Legislature Passes Balanced Fiscal Year 2013 Budget
Promotes Local Services, Workforce Training and Public Safety
BOSTON – On Thursday, the Legislature passed a $32.5 billion state budget for fiscal year 2013 (FY13). The spending plan prioritizes funding for cities and towns and commitments to reform and job creation. The budget does not contain any new taxes and uses a combination of ongoing revenue initiatives, one-time resources, and spending reductions and cuts to close a $1.4 billion budget gap, the smallest budget gap the state has had since FY08.
The budget restores some painful cuts from previous years and makes new targeted investments, leaving the state’s rainy day fund at $1.2 billion which, along with the Legislature’s prudent reforms and fiscal decisions in previous years, is responsible for the Commonwealth’s highest bond rating in history.
“This budget increases funding for education, our communities, and the services our most vulnerable residents rely on,” said Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “I am pleased that we were able to deliver a bipartisan, balanced, and fiscally responsible budget that supports our cities and towns and ensures we remain on a path for continued economic growth and job creation.”
The budget represents the Legislature’s continuing commitment to cities and towns, boosting investments in Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), Chapter 70, and the Special Education Circuit Breaker – the three largest sources of direct state aid to municipalities and school districts.
The budget increases funding for local aid by $288.9 million over FY12 projected spending, including $899 million for unrestricted local aid. In the budget,Chapter 70 funding is increased to $4.17 billion, ensuring that all school districts receive at least an additional $40 per pupil in aid.
Additionally, the budget fully funds the state’s obligation for the Special Education Circuit Breaker at $241.9 million, something Spilka has long fought for. This is the first time since FY08 that the Circuit Breaker has been fully funded, an important step to ensure that students with special needs receive the services and education they deserve.
The budget also calls for $11.3 million in funding for McKinney-Vento reimbursements, to help school districts with the costs incurred by a new federal mandate that requires schools to provide homeless students with transportation so that they can continue to attend their school district of origin.
It also includes an important investment championed by Spilka to increase funding for Regional Economic Development Organizations (REDOs) to $1 million. First established by Spilka’s Economic Development Reform Bill of 2010, these REDOs serve as the single point of contact in their area to support their communities, help existing businesses grow, and attract new investment to their regions.
The budget calls for increased oversight of community colleges, incorporating input from industry officials and vocational-technical schools to ensure they are best equipped to adapt to the changing job opportunities in the Commonwealth. Furthermore, it establishes the Office of Coordination within the Department of Higher Education to serve as a clearinghouse for all training opportunities provided by public higher education institutions.
The budget continues to improve public higher education resources and connects those resources to workforce needs across the state. New programs include Rapid Response to expedite the process of community colleges creating workforce training programs by targeting specific requests from employers, and a Degree Auditing System to more easily track credits and make it simpler for students to transfer from community colleges to state universities.
The budget also continues to prioritize essential services for our most vulnerable citizens. It maintains mental health services, ensuring all regions of the state have access to care, and increases funding for elder protective services, substance abuse services, independent living centers, and the department of veterans services.
Another investment championed by Spilka and included in the final budget is a $20 million Salary Reserve for human services workers to improve the hourly wage of nearly 31,500 low-paid direct care workers who are currently making less than $40,000 per year. The fund will give these vital and dedicated workers the first annualized salary increase since 2008.
“As a former social worker, I know how important it is to that we support these workers, who provide essential services on our behalf,” said Spilka. “This adjustment will help stabilize this vital but low-paid workforce which provides our most vulnerable citizens, including our children, our elders, and our disabled with the assistance they need to attain the highest possible quality of life.”
In addition to those mentioned above, Spilka successfully advocated for a number of programs and provisions that were incorporated into the budget agreement, including:
- $1.5 million in funding for the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Pipeline;
- $45.5 million for Regional School Transportation, providing districts with a 59.6% reimbursement rate;
- 10% increase in funding for the state’s Veteran Outreach Centers, including 30,000 for the Natick Veterans’ Oral History Project;
- $25 million for the Community Preservation Trust Fund;
- Authorizing municipalities to transition to secure electronic billing to collect taxes, which has proven to save cities and towns money and time;
- $75,000 for the Women’s Veterans Network to ensure women veterans receive the proper benefits and care once they return home from their service;
- $7 million for the state’s regional transportation authorities, including the MetroWest RTA, through a $3.5 million one-time funding increase and a permanent $3.5 million increase in the base budget for these authorities; and
- $200,000 for equipment and improvements to the planetarium at the McAuliffe Challenger Learning Center at Framingham State University.
To increase public safety, the budget closes a drunk-driving loophole that was exposed by a recent Supreme Judicial Court ruling. The language enhances penalties for repeat drunk drivers and ensures that individuals who are convicted, have a case continued without a finding, or are assigned to an alcohol or controlled substance program are subject to penalties for repeat drunk driving offenses.
In addition, the budget improves the state’s ability to investigate and reduce public benefit fraud. The budget makes a number of enhancements to the state’s direct cash assistance system (EBT), including but not limited to the following:
- Restricting access to cash by providing benefits in the form of vendor payments for rent and utilities when assistance is not used properly, taking effect six months after a commission looking at transitioning to a cashless system and implementing direct vendor payments issues a feasibility and cost report;
- Expanding the list of restricted items that cash assistance benefits cannot be used for including alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets, pornography, firearms, ammunition, tattoos, body piercings, manicures, jewelry, gambling, cruise ships, fees, fines, bail or bail bonds; and
- Providing for a new State Police Public Benefit Fraud Unit to pursue cases where benefits intended to help our neediest families are being misused.
The smart investments in this budget reflect the Legislature’s dedication to funding programs that are effective and efficient while demonstrating fiscal prudence. By targeting limited resources toward education, municipal services, and programs for our neediest residents, the budget ensures that the Commonwealth will be prepared for the future.
The budget now goes to the Governor for his approval.