Who is a member?
Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
The Honorable Aaron M. Michlewitz
The Honorable Michael J. Rodrigues
The Honorable Daniel J. Hunt
The Honorable Cindy F. Friedman
The Honorable Todd M. Smola
The Honorable Patrick M. O’Connor
Dear Chair Michlewitz, Chair Rodrigues, and Distinguished Members of the COVID Recovery Bill Conference Committee,
On behalf of cities and towns across the Commonwealth, we are writing to express our great appreciation for the many provisions in the spending bills approved by the House (H. 4234) and the Senate (S. 2580) that benefit communities throughout the state. Both bills reflect a commitment to a strong fiscal partnership with municipalities, as we work collaboratively toward a strong recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
We thank the House and Senate for advancing a framework that acknowledges critical needs throughout all municipalities in the Commonwealth: housing, water and sewer infrastructure, environmental infrastructure, economic development, education, broadband, cybersecurity, and health and human services.
While there are a number of areas where the House and Senate agree on funding levels for certain 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 maximize the federal resources provided to state and local governments provided through the federal American Rescue Plan Act, as well as strategically utilize a significant fiscal year 2021 budget surplus. We respectfully ask that you consider taking action on all of these matters.
Public Health Spending Mandate Addressed Separately
As you know, the MMA has voiced significant concerns regarding the impact of the new unfunded mandates in S. 2580 that, if fully implemented, would require up to $140 million in new municipal appropriations to meet enhanced public health department performance standards. We raised this in our letter of November 12, 2021, and will provide more detail in a separate communication to the conference committee. Simply put, because of the Proposition 2½ tax cap, the only way most communities could fund a mandate of this magnitude would be through deep cuts in other vital municipal services, which we know is not your intention. The MMA deeply appreciates and applauds the Legislature’s commitment to strengthening our local and state public health departments, and wishes to work with you on a solution that advances the important goal of transforming and modernizing municipal health departments through a sustainable funding framework that does not disrupt municipal finances or pit public health against other public needs.
Water and Sewer Infrastructure
The House and Senate spending plans both include significant investments in our water and sewer infrastructure. Due to the number and magnitude of shovel-ready projects in municipalities throughout the Commonwealth, we ask you to support the appropriation of $175 million in S. 2580 (1599-2032). All 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts can identify priority water and sewer infrastructure repairs or upgrades their community desperately needs but cannot easily finance. Our municipalities are struggling to deal with aging infrastructure at the same time as increased severe weather events bring more stormwater, flooding, and drought. And as more and more communities identify PFAS contaminants in their public drinking water supplies, and PFAS is detected in other sources such as rivers and turf fields, funds for water and environmental treatment will be put to quick and beneficial use.
We greatly appreciate the strong support for environmental infrastructure in both House and Senate bills. We support the appropriation of $125 million for environmental infrastructure, including the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program in S. 2580 (1599-2031). To date, more than 90% of Massachusetts municipalities are enrolled in the MVP program, and in the most recent grant funding round in Fall 2021, more than $20 million was distributed through both planning and action grants. With such a high engagement rate and thousands of priority projects identified through the planning process in communities across the Commonwealth, requests for action grants far exceed the available funding in the Global Warming Solutions Trust Fund. Significant funding for the MVP program would enable more projects to be approved in each grant round and provide a stable source of long-term funding as the program expands its reach.
We support the $100 million investment for HVAC improvements to public school facilities included in H. 4234 (1599-3004). The investment of $100 million would provide improved ventilation and indoor air quality to support healthy learning environments in districts with schools with high concentrations of economically disadvantaged students, English language learners, and communities disproportionately affected by the public health emergency.
We commend the House and Senate for addressing the digital divide, by including investments for broadband in both spending bills. We support the $75 million investment in S. 2580 (1599-2045), which, among other uses, would provide the option to use the funding for municipal broadband debt relief.
We support the $15 million investment in S. 2580 for Cybersecurity initiatives (1599-2039). Cyberattacks are impacting all aspects of our society, including individuals, businesses and every level of government. Cities and towns appear to be prime targets for cyberattacks, likely due to two central factors: the essential role of local government, and the challenge of maintaining modern IT systems.
Housing, Workforce, and Economic Development
Both the House and Senate bills include major investments in housing, workforce, and economic development. Thank you for your ongoing partnership with municipalities in addressing these important areas. The funds you put forth will leverage municipal efforts to address housing affordability, workforce training and skill development, and economic growth in every region of the state.
This is a critical time for cities and towns. We know that you and your colleagues continue to be outstanding partners for communities across the Commonwealth, and we look forward to working with you to recover from the pandemic and thrive over the coming years. The Legislature is seizing a unique opportunity with federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, as well as the significant fiscal year 2021 revenue surplus, to make historic investments in infrastructure to improve water quality across the state, prepare municipalities for the current impacts and inevitable effects of climate change, and address the state’s housing crisis.
Thank you for your continued support for cities and towns. If you have any questions regarding our comments or require additional information, please do not hesitate to have your office contact MMA Senior Legislative Analyst Jackie Lavender Bird at 617-426-7272, ext. 123, or firstname.lastname@example.org at any time.
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO
The Honorable Ronald J. Mariano, Speaker of the House
The Honorable Karen E. Spilka, Senate President