MTA calls state budget ‘positive,’ but more is needed next year

MTA calls state budget ‘positive,’ but more is needed next year

The MTA described the fiscal 2021 budget approved by the Legislature today as “positive for education given the challenging economic circumstances,” but said that next year the Legislature must begin implementing the Student Opportunity Act, increasing funding for public higher education and providing resources that families and communities need to cope with the risks and disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic.

Passage of a final budget was delayed for months because the pandemic upended fiscal projections and there has been a lot of uncertainty. The state functioned on month-to-month budgets until Governor Charlie Baker proposed a plan to cover the remainder of the fiscal year. The final version approved by both the House and Senate today follows the outlines of the governor’s budget while generally going with the higher levels for education in reconciling differences among the versions.

The new budget provides level-funding-plus in Chapter 70 aid to public school districts, but less than would have been allocated under the first year of the Student Opportunity Act. The act, approved in 2019, was designed to phase in more than $1.5 billion in new aid over seven years starting in the current fiscal year, FY21. Most of the new funding is targeted to districts serving high percentages of low-income students.

Where public higher education is concerned, the Legislature also level-funded services, which was a relief because that line item is often cut when state funds are tight. The battle to maintain staffing and services has largely been fought on certain individual campuses, where layoffs and furloughs were implemented. With this level of funding, cuts, furloughs and layoffs are not necessary.

In the budget battles for FY22, which begins July 1, the MTA expects the Legislature to keep its promise to fund the SOA. In addition, the MTA and allies will call on the Legislature to commit to increasing funds for public higher education to sustain services and staffing levels and reduce costs for students, many of whom are burdened by excessive debt.

The new budget does not include any new taxes, though it does delay one tax cut for wealthy individuals that was scheduled to go into effect and would have made the state’s fiscal situation worse. The MTA and other members of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition are continuing to advocate for new taxes on profitable corporations and wealthy investors, many of whom have made record financial gains during the coronavirus pandemic.