Dear Representative,
 
We are writing to express our deep appreciation for the many provisions in the House Ways and Means Committee budget proposal (H. 4400) that would benefit and support cities and towns in every corner of the Commonwealth.
 
We thank Speaker DeLeo, Chairman Sánchez, the members of the House Ways & Means Committee, and all members of the House for advancing a state budget framework to increase Unrestricted General Government Aid by $37.2 million, fund the essential requirements of Chapter 70 education aid, continue to implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, and increase funding for charter school impact mitigation payments and the special education circuit breaker program. We recognize that making these important investments is a challenging task in tight fiscal circumstances, and H. 4400 underscores the House of Representatives’ 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 most regressive of the major revenue sources in the state, the property tax. That is why the budget decisions you make each year are so important to our state’s prosperity and competitiveness.
 
With 1,400 amendments before you next week, there are dozens of important funding and policy proposals that would impact cities and towns, and we urgently and respectfully ask you to take action 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 authority and decision-making powers.
 
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 Funding for Charter School Impact Mitigation Payments
The rapidly growing deduction of Chapter 70 school aid from local public schools to fund charter schools has become a major financial drain on cities and towns, a problem made more acute as the state grants more charters and existing charter schools expand. Local officials strongly support full funding of the Commonwealth’s statutory commitment under section 89 of Chapter 71 of the General Laws to reimburse school districts for a portion of their Chapter 70 aid that is taken to pay tuition to fund charter schools.
 
For fiscal 2019, it is estimated that cities and towns will be assessed $664 million in local school revenues to fund charter schools, an increase of $66 million (11 percent) over the estimated level this year. With assessments well over half a billion dollars and growing, it is critical for the state to fund its financial commitment under the state statute. The HW&M fiscal 2019 budget would increase charter school impact mitigation payments by a welcome $9.5 million to $90 million. However, full funding of the statutory formula would require $170 million in total, according to best estimates based on updated data released by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
 
Without these funds, cities and towns will face another round of school aid losses next year, resulting in fewer programs for the vast majority of students who remain in the local public school setting. These losses are impacting a large number of communities including some the state’s poorest and most financially distressed cities and towns. Underfunding the charter school reimbursement formula harms the most vulnerable and challenged school districts and communities.
 
Please support Amendment 952 filed by Rep. Ultrino and others to fully fund charter school reimbursements to cities, towns and regional school districts by providing the $170 million needed to meet the state’s full obligation.
 
• Please Support Funding for Special Education Circuit Breaker Reimbursements
Municipal officials appreciate the $12.5 million in supplemental funding for the Special Education Circuit Breaker account that the House approved earlier this month to help cities and towns pay for a portion of the costs of high-cost special education services in the current year. This action brings the state closer to full funding of this account for fiscal 2018.
 
The HW&M budget increases Circuit Breaker funding by $18.8 million over the current fiscal 2018 appropriation to $300 million, which is very much appreciated. DESE estimates that the state’s share of eligible costs next year will total almost $320 million after accounting for earmarks in the account. Please support Amendment 693 filed by Rep. Benson and others that would further increase Circuit Breaker funding to provide full funding.
 
• Please Support Additional Chapter 70 School Aid
We again thank House leaders for increasing Chapter 70 minimum aid to $30 per student, which is a welcome improvement over the $20 per student amount in House 2. A significant majority of school districts only receive minimum aid, which is why the minimum aid aspect of Chapter 70 is so important. More than 200 school districts (almost three quarters of all operating districts) would receive an increase of $30 per student under H. 4400. For many districts, this would represent another year of receiving only minimum aid, which has forced a growing reliance on the property tax to fund schools that is not sustainable. Please support Amendment 1154 filed by Rep. Cutler and others, which would increase the minimum aid amount to $50 per student.
 
• Please Support Funding for McKinney-Vento Homeless Student Transportation Costs
In 2011, the State Auditor ruled that the McKinney-Vento program is an unfunded mandate on cities and towns. Under the program, cities and towns are providing very costly transportation services to bus homeless students to schools outside of the local school district. Full funding for fiscal 2019 is estimated at $22.3 million, according to the most recent DESE projection, which far exceeds the funding level in H. 4400. Please support Amendment 930 filed by Rep. Stanley and others that would add funding for reimbursements due to municipalities and school districts for the cost of transporting homeless students from temporary shelters to school.
 
• 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 $3.9 million. The HW&M recommendation would provide no funding for this account. Please support Amendment 192 filed by Rep. Kane and others and Amendment 1278 filed by Rep. Muradian to increase funding to cover a portion of the cost of transporting students to out-of-district placements in vocational schools.
 
• Please Support Funding for Regional School District Student Transportation
We very much appreciate the HW&M recommendation to increase the appropriation by $1.0 million next year to $62.5 million. Funding for transportation reimbursements to regional school districts is vital to all regional districts and their member cities and towns, particularly in sparsely populated parts of the state. Decades ago, the state promised 100 percent reimbursement as an incentive for towns and cities to regionalize, and the consistent underfunding of this account has presented serious budget challenges for these districts, taking valuable dollars from the classroom. Full funding next year would require $86.1 million, according to DESE. Please support Amendment 29 filed by Rep. Ferguson and others, Amendment 785 filed by Rep. Hill and others, Amendment 823 filed by Rep. D’Emilia and others and Amendment 974 by Rep. Hill and others that would further increase funding for this account, and bring fiscal 2019 funding to the full funding mark.
 
• Please Support Funding Summer Learning Opportunities
Please support Amendment 888, filed by Rep. Tucker and others, to fund a pilot program for summer learning opportunities for students in districts with high concentrations of low-income families.
 
• Please Support Funding for Summer Jobs for At-Risk Youth
Please support Amendment 456 filed by Rep. Brodeur and others 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.
 
PLEASE PROTECT CITIES AND TOWNS BY OPPOSING TWO BUDGET AMENDMENTS RESTRICTING LOCAL AUTHORITY IN MANAGING HEALTH INSURANCE
 
• Please Protect Municipal Decision-Making Authority on Retiree Health Insurance Payments
On behalf of cities and towns across the state, we strongly oppose Amendment 1048, which would undermine an important option that cities and towns now have to manage health insurance costs. This amendment would permanently grandfather all retirees at the contribution ratio in effect at the date of their retirement (10% if the community is 90-10, for example). If a community votes to change the contribution ratio (to 85-15, for example), that change would only be effective for future retirees.
 
With cities and towns facing a $30 billion unfunded OPEB liability, this fiscally irresponsible amendment would dramatically weaken one of the few tools that cities and towns now have to address retiree health insurance costs. Communities are committed to preserving retiree health insurance as an important benefit. However, this benefit must be affordable for taxpayers, and communities need to have a say in the cost – especially since the vast majority of taxpayers have no retiree health coverage from their previous employer. Cities and towns must have the ability to manage health insurance costs so they can protect the jobs of current employees, and maintain the services that citizens require locally.
 
• Please Protect Municipal Decision-Making Authority on Health Insurance Contribution Rates
We strongly oppose Amendment 13, which would interfere with local officials’ decision-making authority to act on behalf of their taxpayers on the basic issue of contribution levels for retiree health insurance. Amendment 13 would penalize all cities and towns that have used the 2011 municipal health insurance reform law to reduce the cost and financial burden of health insurance for employees, retirees and taxpayers.
 
Under existing law, any city or town that used sections 22 or 23 of Chapter 32B (the 2011 municipal health insurance reform law) to implement plan design changes or join the GIC was prohibited from changing retiree health insurance contribution percentages until July 1, 2014. In 2014, the temporary freeze was extended for two more years, until July 1, 2016, and extended again in 2016 for two more years, until July 1, 2018, for any municipality that adopted or was planning on adopting provisions of the 2011 municipal health insurance reform law.
 
Specifically, Amendment 13 would strip these cities and towns of their legal authority to decide whether to adjust contribution percentages for retiree health insurance by unilaterally extending a freeze in contribution ratios. There was a 3-year freeze in the original consensus reform law, but, unfortunately, four years ago the freeze was extended to 5 years. Two years ago, the freeze was further extended to 7 years. Now, Amendment 13 would seek to extend the freeze to 9 years – an unacceptable imposition on local authority that would have the state interfere with responsible health insurance policy decisions in each community.
 
Amendment 13 could reverse planned contribution changes in some cities and towns, and would delay the ability to take action on retiree contribution percentages in many others. Simply put, Amendment 13 would impose significant budget problems in many communities and interfere with sound fiscal planning. The original short-term temporary freeze was part of the compromise brokered by House leaders in 2011 that led to the enactment of the landmark municipal health insurance reform bill. Repeated extensions of the freeze runs counter to that agreement and would clearly undermine the ability of cities and towns to control health insurance costs and save municipal jobs. Please vote NO on Amendment 13.
 
KEY BUDGET AMENDMENTS ON MUNICIPAL AID ACCOUNTS, MUNICIPAL MANAGEMENT POLICY, AND RESOLUTION OF MUNICIPAL COLLECTIVE BARGAINING DISPUTES
 
• Please Support Funding for the Shannon Anti-Gang Grant Program
Please support Amendment 40 filed by Rep. Madaro 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 40 would add $4.0 million and bring total funding up to $10 million.
 
• Please Support Funding for Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILOT)
Please support Amendment 830 filed by Rep. D’Emilia and others to add $3.5 million to increase funding of payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) to communities that host state-owned land. This is a particularly important Cherry Sheet program for the cities and towns that host and provide municipal services to state facilities that are exempt from the local property tax. The Governor’s recommendation and the HW&M budget would level-fund the account at this year’s level of $26.8 million. Amendment 830 would bring the account up to $30.3 million.
 
• Please Support Funding for Labor Relations
Please support Amendment 1153 filed by Rep. Kane, which would increase funding for the Department of Labor Relations (DLR) in order to maintain a current level of service and add $100,000 for a full-time mediator in order to meet the demands of a rising caseload and to resolve disputes in a timely manner. This funding would support DLR staff representatives, including management representatives, who are making great strides in engaging cities and towns in order to resolve bargaining disputes. We support Amendment 248 filed by Rep. Collins, which would also increase funding for DLR and restore the amount proposed by the Governor in H. 2.
 
We also support Amendment 1160 filed by Rep. Kane, which would increase the line item for the Joint Labor Management Committee (JLMC) by $120,733. The JLMC provides important support, assistance and intervention in collective bargaining disputes involving municipal police officers and firefighters in order to facilitate good faith negotiations and constructive long-term relationships with municipal employers. This budget amendment would restore the JLMC to the House and Senate budget amounts that were originally set for fiscal 2018 ($250,000), and would support the part-time Chairman, four part-time Senior Staff Representatives, and the direct expenses of the Committee in order to carry out its mandate under state law while facing the demands of a rising caseload.
 
• Please Support a Municipal Seat on the State Retiree Benefits Trust Fund
Please support Amendment 1008 filed by Rep. Peisch, which would add a municipal seat to the State Retiree Benefits Trust Fund (SRBTF). The SRBTF is the body that oversees the investment of Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) funds. The fund was originally created to invest money for the state’s OPEB liability, but legislation in 2011 granted municipalities and other government entities the authority to invest their funds via the SRBTF. The Board must approve a city or town’s application to join, and requires an initial investment of at least $250,000. To date, over 50 municipalities and other government entities are investing through the SRBTF, with many more expressing interest.
 
The SRBTF Board currently has seven members, including designees of the comptroller of the Commonwealth, the Group Insurance Commission, the treasurer, and the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission. Municipalities do not have a voice on the Board. Municipal entrants have a unique set of needs and requirements when investing their funds with the SRBTF, and it would be advantageous for municipalities to have representation.
 
• Please Support Funds for Local Planning
Please support Amendment 282 filed by Rep. Donato and others and Amendment 731 filed by Rep. Jones and others that 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 provide meaningful contributions to municipal initiatives to modernize local government.
 
• Please Support Municipal Police Training Fund
Please support Amendment 1235, filed by Rep. Linsky and others, and Amendment 1380, filed by Rep. Whelan and others, which would establish a Municipal Police Training Fund to support training for the men and women who serve as police officers in the Commonwealth. The amendments provide for funds to be drawn from a $2 fee on each rental car transaction in the Commonwealth. The MMA supports these amendments as they facilitate training for municipal police, contributing to the safety and security of citizens in our state.
 
• Please Increase Funding for Public Libraries
Please support Amendment 1171 filed by Rep. Murray and others, which would increase local aid by $272,700 for public libraries. In communications with our members, we frequently hear requests to increase public library funding. Amendment 1171 would provide much-needed funding to public libraries that support community members of all ages, backgrounds, education levels and abilities.
 
UPDATING AND MODERNIZING STATUTES
 
• Please Support the Creation of Community Benefit Districts
Please support Amendment 1074 filed by Rep. Cahill and others, which would grant municipalities the local option to create Community Benefit Districts (CBDs). With this CBD proposal, local property owners would have the option to assess themselves a small fee to implement a management plan for the district. This would not replace or privatize public services, but would instead provide the opportunity for new services not ordinarily provided by the municipality. The property owners, municipality, and the community at-large would oversee implementation through a nonprofit management organization, and would have the option to dissolve the entity.
 
• Please Support Municipal Impact Statements
Please support Amendment 62 filed by Rep. Speliotis and others, which would require state agencies to notify the Local Government Advisory Commission (LGAC) and other state agencies that work with cities and towns of the impact that any proposed changes to state regulations or other actions would have on local government. This would facilitate early detection of unaffordable or impractical state mandates.
 
KEY BUDGET AMENDMENTS ON CAPITAL SPENDING PRIORITIES
 
• Please Support Water Infrastructure Funding
Please support Amendment 813 filed by Rep. Dykema and others to increase funding for contract assistance to the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust. Cities and towns understand the importance of investing in our Commonwealth’s water infrastructure, and the Clean Water Trust aids cities and towns by providing financial support for municipal projects. Upgrading our water infrastructure in the Commonwealth is essential not only for the environment, but also protects public health and promotes economic development.
 
• Please Support Community Preservation Act
Please support Amendment 466 filed by Rep. Michlewitz and others, which would strengthen the Community Preservation Act by providing the flexibility needed to ensure adequate fee revenue to meet the goal of a 50 percent state match. The ability of our cities and towns to fund important CPA projects has been threatened by the steep decline in matching funds from the statewide CPA Trust Fund and this amendment would help to sustain the program.
 
• Conservation Tax Credit
Please support Amendment 1248, filed by Rep. Jones and others, which would expand the conservation land tax credit. Amendment 1248 would raise the annual cap on the Conservation Land Tax Credit (CLTC) Program from $2 million annually to $5 million. We believe that the increase in the annual cap and expanding the definition of eligible agencies would increase private land donations with widespread public benefits.
 
• Please Support Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchasing Trust Fund and Fire Department Extractor Bulk Purchasing Program
We ask that you support Amendments 223 and 226, filed by Rep. Vargas; Amendment 477, filed by Rep. Golden; and Amendment 1209, filed by Rep. Campbell. These amendments would fund the Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchasing Trust Fund in order to ensure that municipalities can afford life-saving overdose reversal medications. Specifically, amendment 223 adds a line item of $350,000 to lower the cost of naloxone purchased on behalf of municipalities participating in the municipal naloxone bulk purchase program. Amendment 226 provides that municipalities and non-profit health providers that contract with the Department of Public Health or the Executive Office of Health and Human Services may join the bulk purchase program to buy naloxone and receive technical assistance in order to ensure compliance with all training and registration requirements. Amendment 226 further sets forth payments that will finance the trust fund. Amendment 477 directs the Department of Public Health to expend funds for the trust fund at a level to meet demands through the end of 2019. Amendment 1209 adds a line item of $100,000 for the bulk purchase program. The availability of overdose reversal medications has reduced fatal overdoses in the state. In 2016, a settlement between Attorney General Maura Healey and Amphastar Pharmaceuticals provided $325,000 to acquire and distribute naloxone at reduced rates. With that money now depleted, cities and towns are paying more to purchase the medicine that remains a front-line defense for first-responders. We ask that you support these amendments to provide municipalities with access to low-cost supplies of life-saving naloxone.
 
We also ask that you support Amendment 1189, filed by Rep. Campbell, which would create an Extractor Bulk Purchase Trust Fund to finance the Extractor Bulk Purchase Program. The purpose of amendment 1189 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.
 
SUMMARY
 
Again, we would like to express our deep appreciation to Speaker DeLeo, Chairman Sánchez and the House Ways & Means Committee, and we respectfully ask you to build on the many favorable local aid investments in H. 4400 by supporting the key budget amendments detailed above, and opposing Amendments 13 and 1048.
 
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 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 the cities and towns of Massachusetts.
 
Sincerely,
 
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO