BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – The House and Senate are now in unanimous agreement on increasing two major local aid accounts by $125 million in the fiscal year 2015 budget, having rejected Republican efforts to deliver higher levels of funding to cities and towns.
“Getting a local aid formula, early local aid resolution done in time requires certain agreements between the House and the Senate,” said Senate Ways and Means Chairman Stephen Brewer during debate Thursday afternoon.
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr attempted to make the resolution a floor rather than a fixed amount, but that idea was rejected along with all other amendments.
Brewer said it was the first time since fiscal year 2009 that the Legislature had adopted a local aid resolution, providing more certainty to cities and towns. The resolution is non-binding by definition.
A House Ways and Means Committee staffer said the resolution reflects an agreement between the House and Senate on final Chapter 70 and unrestricted local aid numbers for fiscal 2015. The resolution lacks the legal effect of statute, but the accord will allow “predictability for municipalities as they begin crafting their individual budgets,” said staffer Katherine Holahan in an email.
In general, as the House and Senate make their own draft of the budget before finally reconciling the two versions, usually in time for the July 1 start of the fiscal year, cities and towns scramble for the best information to use as a basis for their own budgets – many of which are passed by spring town meetings.
“Some districts that are economically disadvantaged get most of their budget from the state,” said Massachusetts Association of School Committees Executive Director Glenn Koocher. He said school committees would be watching to see how lawmakers handle separate items such as special education “circuit breaker” relief, regional transportation and the dwindling of federal Race to the Top money.
The resolution matches the education funding level Gov. Deval Patrick proposed in January while boosting unrestricted local aid by $25 million. Patrick level-funded unrestricted local aid.
The resolution provides $4.4 billion in Chapter 70 money and $945.7 million in unrestricted local aid.
In lopsided votes, the Senate rejected six Republican amendments, including one that would require local aid to make up 15 percent of the budget – which Tarr said was the case in the fiscal year 2014 budget. A day after a unanimous House vote, the Senate approved the resolution 38-0.