click this Link Now to Download H. 3800, the Legislature’s Fiscal 2018 Budget – You Can See Your Community’s UGGA and Chapter 70 Amounts in Section 3 of the Budget, which Starts on Page 226
$39.9 MILLION INCREASE IN UNRESTRICTED MUNICIPAL AID
In a major victory for cities and towns, the Legislature’s fiscal 2018 budget plan provides $1.061 billion for UGGA, a $39.9 million increase over current funding – the same increase proposed by Governor Baker and voted by the House and Senate. Almost all of UGGA funding comes from $985M in expected Lottery proceeds and $65M from the Plainridge gaming facility. The full $39.9 million UGGA increase is a top priority for cities and towns, because municipalities are counting on these funds to balance their budgets and maintain essential services for their residents.
CHAPTER 70 MINIMUM AID WOULD INCREASE TO $30 PER STUDENT
With $4.75 billion for Chapter 70 aid, the Legislature’s budget includes a $119 million increase in Chapter 70 education aid (this is $27.5 million higher than the $91.4 million increase in House One), providing a minimum aid increase of at least $30 per student (compared to the $20-per-student amount in the Governor’s budget). The Legislature’s budget continues to implement the target share provisions enacted in 2007, and builds on the proposal by the Governor to start addressing shortfalls in the foundation budget framework. The Legislature’s budget increases foundation budget funding by adding more weight to the health insurance cost factor.
The Legislature’s budget includes $12.5M in the Chapter 70 appropriation to hold school districts harmless from changes in the method of counting low-income students. This is similar to the Legislature’s handling of the problem in the fiscal 2017 budget. H. 3800 includes language stating that this “transitional” assistance to address the problems in calculating low-income student costs is included in the per-district distribution amounts listed in Section 3 of the budget.
In the context of a very tight budget year, the Legislature’s increase in Chapter 70 funding is certainly welcome progress. The MMA continues to give top priority to full funding for the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations, and over the long-term will work to build on this increase.
$4 MILLION INCREASE FOR THE SPECIAL EDUCATION CIRCUIT BREAKER
In another budget advancement for cities and towns, the Legislature’s budget would add $4 million to the Special Education Circuit Breaker program, providing $281 million. The Governor’s budget proposed level-funding at $277 million. The $4 million increase is a step forward, although this is still short of full funding for a vital program that every city, town and school district relies on to fund state-mandated services. The MMA will work to continue building on this welcome increase.
FUNDING FOR CHARTER SCHOOL REIMBURSEMENTS REMAINS FLAT
The Legislature’s budget would level-fund charter school reimbursements at $80.5 million, far below the amount necessary to fully fund the statutory formula that was originally established to offset a portion of the funding that communities are required to transfer to charter schools. The fiscal 2017 funding level is $54.6 million below what is necessary to fund the reimbursement formula that is written into state law. If this program is level funded, the shortfall will grow to an estimated $76.4 million in fiscal 2018. This would lead to the continued and growing diversion of Chapter 70 funds away from municipally operated school districts, and place greater strain on the districts that serve 96% of public school children. Solving the charter school funding problem is a major priority for the MMA.
REGIONAL SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION, PAYMENTS-IN-LIEU-OF-TAXES (PILOT), LIBRARY AID ACCOUNTS, METCO, McKINNEY-VENTO, AND SHANNON ANTI-GANG GRANTS
Compared to current fiscal 2017 appropriations, the Legislature’s fiscal 2018 budget increases Regional School Transportation Reimbursements by $1 million (up to $61.5 million), a very important account for smaller and rural communities. The budget would level-fund PILOT payments at $26.77 million, add $188K to library grant programs, level-fund METCO, and fund McKinney-Vento reimbursements at $8.1 million, a reduction of $250K. The Legislature’s budget would level-fund Shannon Anti-Gang Grants at $6 million.
CONFERENCE COMMITTEE BUDGET DEFERS IMPORTANT IMPROVEMENTS TO THE LOCAL AND STATE LODGING EXCISE TAX TO SEPARATE LEGISLATION
The Legislature’s final budget defers action on important reforms to the room occupancy excise. Progress on this issue will now focus on separate legislation that is being crafted by Rep. Aaron Michlewitz in the House. The Senate budget had included language to close loopholes that allow the increasing variety of transient and other short-term rentals to escape taxation, including rentals through Airbnb and other similar online companies and through on-line re-sellers. These are important steps to bring parity and a level-playing field to the collection of lodging excise payments, and the MMA will continue to work hard to achieve passage this year.