Dear Senator,

We are writing to express our appreciation for the many provisions in the Senate Ways & Means Committee budget bill (S. 3) that would support cities and towns across the Commonwealth.

We thank Senate President Spilka, Chairman Rodrigues, the members of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, and all members of the Senate for advancing a budget bill that would increase Unrestricted General Government Aid by $29.7 million, fund the essential requirements of Chapter 70 education aid, and make important strides in implementing the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission. We recognize that making these key investments is a challenging task in uncertain fiscal circumstances, and S. 3 makes clear the Senate’s commitment to a strong fiscal partnership with cities and towns.

We need an enduring partnership between cities and towns and state government if we want to strengthen our economy and make sure that citizens receive world-class municipal and education services, with safe streets, thriving neighborhoods and economic opportunity. Cities and towns rely heavily on municipal and education aid to provide the essential local and school services that the residents of Massachusetts deserve and expect, and adequate aid levels help to mitigate today’s overreliance on the property tax.

With 1,142 amendments to consider during your budget deliberations, there are dozens of important funding and policy proposals that would impact cities and towns, and we urgently and respectfully ask you to act on all of these matters to support the interests of the communities you represent. Please invest in essential municipal and school programs, and please protect local government from proposals that would restrict or interfere with their management and decision-making authority. In this letter, we have highlighted the most important and visible amendments that impact cities and towns:

KEY BUDGET AMENDMENTS ON SCHOOL AND EDUCATION FUNDING

• Please Support Additional Chapter 70 School Aid
We thank Senate leaders for real progress in implementing the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission and for increasing Chapter 70 minimum aid to $30 per student. This matches the House minimum aid amount, and exceeds the $20 per student amount in the Governor’s submission. A significant majority of school districts only receive minimum aid, which is why higher Chapter 70 minimum aid levels are so important – without higher minimum aid, a majority of our cities, towns and districts would receive below-inflation increases, making it extremely difficult to maintain existing programs and quality. Please SUPPORT Amendments 148 and 149, filed by Senator Tarr and others, which would increase the minimum aid amount to $50 or $100 per student, respectively, to ensure that all communities share more fully in the impressive education investments included in S. 3. In January, our members voted unanimously to support minimum aid levels at $100 per student, since so many districts are minimum-aid-only.

• Please Take Action on Charter School Finance Amendments
Charter school tuition assessments on cities and towns continue to rise, and are a major financial drain at the local level. The most recent estimates for fiscal 2020 show an increase in assessments of nearly $62 million, or 9.3 percent. Total assessments would reach $725 million, which unavoidably results in less school aid for local public schools.

Assessments are impacting school districts across the Commonwealth, including some of the state’s poorest and most financially distressed cities and towns. Many municipalities would see fiscal 2020 charter school assessments result in a net cut in school aid or a net Chapter 70 increase that is below minimum aid levels. The current charter school finance system of assessments and mitigation payments is not sustainable for cities and towns, or for the Commonwealth.

S. 3 would increase charter school impact mitigation payments by $10 million, up to $100 million (the House has proposed $113 million). However, full funding of the current 6-year mitigation formula in state statute, or the proposed new (and more limited) 3-year reimbursement formula in H. 1, H. 3801 and S. 3, would require far more than this amount.

Charter school finance needs a complete overhaul. We support legislation currently before the Committee on Education that would cap local assessments and allow state-appropriated tuition payments as a long-term measure to bring stability and fairness to charter school finance. For the near term, we support a number of very important budget amendments to provide relief in fiscal 2020.

We SUPPORT Amendment 282 filed by Senator DiZoglio to increase funding for the mitigation payments in S. 3 (transitional assistance) up to $125 million. We also SUPPORT Amendment 323 filed by Senator Chang-Diaz and others that would add funding and strike the 3-year mitigation payment schedule in S. 3 and return it to the current 6-year schedule, pending further debate on this issue later in the year when school finance legislation may be taken up. The intent of Amendment 323 is to fully fund the state’s current statutory reimbursement commitment.

We SUPPORT Amendment 284 filed by Senator Jehlen that would create a reserve to ensure that cities, towns and regional school districts do not face a real reduction in school aid next year as a result of how charter schools are financed. According to preliminary Cherry Sheet information, at least 70 districts are in line for a net cut in fiscal 2020 due to the flaws in the current funding system.

We SUPPORT the supplemental mitigation payment provisions in Amendment 281 filed by Senator Collins and Amendment 319 filed by Senator Comerford, to add a very important measure of protection against excessive losses by cities, towns or school districts.

Please OPPOSE Amendment 166, which would increase the charter school tuition facilities component from $893 in fiscal 2019 to $1,116 in fiscal 2020. S. 3 already proposes an increase in the facilities payment to $938. This amendment would have the effect of reducing the net amount of charter school mitigation payments that would be available to cities, towns and school districts to offset growing charter school assessments, deepening the financial losses for the regular K-12 schools that educate 94 percent of students.

We also ask that you SUPPORT Amendment 301 filed by Senator Jehlen, which would bring a much-needed level of accountability related to state decisions to approve new and expanded charter schools and the resulting impact on local public schools.

• Please Support Funding for McKinney-Vento Homeless Student Transportation Costs
The State Auditor has ruled that the McKinney-Vento program is an unfunded state mandate on cities and towns. It requires cities and towns to provide very costly transportation services to bus homeless students to schools outside of the local school district. Full funding for fiscal 2020 is estimated at $27.3 million, according to the most recent DESE projection. Please SUPPORT Amendment 303 filed by Senator Comerford and Senator Rausch, which includes a provision to fully fund reimbursements due to municipalities and school districts for the cost of transporting homeless students from temporary shelters to school.

• Please Support Funding for Regional School District Student Transportation
We very much appreciate the SW&M recommendation to increase the appropriation for regional school transportation reimbursements by almost $5 million next year, bringing the account to $73.9 million. Funding for transportation reimbursements to regional school districts is vital to all regional districts and their member communities, particularly in sparsely populated parts of the state. Full funding next year would require $92.3 million, according to DESE. Please SUPPORT Amendment 180 filed by Senator Gobi, which would further increase funding for this account and bring fiscal 2020 funding to the full funding mark. We also SUPPORT the provision in Amendment 303 (cited above) to fully fund this account, and SUPPORT Amendments 150 and 152 filed by Senator Tarr and others that would also add funding.

• Please Support Funding for Out-of-District Vocational Student Transportation
Chapter 74 of the General Laws requires the state to reimburse cities and towns for the cost of transporting students to out-of-district vocational education programs. This reimbursement program recognizes the significant expense of providing transportation services for out-of-district placements, as these students must travel long distances to participate in vocational programs that are not available locally. DESE estimates that full funding of the state’s obligation next year would require $4.3 million. The SW&M recommendation would provide $250,000 for this account. Please SUPPORT Amendment 239 filed by Senator deMacedo and others, and Amendment 303 (above), which would increase funding to help cover the cost of transporting students to out-of-district placements in vocational schools.

• Please Support Funding for Summer Jobs for At-Risk Youth
Please SUPPORT Amendment 757 filed by Senator Chang-Diaz to increase funding for youth summer jobs. This funding is critical to providing employment opportunities for at-risk teenagers in our cities and towns, especially with chronically high youth unemployment rates.

KEY BUDGET AMENDMENTS ON MUNICIPAL AID ACCOUNTS AND MANAGEMENT POLICY

• Please Support Equity in Balance Billing Protections
Please SUPPORT Amendment 49 filed by Senator Creem. This amendment would ensure parity among municipal employees who receive health insurance through the Group Insurance Commission (GIC) and those who do not, with respect to a ban on balance billing that appears in Section 15 of the outside sections of S. 3. Balance billing is used by some healthcare providers to bill patients for the difference between what the patient’s health insurance pays for and what the provider decides to charge, resulting in direct bills to the patient above and beyond the insurance payment. This practice is often used by out-of-network providers, such as specialists or emergency room physicians. These bills are also called “surprise medical bills” because the patient is unaware a provider is out-of-network. S. 3 proposes to ban the practice of balance billing under Chapter 32A (health insurance for state employees and some municipal employees covered by the GIC). Amendment 49 would ensure parity for Massachusetts public employees by providing the same balance billing protections for employees who receive health insurance under Chapter 32B (municipal and special district employees). Clearly, all municipal employees should receive the same statutory protections against balance billing, not just the smaller fraction that are covered in the state plan. Amendment 618 is similar but does not include municipalities that are outside the GIC network, so the inequity would still exist, which is why Amendment 49 is so important.

• Please Support Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILOT) Program
Please SUPPORT Amendment 399 filed by Senator Comerford, which would ensure that no city or town would receive less in payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) amounts next year. This is an important account for cities and towns that host and provide municipal services to state facilities and large tracts of state-owned land, particularly in rural areas of the Commonwealth. Without this hold-harmless amendment, changing assessments would result in PILOT payment reductions in many communities that are highly dependent on this key account.

• Please Support Funding for the Shannon Anti-Gang Grant Program
Please SUPPORT Amendment 1099 filed by Senator Boncore and others to increase funding for the highly effective and valuable Shannon Anti-Gang Grant Program that has helped cities and towns respond to and suppress gang-related activities. Amendment 1099 would bring total funding up to $12 million.

• Please Support Funds for Local Planning
Please SUPPORT Amendment 110 filed by Senator Eldridge and others, Amendment 333 filed by Senator deMacedo and others, and Amendment 351 filed by Senator deMacedo and others, which would add funding to the Municipal Regionalization and Efficiencies Incentive Reserve, including funding for the District Local Technical Assistance (DLTA) program. The several programs funded through this account, including best practices through the Community Compact Cabinet, provide meaningful contributions to municipal initiatives to modernize local government.

• Please Support Funding for the Housing Choice Initiative Program
Please SUPPORT Amendment 856 filed by Senator O’Connor to establish a new line item for the Housing Choice Initiative grant program at $5.3 million.  This program rewards municipalities that have produced certain rates or amounts of housing units in the last five years and that have adopted best practices related to housing production to increase access to housing in Massachusetts. Communities that achieve the designation will have exclusive access to incentives, rewards and technical assistance.

• Please Support 2020 Census Complete Count Grants
Please SUPPORT Amendment 14 filed by Senator DiDomenico and others, which would establish a statewide competitive grant program for the purpose of ensuring a complete and accurate count in the 2020 Census. This program is extremely important for cities and towns across the Commonwealth as it determines how many representatives each state gets in Congress and provides data that communities can rely on to plan for a variety of resident needs, including new roads, schools, and emergency services.  The sum of $5 million would support outreach efforts in communities that are at risk of being undercounted.

• Please Support Early Voting Reimbursements
Please SUPPORT Amendment 340 filed by Senator Tarr and others, to fully reimburse cities and towns for the amounts expended for mandated early voting procedures and operations.  In 2016, after Massachusetts’ first-ever period of early voting, officials said more than 1 million people cast ballots before Election Day. Expanded hours make participation for residents more accessible and convenient, but costs more for cities and towns.  Full reimbursement will ensure successful elections without hurting municipal budgets.

• Please Oppose Special Accelerated Insurance Coverage Date for Certain Employees
Please OPPOSE Amendment 1043, which would amend Chapter 32B of the General Laws and 805 CMR 9.01(3) to change the effective date of Group Insurance Commission (GIC) health coverage for municipal police officers to begin on the first day of employment. Under current law, all eligible employees who apply for coverage within the first 10 days of employment are insured on the first day of the month following the earlier of 60 calendar days or two calendar months. The MMA opposes Amendment 1043 because it would apply to only one group of municipal employees. This important issue should be part of a larger discussion on health insurance and procedures regarding healthcare delivery to participating municipal employees.

UPDATING AND MODERNIZING STATUTES

• Please Support Local Tax Title Accounts
Please SUPPORT Amendment 13 filed by Senator DiDomenico, which would amend the law related to property tax collection to clarify that entities assigned tax titles for unpaid local taxes are allowed to make subsequent tax payments on the property and recover those amounts at redemption. This amendment allows municipal treasurers and collectors to require assignees to make those payments, and would resolve ambiguity in the law, used by nearly 50 cities and towns, and provide clear and consistent rules.

• Please Support the Extractor Bulk Purchasing Program
We ask that you SUPPORT Amendment 1051 filed by Senator Feeney and others, which would create a Trust Fund to finance the Extractor Bulk Purchase Program. The purpose of Amendment 1051 is to reduce risks to firefighters associated with wearing contaminated protective clothing through the acquisition of recommended washing equipment for regular cleanings. The program would allow municipalities and fire districts to join the trust fund in order to purchase extractors, extractor installation equipment, and detergent dispensers. We believe that the adoption of this amendment would positively contribute to the wellbeing of municipal firefighters, as well as preserve the integrity and increase the longevity of firefighters’ clothing.

• Please Support Ambulance Service Access to Naloxone and the Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchasing Trust Fund
Please SUPPORT Amendment 510 filed by Senator Timilty, which would create a Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchase Trust Fund in order to ensure that municipalities can afford life-saving overdose reversal medications. Amendment 510 would amend Chapter 29 of the General Laws by adding ambulance services licensed pursuant to Chapter 111C as eligible to participate in the purchasing fund. Amendment 510 further enumerates how the trust shall be funded. The availability of overdose reversal medications has reduced fatal overdoses in the Commonwealth, and municipalities need an affordable way to purchase the medicine that remains a front-line defense for first-responders against the opioid epidemic. We ask that you support Amendment 510 to provide municipalities with access to low-cost supplies of life-saving naloxone.

We ask that you also SUPPORT Amendment 614 filed by Senator Lesser and Senator Humason, which would allocate $500,000 to provide further price reductions for municipalities purchasing naloxone through the municipal bulk purchase program.

• Please Support Revenues for the CPA Trust Fund
Please SUPPORT Amendment 3 filed by Senator Creem and others, which would increase recording fees at the Registries of Deeds to raise an estimated $36 million in additional revenue for the statewide Community Preservation Act (CPA) Trust Fund. That would more than double the state’s base percentage match for all 175 CPA communities in November of 2020.

In addition, please SUPPORT Amendment 2 filed by Senator Bruce Tarr that would reserve up to $20 million in budget surplus funds from the fiscal 2019 state budget to be transferred to the CPA Trust Fund. This funding would provide a higher match for CPA communities in November of 2019 as they wait for the permanent increase for CPA to go into effect.

SUMMARY

Again, we would like to express our deep appreciation to President Spilka, Chairman Rodrigues and the Senate Ways & Means Committee, and we respectfully ask you to build on the many favorable local aid investments in S. 3 by supporting the key budget amendments detailed above.

This is a critical time for our economy, and for cities, towns and local taxpayers, yet we can only reach our full potential for statewide growth and job creation if all 351 cities and towns have the resources to adequately serve the residents and businesses of the Commonwealth. Please contact us at any time if you have any questions or need additional information by having your office reach out to me or to MMA Legislative Director John Robertson at 617-426-7272 ext. 122 or jrobertson@mma.org.

Thank you very much for your support, dedication and commitment to our cities and towns.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO