Amendments to Senate Ways and Means Budget Proposal SB 2004
The following bulletin was delivered to members of the Massachusetts Senate on May 28.
MTA remains deeply concerned that the Legislature at this time has chosen to reject any increase in taxes. The deep cuts in public education, pre-K through graduate school, that result from this decision erode the commitment to provide quality education to our Commonwealth's students.
In examining the almost 600 amendments, it is clear that attempts were made by Senate sponsors to put money into the education programs that were cut or eliminated. The Senate rules made it difficult to draft amendments without taking money away from other accounts. However, the solution is not to take money from other programs but to increase revenues to provide adequate resources to meet the state's obligation to its citizens.
Despite the constraints on offering amendments due to limited revenues, there are amendments that MTA believes will help students and educators. Unfortunately, there are also amendments that would further erode public education, employee benefits and the collective bargaining law.
Public higher education has seen enormous funding cuts in the past three years -- an 8.5% cut from FY01-FY03 and now another 12.3% cut is being proposed. The Senate Ways and Means' budget adopted the Governor's proposal to allow campuses to retain their tuitions. MTA has historically been opposed to this for fear that a temporary decline in enrollment could hamper overall fiscal stability. Many higher education employees have gone almost three years without funding for their contracts and now are being asked to take what will amount to a pay decrease if their share of health insurance premiums is increased. MTA supports any attempts to retain the current split in health insurance premium contributions.
Our public schools have made progress in the past decade, in part as a result of the increase in state funding under Chapter 70. Current funding cuts risk undoing this progress. While the funding cut in Chapter 70 is less than that proposed by the House, many communities will still face a 15% cut. The overall cut is approximately 4%, making this the first time in a decade that the state has not increased funding to local school districts. Although Senate Ways and Means recognized the importance of continuing some of the successful categorical grant programs such as the class size reduction program, unfortunately, early literacy grants and school transportation were cut or eliminated leaving school districts to bear these additional costs.
MTA supports amendments that postpone the MCAS test for special education students and for other students. MTA also supports a charter school moratorium preventing further draining of needed resources from our public schools.
These amendments, while important improvements in the current proposal, do not go far enough to address the severe cuts in education funding.
Finally, but very important, MTA opposes amendments that undermine the collective bargaining rights of employees.
The MTA is also urging Senate support of Sen. Rosenberg's amendment to fund signed but so far unfunded state employee contracts by creating a collective bargaining reserve. The funds contained in that reserve would come from revenues collected that exceed projected revenues for each quarter. Those reserve funds would then be used to fund those contracts signed prior to December 31, 2001.
This amendment is particularly important for several thousand of our members at the University of Massachusetts and in the state colleges.