MMA letter urging Senate to support strong ‘municipal modernization’ package

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Dear Senator,
 
On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to offer our strong support for S. 2410, an Act Relative to Modernizing Municipal Finance and Government.
 
This comprehensive legislation contains more than 200 provisions intended to improve the effectiveness of local government by removing obsolete state laws and updating existing statutes to allow for greater efficiency at the local level. From procurement, human resources, finance and administration, to economic development, this legislation offers a substantial range of statutory updates and refinements to benefit cities and towns. Taken together, these proposals will allow our communities to enhance their management systems and streamline many operations.
 
The MMA supports Sections 202-213, granting local control of liquor licenses. We believe that the current legislative petition system for obtaining a license above the statutory cap slows and limits economic growth, and that the process should be modernized to allow for more local decision-making and expedited local economic development that is the goal of both state and municipal officials.
 
We believe that the time has come to entrust the power to grant additional licenses to local officials who best know their communities and are accountable to them. The local licensing authority approval process is more than adequate to review applicants. The state would still retain control over the granting of licensure through the regulatory powers of the ABCC. These changes would help accelerate this unnecessarily lengthy process and, in doing so, better represent the interests of communities across Massachusetts and help spur economic growth.
 
We applaud the Senate leaders and members who have devoted many hours to studying the dozens and dozens of issues encompassed in S. 2410, and appreciate the Senate leadership’s commitment to this legislation. We are reviewing all of the amendments that have been filed, and in the meantime would like to highlight the MMA’s position on a number of the amendments that you will be debating and offer a summary below.
 
PLEASE SUPPORT THE FOLLOWING AMENDMENTS:
 
Amendment #18: This amendment, filed by Senator Moore, would eliminate the re-appeal process for parties seeking to overturn rulings by local liquor license boards through the ABCC. The MMA supports protecting local decision-making regarding liquor licenses.
 
Amendment #29: This amendment, filed by Senator Forry, would provide a local option to allow municipalities to designate workforce housing special tax assessment (WH-STA) zones in areas that present an opportunity for increased development of middle-income housing.
 
Municipal Impacts
 
Amendment #11: This amendment, filed by Senator O’Connor Ives, would require agencies seeking to make regulatory changes that would affect municipal interests to create and submit a report detailing the estimated impact said regulation would have on municipalities.
 
Amendment #12: This amendment, filed by Senator O’Connor Ives, would require a municipal impact statement on proposed legislation.
 
Amendment #45: This amendment, filed by Senator Gobi, would require that any law enacted by the Governor be accompanied by a fiscal note containing an estimate of the fiscal impact of the law on the revenues and expenditures of local governments.
 
Double Poles
 
Amendments #37 and #60: These amendments, filed by Senators Jehlen and Lovely, respectively, would allow cities and towns to enforce the statutory prohibition on keeping double poles up after 90 days, after passing a local ordinance authorizing them to do so. Authorized penalties would be limited to a ceiling of $1,000 per occurrence.
 
Amendment #41: This amendment, filed by Senators Donnelly and Jehlen, would allow cities and towns to enforce the statutory prohibition on keeping double poles up after 90 days, after passing a local ordinance authorizing them to do so. Authorized penalties would be $200 per day for every day past the established 90-day deadline.
 
Administration
 
Amendment #42: This amendment, filed by Senator Tarr, would extend existing exemptions from unemployment insurance benefits – which are applicable to school employees absent during sabbaticals and school vacations with a “reasonable assurance” of returning to work – to employees who provide services to or on behalf of schools, but are paid by municipalities. These sections also reduce the amount of unemployment insurance benefits to 65 percent for employees receiving government pensions, to close the loophole that allows some retirees to file for unemployment once they reach the statutory 960-hour cap on post-retirement work in the jurisdiction(s) they retired from.
 
Amendment #46: This amendment, filed by Senator Tarr, would grant municipalities the ability to enter into public-private partnerships on water infrastructure projects without seeking authorization through a special act.
 
Amendment #47: This amendment, filed by Senator Gobi, would allow cities and towns to make unanticipated expenditures for veterans’ services without appropriation, provided that any deficit would be covered in the subsequent year. This amendment would apply the rules governing snow and ice shortfalls to unexpected veterans’ service costs.
 
Amendment #55: This amendment, filed by Senator Forry, would strike the language exempting the City of Boston from the sections granting local control over liquor licenses. This economic tool should be available to all cities and towns in the Commonwealth, and we ask you to support Amendment #55 as a matter of equal treatment for our capital city.
 
In addition to the above amendments, we also urge you to support the following: Amendment #22, filed by Senator Forry, Amendment #33, filed by Senator Jehlen, and Amendment #53, filed by Senator Brownsberger, which would allow municipalities to establish appropriate speed limits in certain zones to provide for greater public safety; and Amendment #15, filed by Senator Boncore, to clarify age eligibility for police cadet programs.
 
PLEASE OPPOSE THE FOLLOWING AMENDMENTS:
 
Amendment #3: This amendment would add “structural steel” to the required sub-bids in Section 44F of Chapter 149 of the General Laws. This would make public construction projects more difficult to manage and increase costs to local taxpayers. Please reject this amendment.
 
Amendment #23: This amendment would require Civil Service communities to exhaust a reserve list of police and fire candidates before requesting additional candidates from the Commission. This amendment would significantly impede management authority and make it more difficult for communities to make hiring decisions that are in the best interest of their particular municipality. Additionally, local officials and the MMA are actively engaged in discussions with legislators and state leaders on how to develop better options for hiring and promoting public safety employees, and we ask that no action be taken that would undermine this effort. Please reject this amendment.
 
Amendment #36: This amendment would strike the liquor license reforms from S. 2410. The MMA supports the existing language in S. 2410 regarding liquor licenses, and strongly opposes this amendment, which would retain the inefficient system that delays economic development and business growth plans in cities and towns. Please reject this amendment.
 
Amendment #52: This amendment would undermine efforts to enhance the efficient and effective delivery of services to local taxpayers by making the decision to enter into a Joint Powers Agreement a required subject of collective bargaining. This amendment would make it more difficult for cities and towns to collaborate and regionalize the delivery of services. Please reject this amendment.
 
Again, we applaud the many members of the Senate who have advanced this important legislation. Municipalities across the Commonwealth eagerly look forward to using the provisions in S. 2410 to update and enhance their municipal practices, and discontinue the many inefficient procedures that are in place because of outdated and obsolete state laws.
 
Thank you very much for your support and consideration of this key measure.
 
Sincerely,
 
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO