By: Senator Diana DiZoglio 0 11-22
Hello Valley Patriot Readers,
State assistance is crucial when it comes to supporting the finances of our cities and towns across Massachusetts.
Funding for education, general aid and reimbursements support more than a fifth of budgets for our communities and, for some cities and towns, state aid is the most significant revenue category of all. Additional assistance comes from a host of grant problems, with the state helping communities to invest in water and sewer systems, schools, libraries, and other important municipal services.
Even with all of this assistance, however, there are commitments under state law not entirely kept by the Commonwealth. State law prohibits unfunded mandates, requiring the Legislature to fund anything it requires cities and towns to do but, all too often, these obligations are ignored. For instance, the Legislature has a history of appropriating only a portion of funds to cover mandated expenses for school transportation. This is simply unacceptable.
Recently, Auditor Suzanne Bump released a new report identifying a significant shortfall – $1.26 billion – between state funding and actual municipal spending on existing programs that are required by the state. The report, which highlights gaps in state aid for education, school transportation, veterans benefits and other critical services for our cities and towns, is a testament to the substantial financial pressures municipalities are facing.
An area with especially significant expenses is special education, with the state paying nearly $350 million for the special education circuit breaker to reimburse communities with high special education expenses. According to the Auditor’s report, however, that level of funding still leaves another $400 million to be covered by the school districts themselves.
With recent increases in local aid to cities and towns, we are undoubtedly making some progress in providing our municipalities with the resources they sorely need. There remains, however, much work to be done in addressing the burden of unfunded mandates. Funding must be prioritized in these critical areas, which may require some difficult but necessary choices.
The state must be accountable in meeting its funding obligations to cities and towns. It is imperative we make it a priority to eliminate these shortfalls so that our communities can deliver essential services, balance their budget, and reduce their reliance on property taxes.
If you have any questions on this or any other issue, please feel free to contact me anytime via email at Diana.Dizoglio@masenate.gov or phone at 978-984-7747.
Yours in service,