The House and Senate Ways and Means committees this week began their series of eight hearings around the state on the various parts of the state budget for fiscal 2020.

The first hearing was held on March 5 at the State House. Additional hearings will be held through April 2 in locations including Needham, Worcester, Springfield and Arlington.

The key date for local officials is March 18, when the committees will convene in Fall River to receive testimony on education and local aid. MMA leadership will be among those testifying in support of local government priorities.

The MMA’s testimony this year will be guided by the fiscal 2020 budget resolution approved at the MMA Annual Business Meeting in January. Priorities endorsed by the MMA membership include growth in the main municipal aid account tied to projected growth in state tax collections, and a comprehensive overhaul of Chapter 70 school aid and charter school finance. Other priority aid accounts include the special education circuit breaker, student transportation accounts, and the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program.

The House is expected to take up the fiscal 2020 budget in mid-April, with the Senate to follow in May. Last year, the Legislature enacted a final state budget on July 18 after working out differences between House and Senate versions.

The $42.7 billion state spending plan for next year filed by Gov. Charlie Baker on Jan. 23 includes $1.1 billion for the main municipal aid account and $5.1 billion for Chapter 70 school aid. The governor’s bill would increase the main municipal aid account, Unrestricted General Government Aid, at the same rate as the projected growth in state tax collections, which is 2.7 percent and would provide an increase of about $30 million.

The governor’s budget also proposes major changes in school finance, including modifications to how Chapter 70 school aid and required local contribution amounts are calculated and a reworking of charter school finance law. The governor’s Chapter 70 recommendation for next year would increase aid by $200 million, based on a seven-year plan that would update the basic spending standards based on the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission and other initiatives. Most cities, towns and regional school districts, however, would receive just the minimum new aid amount next year, pegged at $20 per student.

The governor’s budget would increase the charter school impact mitigation account by $16 million, to $106 million, although it would still fall far short of the statutory full funding amount. According to charter school assessments on the preliminary Cherry Sheets released by the Division of Local Services for fiscal 2020, assessments on municipalities and regional school districts next year to fund tuition payments to charter schools are expected to increase by $53 million (nearly 8 percent) to $716 million.

The governor’s proposed changes to Chapter 70 and charter school finance law are based on legislation (H. 70) that accompanied his budget bill.

The Legislature is expected to take up school finance legislation this year. Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz has filed a comprehensive school finance modernization bill in the Senate (S. 238), and a companion bill was filed in the House (H. 586) by Rep. Aaron Vega and Rep. Mary Keefe. In addition, a comprehensive House bill (H. 576) was filed by Rep. Paul Tucker, and several rural school bills were filed in the House and Senate. Rep. Paul Broduer and Rep. Antonio Cabral have filed legislation (H. 418), drafted by the MMA, that would amend charter school finance law to cap assessments on municipalities and school districts.

The MMA Fiscal Policy Committee met on Feb. 26 and is scheduled to meet again on March 26 to review the major school finance bills filed for the new legislative session and to make recommendations to the MMA Board of Directors regarding which provisions to support.

House and Senate Ways and Means committee budget hearing schedule (119K PDF)

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