From The Beacon, October 2016
Even though the leaves have yet to fall from the trees, it is time to begin work on an aggressive agenda to advance the needs and priorities of cities and towns in 2017. Granted, we still have three months before we ring in the New Year, but experience has made it clear that engagement and preparation now is the best way to make sure that municipal priorities and concerns are adequately addressed on Beacon Hill in January and beyond.
Good planning is just one reason why the MMA is once again launching a series of nine regional Legislative Breakfast Meetings across the state over a three-week period on Sept. 30, Oct. 7 and Oct. 14. We are encouraging municipal leaders to join us at these Friday morning meetings to meet with members of the Legislature and MMA staff, and we hope for vibrant and informative discussions on the local government issues of the day.
Over the years, we have held these meetings in scores and scores of communities across the state, rotating among localities to ensure maximum participation. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be gathering in Amherst, Boxborough, Sutton, Bridgewater, Gardner, Wellesley, Amesbury, Fairhaven and North Adams. We have invited members of the Legislature, and we expect hundreds of local officials to attend this fall’s legislative breakfast series. Local officials can find the locations and schedule, and register to attend, by visiting www.mma.org.
This year’s breakfast meetings will come at an important time, as state officials are preparing to finally close the books on the fiscal 2016 budget, which suffered unexpected revenue losses in the spring and summer. One key issue is whether there will be any money left in fiscal 2016 to supplement the state’s match to the Community Preservation Act. But even more pressing is whether there will be enough tax revenue to support the fiscal 2017 state budget that was set in July.
With state tax revenues falling short in the first two months of the fiscal year, there are very real concerns about state finances and the prospect of recurring budget shortfalls. Mid-year cutbacks are possible if the current trend continues, and it is important to explain to members of the House and Senate that communities do not have the capacity to absorb cuts to municipal aid and school accounts.
In addition, it is time to start thinking about the municipal priorities in the governor’s fiscal 2018 state budget and local aid plan, which will be due in January. In short, there are a lot of serious budget issues to examine now.
The gatherings will also be an opportunity to talk with lawmakers about the many helpful provisions in the Municipal Modernization Act, the new economic development act, and the small bridges and transportation bond act, which were all passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor just two months ago. In addition, there are several timely and weighty issues to examine and discuss, including the potential impact of ballot questions on the legalization of recreational marijuana and expansion of charter schools. (The MMA Board of Directors has voted to oppose both questions, because of their impact on public health, public safety and school finances.) Other timely topics will include the new public records law and regulations that will take effect on Jan. 1.
Looking forward to next year, the MMA wants to hear from city and town officials on ideas for the MMA’s 2017 legislative package, and on suggestions for best practices that can help communities maximize effective service delivery and promote financial stewardship. Our legislative breakfasts will be an excellent opportunity to share ideas with fellow municipal leaders and members of the MMA staff, and we will make sure to bring all suggestions back to our policy committees and leadership.
Cities and towns deliver the essential services that build our economy and ensure a high quality of life for our citizens. That’s why we need the strongest possible partnership with the state, and why we are building the strongest possible agenda for 2017.
Our priorities will include increasing and protecting municipal and school aid and local revenues, enhancing and protecting municipal administrative authority, addressing unfunded mandates, dealing with labor and personnel issues, investing in municipal infrastructure (especially transportation and environmental systems), fixing Chapter 70 and charter school funding, preserving local land-use decision-making, and ensuring financial sustainability through needed reforms in OPEB and employee health costs, just to name a few!
We not only invite your input and participation, we need it! Hundreds of your municipal government colleagues will be joining us to lean in and inform our legislators and each other on the key issues of the day, and to help to shape the priorities and positions that will enhance local government. We hope to see you at the Legislative Breakfast Meeting nearest you, so please register today. There will be lively conversation and engagement, and your participation will add to our success.
Please join us for our fall Legislative Breakfast Meetings
From The Beacon, October 2016