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Proposed Senate budget makes local aid a priority

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The Senate Ways and Means Committee this morning released its proposed state budget for fiscal 2013, embracing most of the local aid increases adopted by the House last month and adding additional funds to major accounts.

The Senate budget committee bill would provide approximately $130 million more in local aid than the budget proposed by the governor in January.

The budget would fund the Unrestricted General Government Aid account at $900 million, increasing the appropriation on the Cherry Sheet by $66 million.

The governor had 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 would not be 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.

Senate leaders want to make the $65 million permanent and add it to the base so that cities and towns can make full use of the funds in fiscal 2013 budgets.

In writing the budget, the Senate budget committee rounded the account up from $899 million to $900 million, a $1 million increase above the amount approved by the House last month, which will explain why the distribution amount in Section 3 will be slightly higher in the Senate’s proposed budget than in the House.

On Chapter 70, the Senate budget bill would increase the education aid account by $37.4 million above the governor’s budget to guarantee each school district a minimum increase of $40 per student. The governor had proposed a $145.6 million increase in Chapter 70, but that level would mean that nearly two-thirds of communities would have been level-funded.

The Senate’s Chapter 70 proposal would match the amount endorsed by the House.

The Senate would also provide additional funds for a distribution of “target share aid” that was suspended in 2008, directing those funds to “communities that receive a smaller share of their foundation budget from the state than should be the case given their property and income wealth.” This should explain the difference between the distribution in the House-passed budget and the Senate Ways and Means proposal.

The Senate budget bill would fully fund the Special Education Circuit Breaker account at $242.2 million, an increase of $29 million above fiscal 2012 and the governor’s proposal for fiscal 2013. This is a core aspect of the Senate budget committee’s local aid proposals. The governor had proposed level-funding the account at $213 million, and the House endorsed an $8.5 million increase.

The Senate budget committee plan would maintain funding for other key local aid accounts at the same level as proposed by the governor, including payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) at $26.3 million, library aid at $16 million, charter school reimbursements at $71.5 million, and regional school transportation at $43.5 million.

The Senate would fund Shannon anti-gang grants at $6 million, slightly higher than the House’s $5.5 million.

Both the Senate and House would provide funds for the new Community Incentive Challenge Grant program.

The proposed Senate budget does not include any funding for the transportation of homeless students due to the mandated McKinney-Vento requirements. The House created a new account to cover the estaimated $11.3 million cost to cities and towns.

Members of the Senate have until Friday, May 18, to file amendments to the budget bill, and full debate on the budget will begin on May 23.

Once the Senate has passed a budget, the House and Senate will work out the differences in their respective bills before sending a final legislative budget bill to the governor in time for the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

Link to Senate budget website
[Specific Unrestricted General Government Aid and Chapter 70 aid distributions by community can be found in Section 3 of the budget in the “Local Aid” tab]

Link to Division of Local Services for each community’s FY2013 local aid estimates based on the Senate Ways & Means budget proposal

Read MMA statement on Senate Ways and Means budget proposal