(STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE) – In next week’s annual budget proposal, Gov. Charlie Baker will call for a $91 million increase in education local aid, and a $40 million boost in unrestricted local aid to cities and towns.
The combined $131 million increase in the two main local aid accounts compares to a more than $158 million increase in the two accounts in this year’s state budget. Baker announced his plans at an annual meeting in Boston hosted by mayors, selectmen and other municipal officials. On Wednesday, Baker is due to reveal all the details of his budget plan, which may be the first in state history to top $40 billion.
With unemployment at a 16-year low and job creation continuing, Baker and Democratic legislative leaders are counting on state tax collections to pick up and deliver a 3.9 percent increase in fiscal 2018, which begins on July 1, 2017. According to the administration, Baker’s proposed increase in unrestricted aid, which pays for non-education local services such as public safety, matches the 3.9 percent rate of growth projected for state tax revenues.
The $91 million increase in Chapter 70 education aid would raise that account to more than $4.7 billion and deliver an increase of at least $20 per pupil to all of the state’s 322 school districts. Chapter 70 aid and local property taxes are the chief sources of funding for K-12 education in Massachusetts.
“We are committed to investing in our cities and towns to support their efforts to drive our Commonwealth’s economic growth, and prepare our children for a successful future,” Baker said in a statement.
While the administration described its recommended Chapter 70 funding level as “historic,” others added context for an account that grows to new highs each year, but is the subject of constant debate over its sufficiency.
According to Mike LeBrasseur, a Northbridge School Committee member, the Chapter 70 increase is the lowest since fiscal 2011. He tweeted Saturday that the Legislature “will need to do some work here!” Tweeting “need your help,” LeBrasseur immediately contacted Sens. Michael Moore and Ryan Fattman and Rep. David Muradian.
In this year’s state budget, Chapter 70 aid rose by more than $116 million, or 2.6 percent, and unrestricted aid by $42 million, or 4.3 percent, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.
The foundation predicted in December that funding in the two accounts combined would rise by between $100 million and $150 million in next year’s budget, which will likely be wrapped up this summer after the House and Senate reconcile versions of the budget based on the bill to be filed by Baker.
On Twitter Saturday, Gov. Baker used the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s annual meeting hashtag #MassMuni17 and wrote, “We’ll continue to work across the aisle with local & legislative partners to ensure the access, trust & reliability you deserve.”
In November 2015, the Foundation Budget Review Commission issued a report calling for updates to how the state calculates the per pupil cost of delivering education, saying the current system’s starting point — known as the foundation budget — underestimates the cost of educating students by at least $1 billion per year.
The state Senate last year passed legislation calling for major new investments in public education, citing the work of the commission. The bill died without a vote in the House, but the debate will be rekindled this year.
After announcing an $8.8 million municipal grant package on Friday, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito tweeted, “Local officials, you’ll always have a responsive state government & seat at the table – our resources are yours to be shared.”
The education debate will be accentuated this year by a new bill from Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, who wants to use existing tourism taxes collected in Boston to pay for free pre-kindergarten to all four-year-olds in the city.
The governor’s full budget will include price caps aimed at slowing health care cost increases in the commercial market and a new assessment to generate $300 million from employers with 11 or more workers who do not offer health insurance, the News Service reported this week.
The annual assessment of $2,000 per full-time worker would help the state to meeting the rising costs of MassHealth, a nearly $16 billion a year insurance program that provides coverage to nearly 2 million people in Massachusetts.
The Baker administration is preparing to deal with a $600 million increase in required spending on MassHealth in fiscal 2018 due to enrollment growth as the percentage of residents receiving MassHealth as their primary coverage has grown from 16 percent to 21 percent, or more than 523,000 enrollees, since 2011.
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