Fiscal issues, transportation dominate MMA meetings

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At the MMA’s series of Legislative Breakfast meetings this fall, local officials across the state praised lawmakers for helping to save communities nearly $200 million by passing legislation to reform municipal health insurance, an issue that had been a top municipal priority.
Municipal officials also thanked legislators for increasing funding in many key local aid accounts.
Legislators, however, were somewhat cautious when looking ahead to fiscal 2014.
“Last year we were running ahead of benchmarks and were able to increase funding to cities and towns while adding funds to our stabilization account,” Sen. Benjamin Downing of Pittsfield, Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, told municipal officials on Oct. 12 in Williamstown. “This year will be more challenging. Tax collections are below expectations, and there is uncertainty about federal aid with the ‘fiscal cliff’ looming on the horizon.”
In Billerica on Oct. 19, Rep. Paul Donato of Medford said, “Health insurance legislation was a tough vote, but it had to get done, and, in the end, everyone was at the table. Last year, we were able to provide a record amount of Chapter 90 transportation funds. This year’s challenge will be to solve our overall transportation crisis and, again, it will be difficult to build consensus.”
The MMA has made transportation a priority for the upcoming legislative session. The association is now compiling the results of a Chapter 90 survey sent to members to document the need for road and bridge funding to keep local roads and bridges in a “state of good repair.” Municipal officials have been attending Department of Transportation meetings and organizing transportation forums throughout the state.
Hundreds of local officials and state legislators attended the MMA’s series of nine Legislative Breakfast meetings, which were held in Attleboro, Billerica, Charlton, Hudson, Fitchburg, Rockport, Wareham, Williamstown and Worthington.
Local officials expressed specific concerns about federal environmental regulations, unfunded mandates, and legislation that could provide property tax exemptions for renewable energy projects.
MMA staff provided updates on unemployment insurance, municipal pension liability, and environmental legislation.