The Senate Committee on Ways and Means today released a $55.8 billion state budget plan for fiscal 2024 that will be taken up by the full Senate in a couple weeks.

The Senate bill would increase Unrestricted General Government Aid by 3.2% ($39.3 million over the current fiscal year), which is twice the consensus forecast for state revenue growth (1.6%), a benchmark that has been used in recent years to set the UGGA increase.

The Senate budget would increase overall state expenditures by $3.4 billion over the current year.

Senate members have until 2 p.m. on Friday to file budget amendments, and the Senate is scheduled to begin its budget debate on Tuesday, May 23. The Senate typically considers hundreds of amendments.

The Division of Local Services will be updating preliminary Cherry Sheet numbers for cities, towns and regional school districts based on the Senate Ways and Means budget proposal (S. 3).

Unrestricted General Government Aid
The Senate Ways and Means proposal would increase UGGA by twice the consensus projection for the rate of growth in state tax collections for fiscal 2024, bringing the main discretionary local aid account to $1.27 billion for fiscal 2024.

Chapter 70
The Senate plan would increase Chapter 70 education aid by $603 million over the current fiscal year, for a total of $6.59 billion, which would continue to fund the Student Opportunity Act on the intended schedule. This amount also reflects funding to 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.

Charter school reimbursements
The Senate bill proposes 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
S. 3 includes $503 million for the Special Education Circuit Breaker account, a $62 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 this increase.

Local roads and bridges
The Senate bill includes $100 million in additional funding for local roads and bridges, funded by the voter-approved surtax on annual incomes over $1 million (known as the Fair Share Amendment). Half of the $100 million appropriation would be allocated using the Chapter 90 formula, and half would be allocated using a formula focused on road miles.

MSBA extraordinary cost relief
The Senate bill includes $100 million in Fair Share funding for relief for municipalities that started school projects in recent years, in partnership with the Massachusetts School Building Authority, whose project costs have far exceeded original estimates.

Rural school aid
The Senate bill includes $15 million for rural school aid for eligible towns and regional school districts, representing a 63% increase over the current year. The grant program helps districts that are facing declining enrollment identify ways to form regional school districts or regionalize certain school services to create efficiencies.

Regional school transportation
The Senate bill would fund regional school transportation at $97 million, which represents funding 90% of anticipated claims for fiscal 2024.

McKinney-Vento and vocational school transportation
The Senate Ways and Means proposal would fully fund reimbursements for the transportation of homeless students under the federal McKinney-Vento Act, increasing the account to $28.7 million in fiscal 2024. The impact of this funding level would vary from community to community, depending on the number of homeless families that remain sheltered in local hotels and motels.

Out-of-district vocational transportation, which was funded at $250,000 in fiscal 2023, would see a massive increase, to $5.1 million, which represents moving from funding 6% of claims to 90% of claims. This is a critical account for districts that do not have an in-district vocational program.

The Senate bill matches the governor’s recommendation to increase payments-in-lieu-of-taxes by 14%, to $51.5 million, which would benefit communities with large amounts of state-owned land. The increase is intended to ensure that no municipality would see a decrease in its PILOT payments due to recent valuation changes.

Local response
MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith said the Senate proposal makes it clear “that Senate leaders are prioritizing a strong state-local partnership.”

“We know local officials deeply appreciate the proposed $39.3 million increase in Unrestricted General Government Aid, which is critical for municipalities to continue to provide essential services to residents across the Commonwealth,” he said. “We also deeply appreciate the investment of $200 million in new funding for local roads and school building projects. Senators are proposing to share a significant portion of the new high-income surtax with communities to support vital local infrastructure needs.

“And the Senate’s support for doubling minimum school aid is good news for the 37% of cities and towns that are in minimum aid districts. We also appreciate the progress made in this spending proposal to fund key school transportation accounts, PILOT, and other vital programs.”

The release of the Senate Ways and Means proposal comes just days after the announcement that state revenue collections for the month of April fell short of expectations. During today’s meeting of the Local Government Advisory Commission, Administration and Finance Secretary Matt Gorzkowicz reassured local officials that the state had anticipated the revenue dip and that the creation of the fiscal 2024 revenue forecast had taken these “known exposures” into account.

The Senate is expected to finish its budget deliberations by the end of May, and then the House and Senate will need to work out the differences between their two plans, with the goal of getting a final budget bill to the governor by the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1.

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