House’s FY13 state budget plan would boost local aid

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The House Ways and Means Committee today released a $32.3 billion state budget bill for fiscal 2013 that would increase a number of key local aid accounts by $105 million over the budget plan filed by the governor in January.

The House bill would:
• Guarantee funding for Unrestricted General Government Aid at $899 million by adding $65 million to the base Cherry Sheet distribution
• Add $18.5 million to Chapter 70 education aid to guarantee $40 per student minimum aid for all school districts
• Increase the special education circuit breaker account by $8.4 million
• Provide $11.3 million to fully fund a program providing transportation to homeless students
• Increase funding for regional school transportation by $2 million

“The House Ways and Means Committee’s budget proposal demonstrates that local aid is a top priority for the House of Representatives,” said MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith in a statement. “Communities are struggling mightily to balance their budgets and fund essential services, and Speaker Robert DeLeo, Chairman Brian Dempsey and House leaders are embracing a powerful fiscal partnership to strengthen municipal finances and provide funds for public safety, education and other vital local programs.”

The House Ways and Means budget would fund the UGGA account at $899 million, increasing the upfront appropriation on the Cherry Sheet by $65 million. The governor proposed level-funding UGGA at $834 million and providing a later supplemental distribution of $65 million if the state ends fiscal 2012 with a surplus. But with fiscal 2012 state revenues coming in below expectations, the $65 million is not guaranteed, and communities wouldn’t know what funding, if any, would result until October, making it impossible to include the funds in fiscal 2013 operating budgets. House leaders want to add the $65 million to the base so that cities and towns can make full use of the funds for ongoing operations in their fiscal 2013 budgets.

The House bill would provide $18.5 million above the governor’s proposed $146 million increase in Chapter 70 in order to guarantee that all cities, towns and school districts would receive an increase of at least $40 per student above fiscal 2012 Chapter 70 aid levels. Under the governor’s budget, nearly two-thirds of communities would have been level-funded.

The House bill would fund the special education circuit breaker account at $221 million, an increase of $8.4 million. The governor had proposed level-funding the account at $213 million. The House increase would get much closer to full funding of the account, a key priority for House lawmakers.

The House bill includes $11.3 million for a new budget account to reimburse cities and towns for the cost of transporting homeless students to school, a state mandate that was created when the state adopted the federal McKinney-Vento Act. House leaders recognized that this was an unfunded mandate, based on State Auditor Suzanne Bump’s recent ruling. The governor’s budget did not fund the mandate.

The House bill would fund regional school transportation funding at $45.5 million, a $2 million increase above the governor’s budget, which proposed level-funding at $43.5 million.

The House bill would maintain funding for other key accounts at the same level as proposed by the governor, including Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILOT) at $26.3 million, Library Aid at $16 million, and Charter School Reimbursements at $71.5 million.

The House bill would fund the regional incentive aid grant program at $5 million, an increase over this year’s $4 million but less than the governor’s $7 million recommendation.

House members have until April 13 to file amendments to the budget. Full debate on the bill is scheduled to begin on Monday, April 23.

Link to House Ways and Means Committee’s budget bill
Specific Unrestricted General Government Aid and Chapter 70 aid distributions by community can be found in Section 3 of the budget (at the end of the “Section 2 & 3” tab).

Download the MMA’s statement on the House Ways and Means Committee’s budget bill (56K PDF)