Who is a member?
Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
The Honorable Aaron M. Michlewitz, House Chair
The Honorable Michael J. Rodrigues, Senate Chair
The Honorable Ann-Margaret Ferrante, House Vice Chair
The Honorable Cindy F. Friedman, Senate Vice Chair
The Honorable Todd M. Smola, Ranking House Minority Member
The Honorable Patrick M. O’Connor, Ranking Senate Minority Member
Joint Committee on Ways & Means
State House, Boston
Dear Chair Michlewitz, Chair Rodrigues, and Distinguished Members of the Fiscal 2022 State Budget Conference Committee,
On behalf of cities and towns across the Commonwealth, we are writing to express our appreciation for the many provisions in the fiscal 2022 budget bills approved by the House (H. 4001) and the Senate (S. 2465) that benefit communities throughout the state. Both bills reflect a commitment to a strong fiscal partnership with municipalities.
We thank the House and Senate for advancing a state budget framework that continues to increase Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) at the same growth rate as state tax revenues, a key priority for municipalities, funds Chapter 70 education 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, and addresses student enrollment decline during the public health emergency. Cities and towns rely on Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) and Chapter 70 school aid to balance local budgets and sustain vital local services. The timing of the Joint Ways and Means Committee announcement in early April provided much-needed certainty as municipalities began to plan their own local budgeting process after a very challenging year for all.
While there are a number of areas where the House and Senate agree on funding levels for municipal and school aid accounts, there are several provisions where the two branches will have to resolve differences. In this letter, we offer municipal government’s position on important funding and policy proposals that would impact communities, and we urgently and respectfully ask you to take action on all of these matters.
We ask you to please invest in essential municipal and school aid programs, as well as adopt provisions that will aid city and town operations.
Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA)
The House and Senate both appropriated $1.168 billion for the Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) account (1233-2350 and section 3), an increase of $39.5 million over the fiscal 2021 level of funding. The 3.5% increase reflects the policy of increasing general municipal aid by the same rate of growth in state tax collections as determined in the consensus revenue forecast. Municipalities have appreciated the predictably that this policy has provided since fiscal 2016. We respectfully ask the Conference Committee to include the full UGGA amount voted by the House and Senate. This is a high priority for municipalities throughout the state.
Chapter 70 School Aid and Local Contributions
As part of the local aid agreement in early April, both the House and the Senate agreed to fund Chapter 70 School Aid (7061-0008 and Section 3) at $5.5 billion, representing a commitment to fund the Student Opportunity Act at one-sixth of the implementation schedule rather than one-seventh. The new rates under the Student Opportunity Act were put on hold during the public health emergency, and we appreciate your commitment to returning to the law’s implementation schedule as intended.
We support language included in Section 3 of the Senate bill that allows municipalities to use a portion of their Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER II) to satisfy any increase in its required local contribution above the fiscal year 2021 amount, as well as the language that provides for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to count this expenditure toward net school spending requirements for fiscal year 2022. While the increase in Chapter 70 rates is greatly appreciated, the impact will increase the statewide foundation budget and could also drive up the required local contribution in many districts. Giving municipalities this flexibility to use a portion of their ESSER II grant award is a priority.
Grants to Address Student Enrollment Decline, Mental Health, and Summer Programs
The joint local aid agreement provides $40 million (7061-0011) for a one-time, targeted grant program for school districts adversely affected by student enrollment decline during the COVID-19 public health emergency, which we support. As was stated during budget deliberations, this account may need to be revisited this fall if actual enrollment levels recover more quickly than anticipated, and the amount needed eclipses the $40 million reserve. In addition to this one-time account, the House also provides $15 million for a one-time, targeted grant program (7061-0027) aimed at supporting school districts’ summer school programs and student mental health supports. We support this additional program to aid school districts in their recovery from the public health emergency.
In support of the highly successful and impactful METCO program (7010-0012), we ask you to support the appropriation of $27.9 million in S. 2465.
We support the appropriation of $4 million in S. 2465 for Rural School Aid (7061-9813), providing rural school assistance to eligible towns and regional school districts, with a process for those who receive assistance to provide a plan to DESE for increased collaboration, consolidation or other efficiency strategies over the following three fiscal years.
Special Education Circuit Breaker
We support the appropriation of $373 million in S. 2465 for Special Education Circuit Breaker (7061-0012), which reimburses school districts for the high cost of educating students with disabilities at the statutorily required 75% reimbursement rate and meets the SOA obligation to begin reimbursing districts for the costs associated with out-of-district student transportation.
Charter School Mitigation Payments
We support the appropriation in the charter school impact mitigation account (7061-9010), which will fund the Student Opportunity Act’s commitment to meet 75% of the state’s statutory obligation to mitigate Chapter 70 losses to charter schools.
The House and Senate appropriation amounts differ as a result of language that is included in Section 3 of S. 2465. We strongly support the inclusion of the Senate’s Section 3 language instructing DESE not to include the per-pupil amount of required local contribution that may be supported by grants under the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund when calculating charter school tuition payments for fiscal year 2022.
To add further context, 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, because rising charter school assessments force local public schools to cut programs and services to make up the difference. By funding Chapter 70 Student Opportunity Act rates at the one-sixth schedule, but not matching the Student Opportunity Act charter school mitigation payments at the same implementation rate, this year could create an additional financial burden on districts that send students to charter schools. Consequently, we ask that you support the language in Section 3 of S. 2465, which addresses the Charter School tuition calculation for fiscal year 2022.
Payments in Lieu of Taxes on State-owned Land
We strongly urge support for the Senate appropriation of $35 million to pay a portion of the payment-in-lieu-of taxes (PILOT) amount to cities and towns with state-owned land (1233-2400), which represents a $4 million increase over fiscal year 2021. Underfunding PILOT over the years has created a significant hardship for smaller communities with large amounts of state-owned property, and we respectfully ask the Conference Committee to support this increase.
Regional School District Student Transportation
We support the appropriation of $82,178,615 in H. 4001 for Regional School District Transportation (7035-0006), which is closer to the DESE full funding estimate.
Out-of-District Vocational Student Transportation
We urge support for full funding for reimbursements due under statute for part of the cost of transporting students to out-of-district vocational education placements. 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 (7035-0007). 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 might not be locally available. While short of full funding, we support the Senate’s appropriation of $250,000.
McKinney-Vento Homeless Student Transportation
We support the appropriation of $14.4 million that was included in both the House and Senate budget bills supporting transportation for homeless students (7035-0008).
Public Libraries and Regional Public Libraries
We support both the House and Senate budget bills increasing both the Public Library Assistance (7000-9501) and Regional Public Library Assistance (7000-9401) accounts by $1 million each over fiscal year 2021.
Municipal Police Training Committee
We support the appropriation of $4.5 million in S. 2465 for the Municipal Police Training Committee (8200-0200), which will restore funding for essential training for municipal police departments and address the waitlists for these important training programs.
Shannon Anti-Gang Grant Program
We support the Senate appropriation for $12 million for the Shannon Grant program (8100-0111). This anti-gang grant program has helped cities and towns respond to and suppress gang-related activities. We ask for your support for this important crime prevention program.
Massachusetts Cybersecurity Innovation Fund
We support the Senate bill’s appropriation of $2.45 million for the Massachusetts Cybersecurity Innovation Fund (7002-1503). During the public health emergency, local governments, like many other employers, saw a significant shift to reliance on telework and remote operations. At the same time, local governments have faced a troubling increase in the number and severity of cyberattacks. Without assistance from the MassCyberCenter, cities and towns will be more vulnerable to cyberattacks and technological threats.
We support Section 76 in S. 2465, which would reallocate leftover funds earmarked for the 2020 census count to provide technical and financial assistance to cities and towns in re-drawing their wards and precincts.
MSBA Special Commission
We support Section 122 in S. 2465, which would create a special commission to study the effectiveness of the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The commission would review and make recommendations concerning reimbursement rates for construction, as well as other areas of concern, in order to maximize this important resource for cities and towns.
Increase Public Employee Post-Retirement Work Hours
We support Section 8C in H. 4001, which increases the maximum number of permissible hours that may be worked by a retired public employee from 960 to 1,200.
Early Voting Funding
We support Section 24K in H. 4001, which allows for funds appropriated for the implementation of early voting in the fiscal year 2021 budget to be made available until June 30, 2022.
EMS Leave Without Loss of Pay
We oppose Section 9A-9E in H. 4001, which would expand the definition of eligibility for leave without loss of pay to emergency medical technicians employed by “political subdivisions of cities or towns.” The scope and concept of “political subdivisions of a city or town” is unclear, and we are concerned that the introduction of this unknown and undefined mandate may have a considerable, negative impact on municipal budgets.
The budget bills before the Conference Committee demonstrate thoughtful consideration of the needs and priorities of municipalities by both the House and Senate. Again, we would like to express our appreciation to you for your ongoing support for cities and towns.
This is a critical time for municipalities as they continue to simultaneously respond to and recover from the public health emergency. While cities and towns will receive federal funding this year to stimulate the local economy and address immediate needs, they will not sustain that recovery without the ongoing, consistent financial partnership with the state.
Please do not hesitate to contact us at any time if you have questions or need additional information by having your office reach out to me or MMA Legislative Analyst Jackie Lavender Bird at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you very much for your support, dedication and commitment to the cities and towns of Massachusetts.
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO
The Honorable Ronald J. Mariano, Speaker of the House
The Honorable Karen E. Spilka, Senate President