House to consider budget
Unfortunately, H4900 -- the House Ways and Means FY07 budget proposal -- does little to reverse the cuts to preK-12 education that were made earlier in the decade. It also provides for less funding than House 2. While public higher education sees an increase over the governor's proposal, funding for our colleges and the University are still $319 million below FY01, after adjusting for inflation.H4900 does increase local aid by $162.6 million by uncapping lottery aid and increasing PILOT aid, though the PILOT increase is not as much as proposed in House 2. The House Ways and Means proposal rejected the unwise Romney/Healey tax cut that would have taken $610 million over three years out of the revenue stream at a time when schools have not been able to restore programs and have seen increases in class sizes as a result of cuts made to education in recent years.
The proposal to increase Chapter 70 -- state aid to school districts -- by $91 million (2.8 percent) over FY06 still leaves Chapter 70 $473 million below FY01, when enrollment and inflation are taken into account. One hundred thirty-two operating districts (40 percent) will see no increase in funding, which puts additional pressure to increase property taxes at the local level to fund schools.
Grants and reimbursements, while being 4 percent higher than in FY06, still leave key programs either not funded or funded at lower levels than they were in FY02. These include, among others, class size reduction, school transportation, MCAS remediation and early literacy programs. There were, however, increases in key programs such as regional school transportation and full-day kindergarten. Wisely, H4900 did not support funding some of the educationally questionable programs that the Romney/Healey administration had proposed.
Public Higher Education
By increasing funding for higher education by $43 million over FY06, H4900 is moving in the right direction by recognizing the important role that public colleges and the University play in the economy of the state. Overall, this is a 4.4 percent increase, though still 24 percent below FY01 after taking inflation into account.
Unfortunately, while increasing funding for public higher education, H4900 proposes to decrease the paycheck of higher education employees as well as other state employees. For state employees hired before July 1, 2003, and making over $40,000 their share of health insurance premiums jumps from 15 percent to 20 percent.
While MTA is supportive of a number of the 1,600 amendments that were filed to H4900, there are three that MTA believes are extremely important. These proposals are affordable, since tax revenues are coming in at levels considerably higher than projected estimates.
Passage of two amendments are needed to ensure that all schools have adequate resources for children to succeed while also including resources to help narrow the achievement gap.
• The first is #704, offered by Reps. Robert Spellane, John Scibak, David Linsky and others makes modest changes to the foundation budget and provides all districts with additional funds in an equitable manner. This amendment provides for an increase over baseline of $204 million in FY07.
• The second, #1337, filed by Reps. Spellane, Scibak, Linsky and Fresolo, uncaps the Chapter 70 inflation index to accurately reflect the cost of state and local government purchases. This increases Chapter 70 for FY07 by an additional $50 million.
There are numerous amendments to increase Chapter 70 funding. MTA is concerned that some of these amendments would undo the underlying rationale of the current formula and are not consistent with the constitutional underpinnings of the 1993 McDuffy decision. Both of the amendments described above satisfy SJC requirements.
• In addition, MTA believes that most state employees should not see their health insurance premiums increased by over 33 percent and strongly urges support of an amendment to undo this increase. Moreover, GIC rates are increasing by a modest seven percent while an estimated FY06 GIC "surplus" of about $20 million can be applied to pay for the entire cost of this amendment. MTA urges support for amendment #1315 filed by Rep. Martin Walsh and others to restore the health insurance premium share for state employees to 15 percent from the proposed 20 percent.