On Wednesday evening, the House of Representatives approved a $56.2 billion state spending plan for fiscal 2024 that would increase Unrestricted General Government Aid by 1.6% over the current year and significantly increase Chapter 70 school aid, in part by doubling minimum new aid to $60 per pupil.

The House’s budget bill would also fully fund regional school transportation and make a sizable investment in rural school aid.

The vote came three days into budget debate, after the chamber consolidated more than 1,500 budget amendments into seven categories.

The House bill would increase overall state expenditures by 7.1% over the current year, and is $700 million higher than the budget plan filed by the governor on March 1 (known as House 1).

Unrestricted General Government Aid
As proposed by the House Ways and Means Committee, the House budget links the percentage increase in UGGA to the consensus projection for the rate of growth in state tax collections for fiscal 2024, or 1.6%.

The MMA has testified that the proposed increase does not reflect the actual — and far higher — growth in state tax collections in recent years, nor the fiscal realities facing cities and towns in the current economic climate. The MMA will continue to advocate for larger increases as the budget process continues.

Chapter 70
The House budget would increase Chapter 70 education aid by $596 million over the current fiscal year, for a total of $6.58 billion, which would continue to fund the Student Opportunity Act on the intended schedule. An additional $7.8 million line item in the House budget would raise the minimum new aid amount from $30 per student to $60, a recognition of the challenges faced by 119 minimum-aid-only school districts, which account for 37% of all districts. The MMA and education stakeholders will be looking to build on this progress, with a target of $100 per student in minimum aid.

Charter schools
The House bill includes a total of $230 million for charter school mitigation payments, which would cover 100% of the state’s statutory obligation as outlined in the Student Opportunity Act.

Special Education Circuit Breaker
The House budget includes $506 million for the Special Education Circuit Breaker account, a $65 million increase over fiscal 2023. The Student Opportunity Act expanded the circuit breaker by including out-of-district transportation, the cost of which is reflected in the House’s increase.

The MMA and education stakeholders will continue to seek additional funding to address out-of-district special education tuition increases, which will increase by 14% in fiscal 2024.

Rural school aid
The House budget includes $10 million for rural school aid for eligible towns and regional school districts, representing a 45% increase over the current year. The rural schools grant program helps districts facing declining enrollments to identify ways to form regional school districts or regionalize certain school services to create efficiencies.

The MMA will continue to advocate for fulfilling the recommendation last July of the Commission on the Fiscal Health of Rural School Districts to fund this account at $60 million.

School transportation
The House budget would fully fund regional school transportation aid, bringing the account from $82 million this year to $107 million. The budget would also fully fund the transportation of homeless students under the federal McKinney-Vento program, bringing that account to $28.6 million. The House budget does not have a line item for out-of-district vocational transportation, which was funded at $250,000 for fiscal 2023.

Matching the governor’s proposal, the House bill would fund payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) for state-owned land, at $51.5 million, a 14% increase over fiscal 2023. The increase is intended to ensure that no municipality would see a decrease in its PILOT payments due to recent valuation changes.

Electronic Lottery
Through an outside section, the House bill would authorize an online Lottery (iLottery), with $200 million of the resulting new revenue targeted to early education programs. The MMA continues to advocate for online Lottery proceeds to be solely used for the Lottery’s intended purpose, which is funding the Commonwealth’s revenue sharing through Unrestricted General Government Aid. This is consistent with the Lottery’s mission and necessary to protect a vital revenue stream that accounts for the overwhelming amount of discretionary local aid that cities, towns and taxpayers rely on to fund essential municipal and school services and balance local budgets.

Emergency medical services
In another policy matter, the House adopted a provision this week that would provide financial relief for emergency medical service providers for the transport of patients who are eligible for both Medicare and MassHealth.

When these patients need an ambulance, Medicare covers a portion of the cost, and MassHealth covers the remainder. This is known as a “MassHealth crossover” because the claim crosses over to MassHealth for the cost that Medicare doesn’t cover. The proposed support would reimburse the 20% copay for ambulance patients who are primarily insured by Medicare.

The MMA advocated for this change in partnership with key stakeholders, including the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Ambulance Association.

Next steps
The state budget process now moves to the Senate, where the Ways and Means Committee is expected to release its recommendation in mid-May. The House and Senate will then need to reconcile their two plans before sending a final bill to the governor for her consideration by the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1.

During the remainder of the budget process, the MMA will work to build on the progress in the House’s proposal by advocating for a greater increase in Unrestricted General Government Aid, Chapter 70 minimum aid, special education relief, and protecting local aid with regards to iLottery proceeds.

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