John Nunnari regularly emails town officials news from the legislature, and this story by the State House News Service is a preview of a fairly rosy municipal and school aid proposal in the budget for next year –
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 3, 2015….State aid for public schools would rise by 2.4 percent next fiscal year and unrestricted local aid would increase by 3.6 percent in Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget proposal, which is set to be fully released on Wednesday.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said the increases fulfill the governor’s pledge during the campaign to boost state aid in concert with rising state revenues – state tax collections are due to rise 4.8 percent in the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.
The Chapter 70 school aid account in Baker’s budget will feature a $105 million increase, which means a minimum increase of $20 per student, Polito told the News Service during an interview Tuesday prior to a meeting with mayors and other municipal officials.
Unrestricted local aid, which is predominantly generated by Lottery profits, would increase to $980 million in Baker’s budget plan, which will undergo review and redrafting in the Legislature in the coming months.
Specific information about levels recommended for other local aid accounts – regional school transportation, payments in lieu of taxes, and special education, for example – was not available.
“We felt the focus should be on Chapter 70 school aid and on the unrestricted aid, and let the school districts and the municipal managers determine how best to utilize those dollars,” said Polito, a former state representative and local official.
The extra state aid will help cities and towns cope with rising health care costs, school enrollment increases and snow management costs, Polito said.
“Level funding is a cut,” she said. “And we felt that it was necessary to increase the percentage for both school aid and unrestricted aid in order to help our communities perform the services to the quality they need to help our families and our hardworking taxpayers.”
Baker budget aides say his spending plan will also restore fiscal 2015 budget levels for the METCO program, which enables students from Boston and Springfield to attend schools outside those cities.
Baker and Gov. Deval Patrick cut METCO funding in recent months as part of efforts to address a deficit in this year’s state budget.
A Baker budget aide said the governor’s spending plan would include “a lot of level funding.” The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation has estimated a $1.5 billion gap between expected revenues and expenses next year.
Baker is tackling that budget gap without recommending any tax hikes and does not plan to draw money from the state’s stabilization fund, which lawmakers have regularly used to support spending plans.
The governor’s budget bill, which will be the subject of hearings starting next week, also won’t include any “one-time gimmicks,” Polito said. “It’s a straight-forward budget that reflects the priorities that we have, which are helping our cities and towns succeed,” she said.
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