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Local officials highlight state budget priorities for FY13

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At a hearing today on the governor’s fiscal 2013 state budget recommendation, municipal leaders told members of the House and Senate budget committees that local budgets remain under tremendous stress after four years of recession and deep local aid cuts.

Panelists asked that the main municipal aid account be increased. They also urged legislators to adopt a Local Aid Resolution to let cities and towns know as early as possible what to expect in the main municipal and school aid accounts.

The panel, led by MMA President and Waltham Councillor Robert G. Logan and MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith, asked the Legislature to increase the governor’s $834 million recommendation for the Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) account by $65 million, to account for a supplemental municipal aid distribution made last October and projected increases in Lottery revenues.

The governor included a section in his budget bill (House 2) that would provide another $65 million supplemental aid distribution in fiscal 2013, but only if the state ends fiscal 2012 with a high-enough surplus. The MMA panel told legislators that, under this plan, aid numbers wouldn’t be certified until next October and, therefore, would not be available for budgeting this spring and early summer.

The municipal officials also asked legislators to fully fund the state’s obligations to municipalities and school districts for special education “circuit breaker” reimbursements, regional school district student transportation payments, and reimbursements to cover a portion of education aid lost as tuition payments to charter schools.

The MMA panel included Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, Lowell City Manager Bernie Lynch and Buckland Town Administrator Andrea Llamas, who is president of Small Town Administrators of Massachusetts.

Llamas testified that the state’s model for financing veterans’ benefits was creating budget problems for many small towns. She explained that the unpredictability of locally funded payments to needy veterans, and the long delay in receiving reimbursement from the state, were major problems.

In written testimony, the MMA asked that the House and Senate Ways and Means committees include funding this year and in fiscal 2013 to cover the cost of transporting certain homeless students placed by the state in out-of-town motels back to their original school district. State Auditor Suzanne Bump recently determined that the requirement that schools offer this added transportation service was agreed to by the state in order to receive a federal grant and was therefore an unfunded mandate under state law. The increased cost to local government is estimated at $11.3 million this year.

Legislative hearings on the governor’s budget recommendation are slated to wrap up later this month. The House budget committee is expected to release a bill in mid-April to be voted on by the end of the month. Senate budget debate is expected to begin in mid-May and be done by the end of the month.

Last year, the House and Senate reached agreement on the main local aid numbers in April, with the Senate approving a Local Aid Resolution on April 14.

MMA budget testimony before the House and Senate Ways and Means committees

Link to governor’s budget website
Link to Section 3 local aid numbers
Link to Division of Local Services for Cherry Sheet amounts for fiscal 2013
Link to DESE website for fiscal 2013 Chapter 70 numbers for each district