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 Senate Ways & Means Committee budget proposal (S. 3) that benefit and support cities and towns across the Commonwealth. We also welcome the opportunity to offer comments and insights on proposed amendments that will be before you next week, during your deliberations on the fiscal 2024 state budget.
For several months, the MMA and local officials have advocated for an increase in Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) that better reflects the state’s increase in tax collections in recent years and would allow communities to address their significant budget constraints and challenges. The Senate Ways & Means Committee has acted on this concern, as it did last year, and is proposing a $39.3 million increase (3.2%) in UGGA, doubling the consensus revenue forecast (1.6%). The MMA applauds this vital increase in unrestricted municipal aid.
In addition to the significant increase in UGGA, S. 3 includes an increase in Chapter 70 public education aid for minimum-aid districts, doubling the amount per pupil from $30 to $60. The Senate Ways & Means proposal also increases the Rural School Aid account by $9.5 million, an increase of 63%, giving rural school districts a much-needed boost. S. 3 also strengthens the Massachusetts School Building Authority, and includes $100 million in critical funds for municipal roads and bridges, a very welcome investment in local roadways.
We are deeply grateful to Senate President Spilka, Chair Rodrigues, and the Members of the Senate Committee on Ways & Means for the essential investments in local aid provided by S. 3. This strong support shows a powerful commitment to the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts.
In this letter, we are asking you to consider the municipal perspective on a number of amendments that would build on the outstanding Senate Ways & Means proposal, as well as some non-appropriation provisions that would maintain or enhance local government operations.
Please Support These Key Appropriations and Municipal Operations Amendments:
Amendment 614 (Regional School Transportation 100% Reimbursement) – Please support an increase to the Regional School Transportation account (7035-0006), which is critical to rural and smaller communities. Amendment 614, filed by Senator Gobi, would fund 100% of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s fiscal 2024 projected claims at $107 million. Amendments 591 and 636 filed by Senator Tarr and Senator Timilty, respectively, would also address increases to this important account.
Amendments 590, 609 & 744 (Chapter 70 Minimum Aid) – We deeply appreciate the Senate Ways & Means proposal to double per-pupil minimum aid to $60 per student, and recognize that this is great progress for the 119 districts that are minimum-aid-only. As you know, the MMA has consistently advocated for $100 per-pupil minimum aid, and thus we certainly support consideration of Amendments 590, 609, and 744 filed by Senator Tarr, Senator O’Connor and Senator Oliveira, respectively, which would increase Chapter 70 minimum aid to $100 per pupil.
Amendments 669, 611 & 700 (Chapter 70 Extraordinary Relief and a Minimum Aid Commission) – As the statewide foundation budget grows due to the historic investment in Chapter 70 funding from the Student Opportunity Act, many local budgets are finding it increasingly challenging to meet the accelerated required local contribution requirements. To that end, we welcome consideration of Amendments 669 and 611, filed by Senator Lovely and Senator Tarr, respectively, which would fund a reserve to help offset municipalities that are disproportionately impacted by these increases. In addition, Amendment 700, filed by Senator Tarr, would create a special commission to study and make recommendations regarding the long-term fiscal health of minimum aid districts.
Amendment 161 (Local Opt-In for Permanent Outdoor Dining) – Please support Amendment 161, filed by Senator Tarr, to permanently extend outdoor dining, by local option. Outdoor dining, which was an economic lifeline during the pandemic, has proven to be extremely popular in cities and towns. Creating a permanent option would allow municipalities to make strategic investments to support business districts.
Amendment 749 (Fiscal Health and Sustainability of Special Education in the Commonwealth) – Please support Amendment 749, filed by Senator Oliveira, which would create a special commission to study the delivery of special education services. The commission would review and make recommendations concerning fiscal health and education outcomes for all of the Commonwealth’s special education programs.
Amendment 66 (Community Preservation Act Surplus Funding) – Please support Amendment 66, filed by Senator Creem, which would direct the Comptroller to transfer $30 million to the Massachusetts Community Preservation Trust Fund, prior to sending the net surplus for fiscal 2023 to the Commonwealth’s stabilization fund. The number of CPA communities has reached 195, and this amendment would provide much-needed stability for the CPA trust fund.
Amendment 411 (MassHealth Crossover Payments) – Please support Amendment 411, filed by Senator Finegold, which would provide important financial relief for emergency medical service providers for the transport of patients who are eligible for both Medicare and MassHealth. The amendment provides “MassHealth crossover” reimbursements for dual-eligible transports, which would provide additional assistance to EMS providers to support ongoing efforts to recruit and retain staff. The MMA is proud to partner with the Fire Chiefs of Massachusetts (FCAM), Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts (PFFM), and the Massachusetts Ambulance Association (MAA) in support of this amendment.
Amendments 1036 & 777 (Municipal Finance) – We ask for your consideration of two amendments that would provide municipalities with clarity when accounting for one-time revenue, such as opioid settlement funds. Amendment 1036, filed by Senator Oliveira, would allow municipalities to reserve such one-time revenue in a special fund, with the approval of the director of accounts, thus keeping it out of the general fund and preventing it from eventually becoming free cash. In the absence of a legislative solution, some municipalities have created special purpose stabilization funds to keep such revenue separate from the general fund. Unfortunately, this is an imperfect approach. Should Amendment 1036 be adopted, Amendment 777 filed by Senator Tarr would provide a local mechanism to dissolve these special purpose stabilization funds.
Please OPPOSE Amendments That Would Negatively Impact Municipal Finances and Operations:
Amendment 798 (COLAs)
We respectfully ask you to oppose Amendment 798, which would allow retirement boards that have accepted Section 103 of Chapter 32 to award a cost-of-living-adjustment of up to 5% to retirees, rather than the current limit of up to 3%. Retirement boards, including all regional and county-wide systems, act independently from their member communities, and this amendment would allow those boards to impose significant new and unforeseen costs on municipal budgets and local taxpayers. While we appreciate the interest in this provision, we oppose this amendment due to its considerable negative impact on municipal budgets. Adoption of a higher COLA would permanently increase the pension obligations for all participating communities, requiring increased annual appropriations to fund the cost. The increase in unfunded pension liabilities would be substantial, compounding pension funding challenges as assets are being impacted by declining performance in equity and fixed-income investment portfolios due to long-range economic concerns. We recommend that you reach out to your chief municipal officials to determine what the financial impact would be in the cities and towns in your district if this were to be adopted.
Amendment 169 (Accessory Dwelling Units)
The MMA recognizes that the development of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) is an important tool for many communities to consider as they advance affordable housing solutions, which is why we actively supported the Housing Choice legislation in the last economic development bill to make approval of zoning changes to promote ADUs a simple majority vote by Town Meetings and city councils, instead of the previous two-thirds threshold. However, we oppose unilateral preemption of local zoning and decision making as proposed in Amendment 169. A large number of municipalities already have local ordinances and bylaws around this issue, and language contained in the amendment would undermine and confuse these local zoning ordinances and authority. Local officials need resources, tools, incentives, and flexibility to successfully deliver a community-driven vision for zoning and planning — not a broad state-imposed mandate.
Strengthening Municipal Finances in FY2024 and Beyond
Preserving the Lottery as the Foundation of Unrestricted Local Aid
As we discuss the need for a strong state-local fiscal partnership, the conversation also involves the largest revenue source that the state uses to fund unrestricted local aid: the Massachusetts State Lottery. More than 50 years ago, the Lottery was established for the sole purpose of supporting cities and towns. According to the State Lottery Commission, in the most recently completed fiscal year (fiscal 2022) the Lottery generated $1.105 billion in net proceeds to the state, supporting approximately 94.6% of the Commonwealth’s annual appropriation for Unrestricted General Government Aid.
Though not included in S. 3, several amendments aim to address the authorization of an online Lottery (iLottery). We appreciate the interest in expanding Lottery operations to compete in a rapidly changing market. If the Legislature does decide to authorize internet-based Lottery games, the MMA strongly urges that all proceeds continue to solely support UGGA, and not be earmarked or diverted to other programs, as this would weaken the funding base for the state’s primary local aid account.
The Lottery’s mission is to serve cities and towns, and preserving that mission is necessary to protect a vital revenue stream that accounts for the overwhelming amount of discretionary local aid that cities, towns, and taxpayers rely on to fund essential municipal and school services and balance local budgets.
Special Commission to Examine Delinquent Property Tax Collections
Amendment 820 proposes significant changes to municipal law regarding the collection of delinquent property taxes. Rather than adopting a wholesale amendment to existing tax collection statutes via a budget amendment, we respectfully urge the Senate to create a special commission to comprehensively examine current law and practice around the collection of delinquent property tax revenue, prior to any action that would alter this fundamental municipal function.
The commission could examine and assess current local property tax collection processes, including property owner notification and communication, property tax deferral options or exemptions that exist for special classes, the laws governing the purchase of tax liens by third-party investors and any subsequent foreclosure proceedings, the consumer outcomes associated with the purchase of tax liens by third-party investors, and the potential impacts on municipalities.
Again, we would like to express our deep gratitude to Senate President Spilka, Chair Rodrigues, and the members of the Senate Ways & Means Committee for presenting a fiscal blueprint that makes vital and timely investments in cities and towns across the state, particularly in the area of Unrestricted General Government Aid, Chapter 70 minimum aid, Rural School Aid, the MSBA program, and local roads and bridges. This is a critical time for Massachusetts, and local government leaders deeply appreciate your strong partnership with all 351 cities and towns.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me, MMA Legislative Director Dave Koffman at email@example.com, or MMA Senior 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
Executive Director & CEO