Unity in uncertain times

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From The Beacon, January 2013

By the time you read this, the “fiscal cliff” deadline will have come and gone – and the drama in Washington will likely have fallen onto a “fiscal shelf,” with some intermediate compromise or delay that will merely continue the uncertainty and political machinations, probably adding the question of extending the nation’s debt ceiling into the debate, clouding the picture even more.

There’s a lot at stake for cities and towns in Massachusetts, including the potential loss of nearly $90 million in federal funding for local and community priorities through across-the-board spending cuts, the future of tax-exempt municipal bonds, which finance vital local and school infrastructure projects, and the overall stability of federal-municipal relations.

Adding to the uncertainty is the looming issue of mid-year cuts that were announced in December by Gov. Deval Patrick to close a $540 million hole in the state’s fiscal 2013 budget. While the administration was able to unilaterally implement $225 million in cuts to state agency accounts, including $28.75 million to key local aid accounts, they have also asked the Legislature to approve a further $9 million cut in unrestricted local aid, along with other budget-balancing steps. The MMA is opposing that cut because, in addition to absorbing the $28.75 million cut already announced last month, communities have experienced a loss of $416 million in municipal aid since 2009, a 32 percent cut. Cities and towns are doing their part to balance the state budget, and opening direct unrestricted aid up mid-year would present another burden.

The Legislature will convene a new two-year session, and one of the first items that will be considered, after bills are filed and assigned to committees, will be the governor’s request for expanded 9C authority to cut unrestricted municipal aid. We are hopeful that the House and Senate will oppose the $9 million cut, but until that time local officials will not know with certainty what their fiscal 2013 local aid will be.

These federal and state fiscal developments are just two excellent examples of why it is so important for municipal officials to stand together and demand answers. Left alone, the Hills (Capitol and Beacon) naturally focus most of their energy on the DC Beltway or the State House, but we can gather and rally to ensure that cities and towns are at the table and in the middle of the debate.

In fact, your leadership is why the cities and towns of Massachusetts have been able to weather the economic storms of the past several years and lay the foundation for stronger, more prosperous localities from the Berkshires to Boston, from Cape Cod to Cape Ann, and everywhere in between.

United under the MMA umbrella, local leaders stand as a powerful coalition to advance and address the needs of our communities and dedicated to making Massachusetts an even better place for our residents, families, businesses and taxpayers.

As we have highlighted at past Annual Meetings and in our advocacy work every single day, cities and towns are essential to Massachusetts’ economic prosperity and to our competitive success in an increasingly global marketplace. Local services create the high quality of life we need to attract and retain people, families, workers and businesses to our state. We cannot forget this, even in the midst of uncertain times.

When cities and towns gather together and stand united, we can overcome any challenge and solve otherwise intractable problems.

And speaking of gathering together, we have just that kind of opportunity around the corner. On Jan. 25 and 26, more than 1,000 local leaders will gather at the MMA’s Annual Meeting to learn, connect and act. We’ll have the latest information on federal and state budget and policy proposals, a score of workshops on new and fundamental issues (from medical marijuana to budgets and everything in between), and major forums on emerging issues that will shape Massachusetts for years to come.

So start the New Year off on the right foot. Register today and circle Jan. 25 and 26 on your calendar, because you can be certain about one thing: the MMA’s Annual Meeting will provide clarity, insight, energy and direction for 2013.

We’ll have the latest information on the fiscal cliff, the fiscal shelf, the prospect of 9C cuts, the outlook for fiscal 2014, and much more. Plus, you’ll be able to network with interesting leaders and practitioners, see old friends and colleagues, meet new ones, and make our coalition more vibrant than ever.

We look forward to seeing you there!