State budget passed

The final state budget for the coming fiscal year includes millions of dollars in cuts to preK-12 education and public higher education, but leaves municipal health insurance unchanged.

“We continue to be extremely concerned about the worsening condition of budgets for school districts and public higher education, but we are relieved that our preK-12 members have preserved their rights to bargain over health insurance,” MTA President Anne Wass said after the House and Senate voted on June 24.

The budget was presented to both branches by a conference committee appointed to hammer out differences between the House and Senate versions. The final $27.6 budget, signed by the governor on June 30, had to cut $687 million more than originally expected because the U.S. Senate has failed to extend a form of stimulus funding called the Federal Medical Assistance Program.

Senator Scott Brown is the only member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation opposed to extending the FMAP funding. The MTA joined other unions in organizing a rally outside Brown’s Boston office in Government Center Monday, June 28, to urge him to support those funds.

Rally photos on MTA's Facebook page.

“We badly need both the FMAP funds and new stimulus dollars targeted to education,” said Wass. “We are urging Senator Brown to do the right thing. We’re not out of this recession yet, and revenues are still weak. We continue to need substantial help from the federal government to save jobs, protect our public schools and colleges and maintain public safety, public health and other services that families and communities need to thrive.”

The budget identifies where funds will be restored if the FMAP monies are extended by Congress, including restoring $100 million to the rainy day fund, which is rapidly being depleted.

Even without the hoped for federal dollars, legislators voted to hold the line on making further deep cuts in education than had been proposed in the earlier House and Senate plans. The final cuts, as reflected in the conference committee version, reduced Chapter 70 funding by $116 million (about 3 percent), public higher education by $123 million (about 11 percent) and early childhood education and care by $32 million (about 6 percent).

Because the Chapter 70 cut was previously agreed to by both the House and Senate, school districts have been planning their own budgets and layoffs based on the final figure. The higher education funding is below the level previously approved by the Senate but slightly above the House budget level. The early education cut was deeper than contained in either the House budget or the Senate version.

The Senate had previously approved a plan for altering the municipal health insurance system to save municipalities money, but the House had not acted on that subject. The conference committee was unable to reach agreement on a plan and therefore decided not to include changes in municipal health in this budget.

It is anticipated that the Legislature will address the issue in the future, since reducing health care costs is a high priority for cities and towns grappling with an overall 4 percent reduction in local aid.

“The MTA will continue to look for solutions to the health insurance problem that are fair and affordable and that protect members’ collective bargaining rights,” Wass said.

Urge the Senate to pass the Keep Our Educators Working Act

Tell the Senate to Pass the "Tax Extenders" Bill
This important bill provides essential Medicaid funding (FMAP) relief for states to help ameliorate urgent budget crises that continues to weaken the economy, extends unemployment and benefits to help struggling families; and extends the deduction for educators' out-of-pocket classroom supply expenses.