The Mass. Municipal Association has analyzed and sent out an alert on the House budget, and its inadequacies. The main MMA issues continue to be the lack of proper financial support by the state for the towns, and mainly education funding. The Governor’s budget proposed a $20/child increase in education funding, the House proposes a $25/child increase, and the MMA says it really should be $100/child, but at the very least a $50/child increase.
This was the MMA alert yesterday analyzing the House budget –
Thursday, April 30, 2015
HOUSE PASSES $38.1B FY 2016 STATE BUDGET THAT INCLUDES FUNDING FOR KEY MUNICIPAL AND SCHOOL AID PROGRAMS
BUDGET AND LOCAL AID ACTION NOW GOES TO THE SENATE:
PLEASE CALL YOUR SENATORS TODAY AND URGE THEM TO INVEST IN CITIES AND TOWNS
Late yesterday afternoon, after 3 days of deliberation on 1096 amendments, the members of the House of Representatives unanimously adopted a trim $38.1 billion fiscal 2016 state budget plan that is nearly identical to the House Ways and Means draft (H. 3400) that was unveiled 2 weeks ago.
The House-passed budget would increase overall state expenditures by less than 3 percent, as the state seeks to close a projected $1.8 billion structural budget deficit by restraining spending and eliminating 4,500 state jobs through an early retirement program. The final House budget is several million dollars smaller than the budget filed by Governor Baker in March.
The action now turns to the state Senate. The Senate Ways & Means Committee is expected to release its proposed budget by mid-May, and the full Senate will pass its version before the end of the month.
The House budget provides strong progress on many important local aid priorities, while there are still a number of issues where further action or additional funding is needed.
Here is a summary and status of the key municipal and school funding issues in the fiscal 2016 state budget as adopted by House of Representatives on Wednesday:
$34 MILLION INCREASE IN UNRESTRICTED MUNICIPAL AID
In a major win for cities and towns, the House budget supports $979.8 million for UGGA, a $34 million increase over current funding – the same increase proposed by Governor Baker. This would be the largest increase in discretionary municipal aid in nearly a decade. Every city and town would see their UGGA funding increase by 3.6 percent.
$8.3 MILLION INCREASE INTENDED TO FULLY FUND SPECIAL EDUCATION CIRCUIT BREAKER
In another victory for cities and towns, House members supported full funding for the Special Education Circuit Breaker program. Their budget plan would provide $261.7 million, an $8.3 million increase above fiscal 2015, with the intention of fully funding the account. This is a vital program that every city, town and school district relies on to fund state-mandated services.
RESTORES $5 MILLION TO REGIONAL SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION
Last November, former Gov. Patrick used his 9C budget powers to eliminate the $18.7 million increase regional school transportation reimbursements that the Legislature originally enacted for fiscal 2015, reducing the final amount to $51.5 million. The Governor proposed level funding at $51.5. Recognizing the importance of this funding, the final House budget would restore $5 million to bring regional transportation reimbursements up to $56.5 million. A proposed amendment to increase funding by another $4 million did not pass during the House budget debate.
RESTORES $18.6 MILLION TO KINDERGARTEN DEVELOPMENT GRANTS
The House budget would restore $18.6 million to the Kindergarten Development Grant program. The Governor’s budget would have eliminated all funding, and House members want to level-fund the current appropriation, at least for the next year. This is an important account, because eliminating the $18.6 million would have jeopardized expanded kindergarten programs all throughout the state.
CHAPTER 70 MINIMUM AID WOULD INCREASE TO $25 PER STUDENT
The House budget supports a $108.2 million increase in Chapter 70 education aid, with a provision providing every city, town and school district an increase of at least $25 per student. This is $2.9 million more than the recommendation in the Governor’s budget submission, which included minimum aid of only $20 per student. During the debate, the House did not adopt an amendment to raise minimum aid to $50 per student. Because most cities and towns only receive minimum aid, the MMA is calling for at least $50 per student minimum aid in the Legislature’s final budget.
McKINNEY-VENTO REIMBURSEMENTS WOULD INCREASE BY $1 MILLION
The final House budget would add $1 million to increase fiscal 2016 reimbursements for the transportation of homeless students to $8.4 million. While the account remains below the full reimbursement called for under the state’s unfunded mandate law, it would be the first increase since fiscal 2013. The House did not pass a proposed amendment to fully fund the account.
CHARTER SCHOOL REIMBURSEMENTS REMAIN SERIOUSLY UNDERFUNDED
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 and 2014, but is underfunding reimbursements by approximately $34 million this year. Both the Governor and the House Ways and Means budgets would level-fund charter school reimbursements at $76.8 million, which would guarantee another major shortfall in fiscal 2016, and result in cutbacks for the majority of students who remain in the traditional school setting. Increasing this account was a top priority for municipalities and school districts during the budget debate, but House members rejected an amendment that would have raised funding up to $130.5 million. This will continue to be a major budget issue as debate turns to the Senate.
PAYMENTS-IN-LIEU-OF-TAXES (PILOT), LIBRARY AID ACCOUNTS, METCO, AND SHANNON ANTI-GANG GRANTS
The House budget would level fund PILOT payments at $26.77 million, continue to fund library grant programs at $18.5 million, and restore funding for METCO to $20.14 million. During debate, the House adopted an amendment to add $1 million to the Shannon anti-gang grant program, providing a final appropriation of $6 million, which is still $1 million below current fiscal 2015 (post-9C) funding.
PROTECTION OF MUNICIPAL EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES
During the budget debate, Representatives approved an amendment adding an outside section that would prevent the practice of “pay the patient” by insurance companies, which undermines the ability of cities and towns to fund and operate effective and efficient ambulance services that are at the core of emergency medical response 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. The amendment would also clarify that municipalities are authorized to set a fair rate for ambulance services, preventing insurance companies from shifting costs to local property taxpayers through below-cost reimbursements.
COMMUNITY PRESERVATION ACT FUNDING COULD RECEIVE $10 MILLION
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. Knowing this, House members voted to dedicate up to $10 million of any fiscal 2015 year-end state budget surplus to supplement the fiscal 2016 state match.
Please Call Your Senators Today and Urge them to Support Essential Funding for Municipal and Education Aid – Including the $34 Million Increase in Unrestricted Local Aid, Full Funding for the Special Education Circuit Breaker, Restoring Kindergarten Grants, and Adding Funds to Regional School Transportation
Please Explain How the House Budget Impacts Your Community, and Ask Your Senators to Build on this Progress with Further Increases for Charter School Reimbursements, Chapter 70 Minimum Aid, Regional School Transportation and Other Key Accounts