HW&M BUDGET MAKES LOCAL GOVERNMENT A PRIORITY
PLEASE SUPPORT KEY BUDGET AMENDMENTS TO BUILD ON THIS SUCCESS

Dear Representative,

We are writing to express our appreciation for the many provisions in the House Ways & Means Committee budget proposal (H. 3800) that would benefit and support cities and towns across the Commonwealth.

We thank Speaker DeLeo, Chairman Michlewitz, 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 $29.7 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 mitigation payments. We recognize that making these important investments is a challenging task in uncertain fiscal circumstances, and H. 3800 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 property tax. That is why the budget decisions you make each year are so important to our state’s prosperity and competitiveness.

With almost 1,400 amendments before you this week, there are dozens of important funding and policy proposals that would impact cities and towns, and we urgently and respectfully ask you to act 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 Additional Chapter 70 School Aid
We thank House leaders for increasing Chapter 70 minimum aid to $30 per student, which is a welcome improvement over the far-too-low $20 per student amount in House 1. A significant majority of school districts only receive minimum aid, which is why this aspect of Chapter 70 is so important. Please SUPPORT Amendment 992 filed by Rep. Cutler and others, which would increase the minimum aid amount to $50 per student, and ensure that all communities share more fully in the impressive education investments included in H. 3800.

• Please Support Charter School Finance Amendments
Rapidly rising charter school tuition assessments on cities and towns have become a major financial drain at the local level, a problem made increasingly acute as the state grants more charters and existing charter schools expand. The most recent estimates show an increase in assessments next year of nearly $56 million, an increase of 8.4 percent. Total assessments would reach almost $720 million, which translates, as you know, into a direct diversion of Chapter 70 aid away from sending school districts.

Assessments are impacting a large number of school districts, including in many of the state’s poorest and most financially distressed cities and towns. In many municipalities, the impact of charter school finance would result in a net cut in school aid next year, or net increase that falls below minimum aid levels. The current system for financing charter schools and mitigating the harsh impact on local public schools is not sustainable for cities and towns, or for the Commonwealth.

The HW&M fiscal 2020 budget would increase charter school impact mitigation payments by a welcome $23 million to $113 million. However, full funding of the current 6-year mitigation formula in state statute, or the revised (and more limited) 3-year reimbursement formula in H. 1 and H. 3800, would require far more than this amount.

Charter school finance needs an overhaul. We support legislation (H. 418) that would cap local assessments and allow state-appropriated tuition payments as a long-term measure to bring stability and fairness to charter school finance. For the near term, we SUPPORT Amendment 615 filed by Rep. Ultrino to fully fund the 3-year mitigation payment formula (transitional assistance) as provided in H. 3800. We also SUPPORT Amendment 340 filed by Rep. Ultrino that would strike the 3-year mitigation payment schedule in H. 3800 and return it to the current 6-year schedule pending further debate on this issue later in the year when school finance legislation may be taken up.

Please OPPOSE Amendment 615 and Amendment 1340, which would increase the charter school tuition facilities component from $893 in fiscal 2019 to $1,116 in fiscal 2020. These amendments would have the effect of reducing available funding for mitigation payments, reducing the amount that cities and towns could use to offset growing charter school assessments. In short, these amendments would deepen the fiscal woes created by the current system.

• Please Support Funding for McKinney-Vento Homeless Student Transportation Costs
The State Auditor has ruled that the McKinney-Vento program is an unfunded state mandate on cities and towns. It requires cities and towns to provide very costly transportation services to bus homeless students to schools outside of the local school district. Full funding for fiscal 2020 is estimated at $27.3 million, according to the most recent DESE projection. Please SUPPORT Amendment 244 filed by Rep. Stanley and others that would fully fund reimbursements due to municipalities and school districts for the cost of transporting homeless students from temporary shelters to school.

• Please Support Funding for Regional School District Student Transportation
We very much appreciate the HW&M recommendation to increase the appropriation for regional school transportation reimbursements by almost $5.0 million next year, bringing the account to $73.9 million. Funding for transportation reimbursements to regional school districts is vital to all regional districts and their member communities, particularly in sparsely populated parts of the state. Full funding next year would require $92.3 million, according to DESE. Please SUPPORT Amendment 44 filed by Rep. Ferguson and others that would further increase funding for this account, and bring fiscal 2020 funding to the full funding mark.

• 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 $4.3 million. The HW&M recommendation would provide no funding for this account. Please SUPPORT Amendment 480 filed by Rep. Kane and others that would increase funding to cover a portion of the cost of transporting students to out-of-district placements in vocational schools. We also SUPPORT Amendment 482 filed by Rep. Kane and others that would restore the ability of school districts to charge a very limited fee for out-of-district transportation.

• Please Support Funding for Summer Jobs for At-Risk Youth
Please SUPPORT Amendment 1285 filed by Rep. Brodeur and others and Amendment 1011 filed by Rep. Vargas 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.

KEY BUDGET AMENDMENTS ON MUNICIPAL AID ACCOUNTS, MUNICIPAL MANAGEMENT POLICY, AND THE RESOLUTION OF MUNICIPAL COLLECTIVE BARGAINING DISPUTES

• Please Support Funding for Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILOT)
Please SUPPORT Amendment 878 filed by Rep. D’Emilia and others to add $1.8 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 878 would bring the account up to $30.3 million.

• Please Support Funding for the Shannon Anti-Gang Grant Program
Please SUPPORT Amendment 127 filed by Rep. Madaro and others 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 127 would add $1.0 million and bring total funding up to $10 million.

• Please Support Funding for Labor Relations
Please SUPPORT Amendment 864 filed by Rep. O’Day and others and Amendment 77 filed by Rep. Whipps and others, which would increase funding for the Department of Labor Relations (DLR) in order to maintain a current level of service and 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, engaged with cities and towns in order to resolve bargaining disputes.

We also SUPPORT Amendment 798 filed by Rep. Walsh, which would increase the line item for the Joint Labor Management Committee (JLMC) by $21,835 to $250,000. This budget amendment would restore the JLMC to the House and Senate budget amounts that were originally set for fiscal 2019 ($250,000) and the fiscal 2020 H. 1 level. The amendment would support the expenses of the JLMC in order to carry out its mandate under state law while facing the demands of a rising caseload.

• Please Support Funds for Local Planning
Please SUPPORT Amendment 836 filed by Rep. Peake and others, Amendment 233 filed by Rep. Moran and others, and Amendment 391 filed by Rep. Donato and others, which 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 Increase Funding for Public Libraries
Please SUPPORT Amendment 337 filed by Rep. Higgins, Rep. Murray and others and Amendment 863 filed by Rep. Peisch, which would increase local aid by $1.1 million for regional public libraries. In communications with our members, we frequently hear requests to increase public library funding. These amendments would provide much-needed funding to public libraries that support community members of all ages, backgrounds, education levels and abilities. For these reasons, we also ask you to please SUPPORT Amendment 339 filed by Rep. Higgins, Rep. Murray and others, which would increase funding for public libraries by $444,754 to $9.9 million.

• Please Support Funding for the Housing Choice Initiative Program
Please SUPPORT Amendment 1215 filed by Rep. McGonagle and others to fund the Housing Choice Initiative at $5.3 million.  This program rewards municipalities that have produced higher rates of new housing units and have adopted best practices related to housing production.

• Please Support 2020 Census Complete Count Grants
Please SUPPORT Amendment 1354 filed by Rep. Moran and others, which would increase the appropriation for 2020 census grants to help ensure a complete and accurate count. This program is extremely important for cities and towns across the Commonwealth. This additional $500,000 would go to citizen outreach in hard-to-reach cities and towns and help establish field offices in Western Massachusetts. This small investment will certainly pay itself back many times over in the form of higher federal funding for Massachusetts in the future.

UPDATING AND MODERNIZING STATUTES

• Please Support Local Tax Title Accounts
Please SUPPORT Amendment 100 filed by Rep. Ultrino, which would amend the law related to property tax collection to clarify that entities assigned tax titles for unpaid local taxes are allowed to make subsequent tax payments on the property and recover those amounts at redemption. This amendment allows municipal treasurers and collectors to require assignees to make those payments, and would resolve ambiguity in the law, used by nearly 50 cities and towns, and provide clear and consistent rules.

• Please Support Solar Property Tax Law Amendment
Please SUPPORT Amendment 803 filed by Rep. Durant and others, which would update and clarify the outdated statute governing the exemption of certain renewable energy property from the local property tax.

• Please Support the Extractor Bulk Purchasing Program
We ask that you SUPPORT Amendment 286 filed by Rep. Campbell and others, which would create a Trust Fund to finance the Extractor Bulk Purchase Program. The purpose of Amendment 286 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 Michlewitz and the House Ways & Means Committee, and we respectfully ask you to build on the many favorable local aid investments in H. 3800 by supporting the key budget amendments detailed above.

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 our cities and towns.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO