By: Karin Rhoton – June, 2012
Somehow the rhetoric never changes, even though the calendar does. Another year has gone by and still the taxpayers of Massachusetts continue to fund pet projects of politicians instead of funding services and programs for the communities in which they live. Still the taxpayers have not seen the roll back to 5% income tax. Still the tax payers see local aid cut. Still the legislature is passing unfunded mandates, while at the same time proclaiming that there is no such thing.
Why, this very week the pols of Beacon Hill passed a bill that will allow 16 and 17 year olds to ‘pre-register’ to vote. This was in complete defiance of the Massachusetts Town and City Clerks Association. Even though there was testimony stating that keeping the 16 and 17 year olds off of the voting list could not be guaranteed – in fact it’s pretty much a guarantee that the names will be on the voting list – the bill passed. However, an amendment pushing for voters to present an ID proving they live in the district in which they live – failed.
The Legislature requires every public school system to provide services for special education needs. Special Education costs is an issue which many school districts struggle as expenses can be exorbitant and can come quite unexpectedly. Lawmakers passed a measure to reimburse extraordinary expenses at a certain percentage each year, capped at 75%. However, over the years, that has dwindled. 40% for FY10, 30% for FY11. That is no where near what has been promised. For a community like Methuen, this can mean between $700,000 to over $1.2M per year in lost funding. That’s a big chunk of cash for Methuen to have to find somewhere else in the budget.
Chapter 70 Aid – better known as funding for public education – continues to be a target for reduction at the state level. Yet the legislature underfunds their own standard to more than one third of the communities in the state. The flawed formula that has been used for going on thirty years undercuts many communities in the Merrimack Valley. But even knowing this, the legislature would rather continue on the same path instead of fixing the problem. Methuen continues to be told to carry the same level of public education but with less money.
Every year we hear promises from the State House, quickly followed by the warnings of “don’t expect too much this year” or “we’ve had to make some tough budget decisions”. And what does the tax payer get? Cuts to local aid which result in lower staffing levels for our police and fire departments, road repairs put off, senior center programs being cut or staffing levels reduced. Somehow the money that gets sent to Beacon Hill never makes it back to Methuen. Don’t the people of Methuen know how to spend the money better than the politicians on Beacon Hill do? Put the money back in the hands of those who live in Methuen, as they will make better choices – and it won’t go to six figure salaries for MBTA administration.
It is time for the State House to recognize that the local municipalities know their communities better than the politicians at the State House. Keep the dollars local and have local officials vote on the local needs of the community. We all see that the state budget continues to outpace revenues and fixed costs, and that the State has seriously depleted the ‘Rainy Day Fund’. All we can hope for now is that it better stop raining.