Two weeks ago, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a FY13 budget proposal that returns to cities and towns much of the increased state revenues that have been generated by a stronger state economy. Later this month, the State Senate will pass its version of the budget, and the after the two legislative versions are reconciled in June, a final budget will be sent to the Governor for his signature, likely before the start of the FY13 on July 1.
Each year, my top priority has been to increase local aid to the communities that I am proud to represent, and this year my colleagues and I in the House proposed to increase local aid funding in several ways to help lessen the burden of the recession on municipalities:
- Increased Chapter 70 education funds for towns and cities by $164 million to over $4 billion, which means hundreds of thousands of dollars more than last year for Lincoln, Sudbury, and Wayland;
- Increased special education funds by $8 million to over $221 million;
- Devoted funds for the first time to municipalities to offset the unfunded federal mandate called McKinney-Vento, which requires towns and cities to transport homeless students to school;
- Increased the funding available for the statewide Community Preservation Act Fund, which in November will lead to more state aid flowing to towns and cities. The CPA law of 2000 has helped municipalities support local needs, such as historical preservation, preservation of open space, and recreation.
We also level-funded unrestricted local aid at $899 million, regional school transportation at $45 million, and gave a 50 percent increase, to $1.5 million, for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). As the House liaison to the Governor’s STEM Council, I have been championing this funding for the past three years.
STEM funding will increase student interest, job creation, and our economic competitiveness in these fields in the future.
In a demonstration of the House’s commitment to serving elders and the disabled, this budget also preserves programs such as elder nutrition, enhanced home care services and elder protective services, supports for families of the developmentally disabled and makes investments in the areas of transportation and Turning 22. These significant investments ensure there will be a continuum of services to these vulnerable populations.
All of the above line item increases were included in the House Ways & Means Committee budget bill prior to our floor debate because so many of my colleagues and I supported these programs as top priorities. But many other line items did not fare so well in the committee’s bill. Thus, I offered or supported many amendments to the budget, in part because of the advocacy of many of you and in part because many important programs were cut substantially during the recession. I am glad that several of these amendments were approved with additional funding, as follows:
- $1.5 million for METCO, which is a form of state aid to each METCO town, including Lincoln, Sudbury, and Wayland;
- $5.2 million in job opportunities for at risk youth who need a chance to climb out of the cycle of crime and violence that too often plagues their neighborhoods;
- $100,000 for mentoring grants so that young adults can learn from established professionals how to chart a successful career path at work;
- $1 million for additional legal aid for the poor, dozens of whom live in Wayland or Sudbury;
- $1.3 million for early intervention services for infants up to age 3, so their development delays can be overcome, and in many instances, to preclude their need for special education services in our public schools;
- $1.1 million for additional college student loans for our Massachusetts-resident college students; and
- $1.5 million for the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which supports job creation in the arts and creative industry.
Despite these amendment increases, many of these essential programs are still not funded at levels that existed prior to the recession. I remain hopeful that as the economy continues to improve, your state government can reaffirm its commitment to these types of programs and services.
And in a nod to the Governor’s interest in reforming the state community college system, this budget also helps our community colleges respond to the changing needs of Massachusetts and its residents, particularly in workforce development and continued higher education. The House budget includes increased coordination among the 15 separate community colleges and the Board of Higher Education in order to provide flexibility to adapt to new opportunities for the Commonwealth. At the same time, the House budget proposes to retain local involvement in the administration of the schools, which has been a critical part of the success of our community colleges.
My next column will discuss the recently released health care payment reform bill, which I have been working on under the leadership of Steven Walsh, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, of which I am the vice-chair. If you have questions or comments on the House budget, or want to add your thoughts and ideas to improve the healthcare bill, please feel free to contact me.
Tom Conroy is state representative for the 13th Middlesex District (Lincoln, Sudbury, and Wayland) and can be reached at Thomas.Conroy@MAHouse.gov or 617-722-2430.