Who is a member?
Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
His Excellency Charles D. Baker
Governor of the Commonwealth
State House, Boston
Dear Governor Baker,
On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association expresses our deep appreciation for your enduring support for local government, especially over the past year as the state and cities and towns have worked in close partnership to combat the coronavirus pandemic, maintain essential services and government operations, and address the economic and social challenges facing our businesses and citizens.
We look forward to working with you and your Administration to build a fiscal 2022 state spending plan that provides the funding necessary to put an end to the pandemic, and provides cities and towns with the capacity to provide essential services to their residents, and the resources to launch a swift economic recovery for the Commonwealth.
In order to ensure a healthy and sustainable economy in every region of Massachusetts, cities and towns and state government must collaborate as never before. With a tightly capped property tax that limits municipal revenues, cities and towns require predictable and adequate state revenue sharing in order to provide high-quality and equitable education and municipal services, ensure safe streets and neighborhoods, and maintain local roads and vital infrastructure. These services are fundamental to our state’s economic success and competitiveness.
We are writing today in support of key funding priorities and essential investments in municipal and school aid programs, and ask you to incorporate these into the fiscal 2022 state budget that you will file later this month.
Unrestricted General Government Aid
We strongly support an increase in Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), with growth that at least matches the rate of increase in state tax collections forecast for fiscal 2022 through the state “consensus” revenue process, including distribution of the full municipal share of Lottery and other gaming revenue. This is a top priority for cities and towns across the Commonwealth and reflects the state-local revenue sharing framework that has been in place since you first took office in 2015.
Municipal aid was cut deeply during the Great Recession, and this year remains nearly $200 million below the fiscal 2008 level of funding, without adjusting for inflation. With local aid still trailing levels from more than a decade ago, local reliance on the property tax remains high.
Linking UGGA funding to the growth in state tax revenues means that unrestricted aid would track the growth in the state’s revenue capacity, no more and no less, providing cities and towns with much-needed funds to deliver vital services that are critical to our overall economic growth, and ensuring that today’s municipal overreliance on the property tax will not deepen. In some years, actual revenues are higher than the consensus forecast and in other years they are lower, providing the Commonwealth with a welcome opportunity to add to the state’s stabilization fund. Applied consistently over time, this revenue sharing schedule is key to fiscal sustainability for cities and towns and state government.
Chapter 70 school aid
We support funding for Chapter 70 school aid (7061-0008) that meets the promises made in the 2019 Student Opportunity Act. We ask you to restart the funding schedule that we had expected would begin in fiscal 2021 and that was part of your budget recommendation filed before the coronavirus pandemic and related recession took hold.
We support funding that is sufficient to allow all municipal and regional school districts to reach the new, more adequate foundation spending standard and provide an adequate amount of minimum aid that ensures that all schools receive a meaningful increase in fiscal 2022, which we believe should be at least $100 per student. While the school aid calculation for next year won’t be known until later this month, it is very likely that many school districts will receive only the minimum aid increase (at least $30 per student), which is simply not adequate to maintain quality school programs in these districts. A continuation of the longstanding hold-harmless policy and higher minimum aid is necessary to ensure that no school district or student is left behind. This will be especially important in fiscal 2022 because of the disruptions to student enrollment and coronavirus-related school opening and operations costs. We also ask that the funding level and formula in House One reflect pre-pandemic enrollment numbers, if communities have experienced a decline over the past year. Communities and school districts do not have the resources to maintain education quality if Chapter 70 funding is artificially lowered because of temporary drops in student enrollments due to pandemic disruptions.
Charter school impact mitigation payments
As a start, we support funding the charter school impact mitigation account (7061-9010) consistent with the schedule adopted in the Student Opportunity Act.
The sharp increase in assessments levied on local school districts to pay tuition to charter schools has imposed a major and growing financial burden on cities and towns, a problem made more acute as the state grants more charters and existing charter schools expand. 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. Of the cities and towns with the largest shortfalls, many have been deemed by the state to have underperforming schools. These include some of the state’s poorest and most financially distressed cities and towns. Underfunding the charter school reimbursement formula has the unfortunate effect of harming the most vulnerable and challenged school districts.
Rural school finance
We support an adequate appropriation to sustain the rural schools assistance program that was funded in the fiscal 2021 budget (7061-9813). The special financial and operational challenges facing rural districts were not addressed in the Student Opportunity Act, although a special commission was established to study the long-term fiscal health of rural districts.
Special Education Circuit Breaker
We support full funding for the Special Education Circuit Breaker program (7061-0012), through which the state provides a measure of support for services provided to high-cost special education students. This is an essential program that provides critical funding to assist all school districts with the increasingly burdensome and volatile cost of complex and expensive special education services.
We ask for full funding of the state’s share of eligible educational costs with the schedule included in the Student Opportunity Act to add transportation expenses as an eligible cost.
Student transportation reimbursements
Funding to assist cities, towns and school districts with the cost of transporting schoolchildren is another critical priority.
Regional school transportation – We support funding for transportation reimbursements to regional school districts (7035-0006). This account is vital to all regional districts and their member cities and towns, particularly in sparsely populated parts of the state. We respectfully ask that you support increasing this key account to reflect higher transportation costs for communities and to move the state closer to its full reimbursement commitment.
McKinney-Vento – The State Auditor has ruled that the McKinney-Vento program is an unfunded mandate on cities and towns. Under the program, municipalities and school districts are providing very costly transportation services to bus homeless students to schools outside of the local school district. We respectfully ask that your budget submission fully fund this state mandate (7035-0008).
Out-of-district transportation – We support funds to reimburse communities for a portion of the cost of transporting students to out-of-district placements in vocational schools (7035-00076), as mandated by state law. This account 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 offered locally. We respectfully ask that you fully fund this account in your fiscal 2022 budget submission.
Payments In Lieu Of Taxes
We support full funding of the Commonwealth’s obligations and commitments to the program for payments in lieu of taxes for state-owned land (PILOT) (1233-2400). This is a particularly important program for the cities and towns that host and provide municipal services to state facilities that are exempt from the local property tax. In addition, we ask that you provide funds to ensure that communities are held harmless, so that their PILOT payments do not decrease due to changes in valuations.
Shannon Anti-gang Grant Program
We support continued funding for the Shannon anti-gang grant program (8100-0111) that has helped cities and towns respond to and suppress gang-related activities. We respectfully ask that you maintain funding for this important crime prevention program in House One.
A local aid resolution to facilitate timely local budget decision-making
Cities, towns and regional school districts need timely notice of the main municipal and school aid accounts in order to prepare and approve forward-looking local revenue and spending plans. We ask that state leaders secure an early agreement on our requested Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) amount for next year, and also agree on a methodology for calculating Chapter 70 local contribution and school aid levels (including the MMA’s Chapter 70 funding recommendations for $100 per-student in minimum aid).
An agreement would set the stage for a consensus Local Aid Resolution and a commitment to minimum municipal and school aid amounts during March. This would avoid the very difficult budget challenges that occur for regional school districts and member cities and towns when required local contributions are not finalized until mid-July.
This is a critical time for cities, towns and residents and the local business community. We know that you and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito are outstanding partners for communities across the Commonwealth, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that every region of the state recovers from the hardships and challenges of the past year. We thank you very much for your support, dedication and commitment to the cities and towns of Massachusetts.
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO
cc: The Honorable Karyn Polito, Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth
Secretary Michael J. Heffernan, Executive Office for Administration and Finance