July 9th 2015 Boston – Representative David Muradian (R-Grafton) joined with his colleagues in approving a $38.1 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2016 that holds the line on taxes, increases local aid to cities and towns and implements key transportation reforms at the MBTA. The budget passed the House of Representatives on a vote of 153-1.
The final budget includes a $4.5 billion allocation for Chapter 70 education aid, which represents an increase of $111.2 million, or 2.5 percent, over the current year. Unrestricted general government aid, which helps fund many other essential municipal services, will see an increase of $34 million, bringing the statewide total to $979.8 million, an increase of 3.6 percent over current levels.
In the budget, the Town of Grafton will receive $10,650,490 in Chapter 70 aid along with $1,441,388 in unrestricted general government aid (UGGA), Northbridge will receive $15,275,081 in Chapter 70 aid and $1,945,911 in UGGA, and Upton will receive $19,248 in from Chapter 70 and $490,809 from UGGA. Also in this budget, Nipmuc Regional High School will receive $12,131,581 in Chapter 70 funding.
The budget also includes $5,000,000 secured by Representative Muradian for the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tuft’s University. Being the only dedicated veterinary school in the Commonwealth, the Grafton campus is vital to the 9th Worcester District as well as Massachusetts as a whole. Representative Muradian was also able to secure $25,000 in dedicated funding for salt remediation in the Town of Upton.
The budget calls for significant increases in reimbursements to cities and towns to help offset the costs associated with special education and regional school transportation services. The special education reimbursement, also known as the Circuit Breaker, is funded at $271.7 million, an increase of 7.2 percent, or $18.3 million, over this year, a level that fully funds the state’s share of special education aid for local school districts at 75 percent. Regional School Transportation will see a 14.6 percent increase, bringing the statewide total to $59 million, up $7.5 million from the current year.
An additional $80.5 million has been set aside for Charter School Reimbursements to cities and towns. This represents an increase of $3.6 million, or 4.7 percent, over current reimbursement levels.
The budget also appropriated $18,589,713 that level funds the Kindergarten Expansion Grant program which replaces the amount cut by Governor Baker in February. These grants will help to continue quality enhancements of towns and cities that already have existing full-day kindergarten, and will expand other cities’ and towns’ programs from half-day to full-day programs. Representative Muradian was a strong advocate for replacing these funds.
For the first time in 8 years, the budget does not rely on a draw down from the state Stabilization Fund, or “rainy day fund” for balance. It also includes no new taxes, but does provide for an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from 15 percent of the federal award to 23 percent of the federal award, effective January 1, 2016.
The current state EITC award ranges from $74.40 – which is available to qualifying single heads of household with a federal adjusted gross income of $14,590 and married couples filing jointly with an adjusted gross income of $20,020 – to a high of $921.45 for single heads of household with 3 or more children and an adjusted gross income of $46,997, as well as married couples filing jointly with 3 or more children and an adjusted gross income of $52,427. With the increase included in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget, the allowable state credit cap will now range from a low of $114.08 to a high of $1,412.89, based on the same family size and income guidelines.
The Fiscal Year 2016 budget also contains several key transportation reforms that have been endorsed by Governor Charlie Baker and the House Republican Caucus to put the MBTA back on solid financial footing and to ensure proper oversight of the authority’s operations moving forward. In addition to allowing the Secretary of Transportation the authority to hire an MBTA general manager and expanding the MassDOT Board of Directors from 7 to 11 members appointed by the Governor, the budget also creates a 5- member Fiscal Management Control Board that will remain in place until June 30, 2018. The budget contains provisions that would allow the Fiscal Management Control Board to continue for an additional two years, if the board and the Governor determine that it would be “in the best interest of the public and necessary to achieve operational stability and to establish performance metrics for the MBTA.”
One of the most significant transportation reforms included in the budget is a three-year suspension of the privatization law, which is a compromise from the Governor’s initial request of a five-year suspension. The Governor has stated that suspending this law will provide the MBTA with more flexibility in determining whether certain operations can be outsourced at a savings to the state’s taxpayers. The Inspector General would then review outsourcing contracts once they are complete.
“I am pleased to have joined my colleagues in the House in this nearly unanimous vote for the FY16 budget,” stated Representative Muradian. “Being a part of this process was exciting to say the least, and the final product is something that I feel we can all be proud
of: a solution to a $1.8 billion deficit that invested in public education, local aid, and helped reform the MBTA, all without raising taxes on the people of Massachusetts.”
Finally, the budget requires the passage of a special act of the Legislature before any public funds can be spent to benefit the proposed 2024 Boston Olympics.
The budget, which was also enacted by the Senate, now heads to Governor Charlie Baker for his review. Governor Baker has until July 18 to sign the budget or return it to the Legislature with any vetoes.