Who is a member?
Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
We are writing to express our deep appreciation for the many provisions in the House Ways and Means Committee budget proposal (H. 4000) that benefit and support cities and towns across the Commonwealth, and we welcome the opportunity to offer comments and insights on proposed amendments that will be before you next week, during your deliberations on the fiscal 2022 state budget.
We thank Speaker Mariano, Chair Michlewitz, and the members of the House Ways and Means Committee for their commitment to cities and towns by ensuring that every community will receive a 3.5% increase in Unrestricted General Government Aid and committing to funding Chapter 70 school aid with the new Student Opportunity Act rates at one-sixth of the implementation schedule, rather than the one-seventh schedule included in House 1. Cities and towns rely on Unrestricted General Government Aid and Chapter 70 school aid to balance local budgets and sustain vital local services, and the timing of the Joint Ways and Means Committee announcement provided stability and certainty for municipalities as they engage in their own local budgeting process.
In this letter, we are asking you to support targeted appropriation amendments to build on this progress and fund other important accounts, as outlined below, as well as some non-appropriation provisions key to maintaining local government operations.
Please Support These Key Appropriation Amendments:
Amendment #834 (Charter School Reimbursements) – We ask you to support Amendment #834, filed by Rep. Holmes, to fund Charter School Reimbursements (7061-9010) at $185.5 million, returning to the original Student Opportunity Act schedule (making fiscal 2022 year two of the original three-year schedule). Charter School financing remains a significant issue for a large number of cities and towns. The increase in assessments levied on local school districts to pay tuition to charter schools is imposing a major and growing financial burden on cities and towns. Rising charter school assessments are forcing local public schools to cut programs and services to make up the difference. Because the great majority of K-12 students attend local public schools, this means that underfunding the charter school reimbursement program has a directly negative impact on the vast majority of schoolchildren.
Amendments #1090 and #1147 (Student Enrollment Reserve) – We are grateful that House and Senate leaders announced support for addressing the impacts of the temporary decline in student enrollment during the public health emergency through a reserve account. We ask you to support two amendments to add transportation expenses as a consideration for the grant program and increase the funding of this special grant account (7061-0011). Please support Amendment #1090, filed by Rep. Higgins, and Amendment #1147, filed by Rep. Fluker Oakley.
Amendment #4 (METCO) – We ask you to support Amendment #4, filed by Rep. Linsky, to fund the highly successful and impactful METCO program (7010-0012) at $27.9 million.
Amendment #335 (Regional School Transportation) – Please support Amendment #335, filed by Rep. Hill, to fund regional school transportation (7035-0006) at $87.1 million, an increase of $5 million over the FY21 level of funding. These funds are critical to rural and smaller communities.
Amendment #26 (Vocational School Transportation) – We ask you to support Amendment #26, filed by Rep. Kane, to fund the out-of-district vocational transportation account (7035-0007) at $4.2 million. 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.
Amendment #366 (Rural School Aid) – Please support Amendment #366, filed by Rep. Blais, to fund a Rural School Aid account (7010-0005) at $3 million, providing rural school assistance grants to cities, towns, regional school districts, and other entities to increase regional collaboration, consolidation or other strategies to improve the long-term operational efficiency and effectiveness of public schools, with priority given to proposals that support schools and districts that have experienced, or are experiencing, significant enrollment losses.
Amendment #910 (Municipal Grant Program) – Please support Amendment #910, filed by Rep. Jones, to increase the municipal grant program (1599-0026) at $7.6 million, including $2 million for the highly successful Community Compact Cabinet program and $2 million for a one-time grant program for regionalization and other efficiency initiatives.
Please Support These Key Local Government Operations Amendments:
Amendment #250 (Deadline Extension for Use of Early Voting Funds) – Please support Amendment #250, filed by Rep. Donato, to extend the deadline until June 30, 2022, for local appropriation of early voting implementation funds from the FY21 budget.
Amendment #485 (Support for Local and Regional Boards of Health) – We ask you to support Amendment #485, filed by Rep. Kane, to establish a new line item (4512-2022) at $23.4 million to provide operational support for local and regional boards of health, a universally recognized critical need.
Amendment #782 (Deadline Extension for Use of PFAS Funds) – Please support Amendment #782, filed by Rep. Hogan, to extend the deadline to June 20, 2022, for local expenditure of funds allocated in the FY20 budget for the testing of potential per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) mitigation.
In addition to supporting the amendments outlined above, the MMA is very interested in further engagement and discussion on two major topics separate from the budget during the usual public hearing process: The Educator Diversity Act (filed as Amendment #974 by Rep. Peisch) and the Massachusetts Municipal Building Authority Trust Fund (filed as Amendment #476 by Rep. Howitt).
Please OPPOSE Two Outside Section Amendments That Would Negatively Impact Municipal Finances and Operations:
We ask you to oppose Amendment #346, which would increase the unfunded liability of our public pension systems by mandating that certain payments in lieu of vacation must count as regular compensation for the purpose of calculating retirement payments, both for current and future retirees. This amendment would largely overturn an SJC case from 2018 that excluded these payments from regular compensation and would drive up pension costs for cities and towns.
We ask you to oppose Amendment #945, which would destabilize collective bargaining and interrupt municipal operations by allowing state and local public employees to strike during labor disputes, rather than using the current and time-tested statutory provisions of mediation, arbitration and other dispute resolution procedures. This would be a massive change in our public collective bargaining process and would undermine the delivery of essential services.
Again, we would like to express our appreciation to Speaker Mariano, Chair Michlewitz, and the members of the House Ways and Means Committee for presenting a fiscal blueprint that makes strong investments in cities and towns across the state. We ask you to build on the many favorable local aid investments in H. 4000 by supporting the key budget amendments detailed above, and by opposing Amendments #346 and #945. This is a critical time for our economy, and for cities, towns and local taxpayers, and with your support we can ensure that we recover from the pandemic and rebuild our economy in every corner of Massachusetts.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your office contact MMA Legislative Analyst Jackie Lavender Bird at firstname.lastname@example.org at any time.
Thank you very much for your support, dedication and commitment to the cities and towns of Massachusetts.
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO
(Updated reference to Amendment #945, which the MMA opposes)