Who is a member?
Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
We are writing to express our gratitude for the many provisions in the Senate Ways and Means Committee fiscal 2022 budget proposal (S. 3) that benefit and support cities and towns across the Commonwealth, and we welcome the opportunity to offer comments and insights on proposed amendments that will be before you during your budget deliberations next week.
We thank President Spilka, Chair Rodrigues, and the members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee for their commitment to cities and towns by ensuring that every community will receive a 3.5% increase in Unrestricted General Government Aid and committing to funding Chapter 70 school aid with the new Student Opportunity Act rates at one-sixth of the implementation scheduled rather than the one-seventh schedule included in House 1. Cities and towns rely on Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) and Chapter 70 school aid to balance local budgets and sustain vital local services, and the timing of the Joint Ways and Means Committee announcement provided stability and certainty for municipalities as they complete their own local budgeting process.
In this letter, we are asking you to support targeted appropriation amendments to build on this progress and fund other important accounts, as outlined below, as well as some non-appropriation provisions key to maintaining local government operations.
Please Support These Key Appropriation Amendments:
Amendment #150 (Student Opportunity Act Commitments): We ask you to support Amendment #150, filed by Senator Chang-Diaz, to use the original schedule in the law to fund two aspects of the Student Opportunity Act (making fiscal 2022 year two of the original three-year schedule for two key accounts). First, this amendment would increase the Charter School Reimbursements appropriation (7061-9010) to $178 million. Charter School financing remains a significant issue for a large number of cities and towns. The increase in assessments levied on local school districts to pay tuition to charter schools is imposing a major and growing financial burden on cities and towns. 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. In addition, this amendment would increase the appropriation for the Special Education Circuit Breaker (7061-0012) to $395 million. Again, this follows the original schedule outlined in the Student Opportunity Act and supports reimbursement at a rate of 50% for eligible out-of-district transportation for special education students.
Amendment #904 (Student Enrollment Reserve): We are grateful that legislative leaders announced support for addressing the impacts of the temporary decline in student enrollment during the public health emergency through a reserve account. We ask that you support Amendment #904, filed by Senator Gomez, to increase the funding of this special grant account (7061-0011) to $130 million. The increased funding more accurately reflects the amount lost by school districts statewide as a result of this temporary enrollment decline.
Amendment #261 (METCO): Please support Amendment #261, filed by Senator Chang-Diaz, to fund the highly successful and impactful METCO program (7010-0012) at $27.9 million.
Amendment #156 (Regional School Transportation): We ask that you support Amendment #156, filed by Senator Tarr, to fund regional school transportation (7035-0006) at $83 million, which would fund a reimbursement rate of 95%. These funds are critical to rural and smaller communities.
Amendment #247 (Rural School Aid): Please support Amendment #247, filed by Senator Hinds, to fund the Rural School Aid account (7010-0005) at $4 million, providing rural school assistance grants to cities, towns, regional school districts, and other entities to increase regional collaboration, with consolidation of other strategies to improve the long-term operational efficiency and effectiveness of public schools, with priority given to proposals that support schools and districts that have experienced, or are experiencing, significant enrollment losses.
Amendments #35, #36, #882 (Regionalization, DLTA and Community Compact Grants): We ask you to support Amendments #35 and #36, filed by Senator Tarr, and Amendment #882, filed by Senator Eldridge, that would increase the appropriation for the District Local Technical Assistance Fund, focused on encouraging regionalization grants, including $2 million for Community Compact grants and $3 million for the District Local Technical Assistance (DLTA) Fund.
Amendment #373 (Support for Local Boards of Health): Please support Amendment #373, filed by Senator Comerford, to increase the appropriation for local and regional boards of health (4512-2022) by $3 million to implement recommendations provided in the Blueprint for Public Health Excellence Report for improved effectiveness and efficiency.
Amendments #643, #627 (Shannon Grants): Please support Amendment #643, filed by Senator Boncore, which would increase the line item for the Shannon Grant program (8100-0111) by $2 million, to $13.3 million. 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, which was also supported in Amendment #627, filed by Senator Collins.
Please Support These Key Local Government Operations Amendments:
Amendment #154 (Expanding Outdoor Dining Beyond COVID-19 Emergency) and Amendment #679 (Local Opt-In for Permanent Outdoor Dining): We ask you to support Amendments #154 and #679, filed by Senator Crighton and Senator Tarr, to allow restaurants to apply for local approval to expand outdoor table service, including changing the description of the licensed premises to allow for outdoor alcohol service. In addition, we support amendments #114 and #758, which would allow for alcohol to-go services with takeout to continue. We believe many citizens will wish to continue to sit outdoors and utilize take-out options for public health reasons even past the state of emergency. We wish to continue to support our local businesses, which are important to our communities and downtowns.
Amendment #26 (Municipal Impact Statement): We ask you to support Amendment #26, filed by Senator Tarr, to update and expand the authority of the Division of Local Mandates to review the financial impact of legislation and state regulations on cities and towns.
Amendment #72 (Remote Access for Town Meetings): We ask support for Amendment #72, filed by Senator Rausch, fostering equal remote access for all Town Meetings. The option to hold remote town meetings should be available not only to Representative Town Meeting towns but also to communities with Open Town Meetings. Over the past year, technology to hold and host remote meetings has evolved. We believe that an Open Town Meeting town should not be prevented if a town determines that it is able to host its Town Meeting remotely.
Amendment #91 (Vote by Mail Extension): Please support Amendment #91, filed by Senator Creem. The MMA supports extending the vote-by-mail deadline to June 30, 2022, to allow citizens to safely vote from their homes and decrease the demand and traffic at local polling places, protecting the health of those administering the election. Municipal clerks need at least five weeks to prepare for municipal elections. This extension would ensure that all fall and spring elections would be covered and allow for a more predictable election cycle.
Amendment #226 (Massachusetts School Building Authority Commission): We ask you to support Amendment #226, filed by Senator Finegold, to create a special commission to study 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.
Amendments #300 and #318 (Deadline Extension for Use of PFAS Funds): Please support Amendment #300, filed by Senator Tarr, and Amendment #318, filed by Senator Keenan, to extend the deadline for local expenditure of grant funds allocated for testing for potential per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in water supplies and mitigation efforts.
Amendment #16 (Municipal Relief from Reporting Requirements): We ask you to support Amendment #16, filed by Senator Comerford, which would avoid unnecessary paperwork in small towns by eliminating the reporting requirement for a city or town that receives a disbursement of less than $25,000 from the Transportation Infrastructure Enhancement Trust Fund.
Amendment #861 (Early Voting Reimbursement): Please support Amendment #861, filed by Senator Tarr, requiring the state to reimburse municipalities for mandated early voting costs.
Amendment #94 (Public Retirees’ Post-Retirement Earnings): We ask you to support Amendment #94, filed by Senator Brady, that would increase allowable post-retirement work hours for retired public employees.
Please OPPOSE Amendments That Would Negatively Impact Municipal Finances and Operations:
We ask you to oppose Amendment #131, which would increase the unfunded liability of our public pension systems by mandating that certain payments in lieu of vacation must count as regular compensation for the purpose of calculating retirement payments. This amendment would largely overturn a Supreme Judicial Court case from 2018 that excluded these payments from regular compensation and would drive up pension costs for cities and towns.
Again, we would like to express our appreciation to President Spilka, Chair Rodrigues, and the members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee for presenting a comprehensive spending plan that makes strong investments in municipalities across the Commonwealth. We ask you to build on the many favorable local aid investments in S. 3 by supporting the key budget amendments outlined above, and by opposing Amendment #131. This is a critical transition time, from response to recovery, for our economy, and for cities, towns and local taxpayers, and with your support we can ensure that we recover from the pandemic and rebuild our economy in every corner of Massachusetts.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your office contact MMA Legislative Analyst Jackie Lavender Bird at email@example.com at any time.
Thank you very much for your support, dedication and commitment to the cities and towns of Massachusetts.
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO