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Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
The Healey-Driscoll administration today filed a $734 million fiscal 2023 supplemental budget bill that includes $75 million for a reserve to help school districts with extraordinary increases in special education costs.
The special education funding is intended to help offset the impact of a decision made by the Operational Services Division last October allowing private special education schools to increase their tuition rates by 14% in fiscal 2024. The OSD decision will have an impact on every district that places students out of district to meet their students’ educational needs.
The supplemental budget bill also includes a number of outside sections that would make adjustments to municipal finance laws to give cities and towns more flexibility in how they spend opioid settlement money and to simplify accounting and fiscal rules regarding revolving funds, insurance proceeds and mitigation agreements, among other items.
Among the spending items, the bill proposes an additional $171 million to extend state-funded universal free school meals through the 2023-2024 school year and $5 million for grants to aid cities and towns with costs associated with early voting and vote by mail, as well as funding for clean energy, MBTA hiring, preparations for the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, and other one-time priorities.
Healey said the universal school meals program “has proven to be a success in expanding access to nutritious meals for all students, and it’s essential that we keep it running and evaluate our options for the future.”
She said the budget bill would fulfill her commitment to triple the operating budget of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, with an additional $35 million, “to keep Massachusetts on the cutting edge of clean technology and decarbonization efforts and to forge new partnerships with public higher education institutions and trades to grow the clean energy industry.” The bill would authorize the MassCEC to establish the Salem Offshore Wind Terminal to further the creation of new green jobs.
Other key investments in the bill include:
• $20 million to improve employee recruitment and retention at the MBTA
• $200 million toward a Critical Health and Human Services and Workforce Reserve to cover projected deficiencies in fiscal 2023 and expenses in early fiscal 2024 for the continuation of COVID-19 response and mitigation efforts
• $60 million to support caseworkers and staff at the Department of Transitional Assistance
• $20 million for a bridge to stabilize critical victim service programs throughout the Commonwealth and ensure continued access to trauma-informed services in light of decreased federal funding through the Victims of Crime Act
• $10 million to double the Cultural Facilities Fund for the Massachusetts Cultural Council
• $3.5 million to support the redetermination process at MassHealth
• $100 million for a supplemental transfer to the pension fund, as agreed to with the House and Senate as part of the consensus revenue process, to fully pay down pension liabilities attributable to the 2015 Early Retirement Incentive Program ahead of schedule
Healey said the spending recommended in the bill would be covered by a mix of available General Fund revenue and one-time resources.
Among the policy pieces, the bill would direct the Executive Office of Education to report by early next year on options to reform, modify or extend the universal free school meals program in a way that promotes equity, maximizes federal revenue, and improves predictability and sustainability of funding into the future. The administration previously requested additional funding to continue the program through the end of the 2022-2023 school year.