MMA chief: Baker plan insufficient to maintain school services


BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – While taking issue with Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposed education budget, the head of the group that represents Massachusetts cities and towns said Tuesday that the state’s first slot parlor should spin off more than enough money to fund the governor’s proposed increase in unrestricted local aid.

Plainridge Park Casino will generate $86.7 million to $118.5 million, Massachusetts Municipal Association Executive Director Geoffrey Beckwith told lawmakers Tuesday, noting the funds are required to flow into a local aid account. The slots parlor is set to open June 24. The Baker administration budgeted $87 million in gaming revenue from the slots facility in its fiscal 2016 budget.

The group representing cities and towns backed Baker’s proposed $34 million, 3.6 percent increase in unrestricted local aid at a hearing before the House and Senate Ways and Means committees, which met at Greenfield Community College Tuesday.

“The governor’s increase would be a return to the concept of revenue sharing,” said Beckwith, who was more critical of Baker’s proposed a minimum $20-per-student increase in local education funding.

Baker’s budget would increase local education funding, also known as Chapter 70, by $105.3 million. The funds are sent to cities and towns based on a formula.

Beckwith pushed for a $100-per-student minimum increase, calling it “clearly achievable” with state revenues forecast to rise 4.8 percent. He said in his testimony that Baker’s proposal is an “insufficient amount to maintain current school staffing and services.”

In his testimony, Beckwith said cities and towns are “more reliant on the property tax to fund essential services than at any time in the past thirty years.”

North Adams Councilor Lisa Blackmer said rural towns are left to police state parks, which she said are some of her favorite places.

“A lot of the parks aren’t even staffed anymore,” said Blackmer.

Greenfield Mayor William Martin said any increase in state funding to cities and towns would relieve the burden on property owners.

Orleans Selectman David Dunford, who is the president of the municipal association, said his town aimed to avoid layoffs by foregoing needed upgrades to buildings and water infrastructure.

“It was tough to cut personnel. We don’t want to do that,” Dunford said.

The municipal leaders also called for increases that help pay for special education needs and school transportation costs.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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