Gov. Charlie Baker previews his fiscal 2019 state budget proposal during MMA Annual Meeting, Jan. 19
Several days before formally submitting his fiscal 2019 state budget plan, Gov. Charlie Baker presented the broad outlines this morning to more than 1,000 local officials from across Massachusetts during the MMA Annual Meeting & Trade Show in Boston.
The governor said his budget bill will include a 3.5 percent increase in Unrestricted General Government Aid, raising that account by $37.2 million to $1.1 billion. The increase matches the projected rate of growth in state tax collections for fiscal 2019, a number that administration and legislative budget writers agreed upon last Friday. Every city and town would see its UGGA funding increase by 3.5 percent.
On the other major local aid account, the governor said he would increase Chapter 70 education aid by $103.6 million, and provide an additional $15 million to assist districts that have seen an influx of students from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands who came to Massachusetts following hurricanes last year. The roughly 2.2 increase would bring the Chapter 70 account to nearly $4.87 billion.
According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, about 85 percent of the roughly 2,400 students from Puerto Rico now enrolled in Massachusetts public schools are in 12 districts: Boston, Chicopee, Fall River, Fitchburg, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, New Bedford, Southbridge, Springfield and Worcester.
“This wasn’t something that anybody built into their budgets at the beginning of the year,” the governor said, “and we felt it should be incumbent on us to basically step up and fund them, the same way we would under a traditional Chapter 70 education distribution.”
The governor said the Chapter 70 increase includes $24.3 million to address the rising costs of health care for retirees.
The UGGA account is funded mainly from Lottery and other gaming revenues and is used locally to help pay for municipal services and to reduce reliance on the property tax. During his campaign in 2014, the governor said he would increase UGGA at the same rate as the growth in tax collections, a commitment he has honored now in each of his four budget proposals.
The governor added that the administration has held to this commitment even in years when the revenue projections proved to be overly optimistic, by protecting cities and towns when the state has needed to make mid-year cuts.
The governor also announced that his administration would be filing a bill in a matter of weeks with $200 million for the Chapter 90 local road and bridge program, a critical reimbursement program used by cities and towns to maintain basic infrastructure.
Gov. Baker is scheduled to deliver his annual State of the Commonwealth address next Tuesday, Jan. 23, at which time he may offer additional details about some of the smaller accounts in his fiscal 2019 budget proposal. He is scheduled to file the budget bill, expected to exceed $40 billion, on Wednesday, Jan. 24.
Following a very warm reception from local officials at the MMA meeting, Gov. Baker highlighted a list of administration initiatives designed to help municipalities, including the 2016 Municipal Modernization Act, the widely adopted Community Compact best practices program, the Open for Business program that pushes “fallow” state-owned parcels back into productive use in cities and towns, the Complete Streets program, tree-planting programs, and the LED streetlight program.
He shared the administration’s pride in the collaborative nature of the state-local relationship. For example, he said a significant side benefit of the Community Compact program is that administration officials – typically Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, the program’s point person – hear directly from local officials all over the state about the challenges they are facing.
“There is no great Commonwealth without great cities and towns,” said Baker, a former selectman from Swampscott. “You do the really important work on the ground here in Massachusetts.”
The governor spoke during the opening session of the MMA Annual Meeting in Boston, a two-day event that has drawn a record-breaking 1,200-plus local officials from across the state.