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In budget tease, Baker details local aid

  • Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposed increase in education money includes $15 million for school districts that have seen an influx of students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after last year’s hurricanes. SHNS photo



State House News Service
Friday, January 19, 2018

The annual budget proposal Gov. Charlie Baker plans to file next week will call for a general local aid increase of $37.2 million over this year, and an almost $119 million hike in education aid to cities and towns.

Baker disclosed the first details of his local aid plan at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Municipal Association at the Hynes Convention Center, drawing applause from the crowd of mayors, selectmen and town administrators.

Legislative and administration budget writers agreed earlier this month that they expect state tax revenues to rise by 3.5 percent, and Baker said the increase in unrestricted local aid — which would bring the total to about $1.1 billion in fiscal 2019 — will match that growth.

Unrestricted aid and K-12 school aid are the largest sources of state aid to cities and towns and supplement property taxes to provide funding for local government services, including public safety, education, and other services.

The Legislature could increase Baker’s proposed local aid spending recommendations in the coming months, but lawmakers are unlikely to reduce them.

When Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito were running for office, they pledged to match local aid increases to the growth in state tax collections.

Now seeking reelection, Baker told the municipal officials that he and Polito had “not only lived up to that over the past few years, but we’ve exceeded it” by not pushing down local aid numbers when revenue estimates faltered.

At the beginning of the fiscal 2018 budget-building process, budget writers projected a 3.9 percent growth in state tax revenue, but after revenue expectations were revised downward, the $39.4 billion budget Baker ultimately signed increased overall state spending by 1.7 percent.

“We did not come back to the cities and towns, because you built your budgets, you made decisions and we made commitments to you based on that,” he said. “I know historically many administrations before us, when the shoe got kind of tight, would constantly go back to cities and towns looking for more money. We never did that.”

According to Baker’s office, the newly proposed $118.6 million increase in education money — which will bump the total to $4.865 billion — includes $103.6 million in Chapter 70 schools aid and $15 million in additional aid for school districts that have seen an influx of students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after last year’s hurricanes.

As of Jan. 5, 2,400 students who evacuated Puerto Rico had enrolled in Massachusetts K-12 schools, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. About 85 percent of those students are attending schools in 12 districts: Boston, Chicopee, Fall River, Fitchburg, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, New Bedford, Southbridge, Springfield and Worcester.