Spring is finally here. And like the temperature, this is when things start to heat up on Beacon Hill. With a new state budget and spending priorities to debate and a July 31 deadline for passing lingering legislation, it will be a busy few months at the State House. While procrastination is often the norm for government, there are several important updates to share with you.
FLOOD INSURANCE: Our persistence and collaboration finally paid off. On March 21, 2014, President Obama signed the “Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act” (HFIA) into law. It repeals and fixes much of what we argued was wrong with the flood insurance changes passed by Congress in 2012. Basically, the “reset” button was hit to pre-2012 and any increases going forward have been capped. Specifically, HFIA repeals the property sales trigger requiring that buyers immediately pay the full-risk premium rate at the time of purchase. It restores “grandfathering” of rates under flood zones when properties were built to code and limits future increases to 18% annually for most properties (25% for older “Pre-FIRM” second homes and commercial properties). HFIA also calls for refunds for any premiums paid by property owners in excess of 18-25% increases. To make up the revenue, small assessments have been added to all policies.
TRANSPORTATION SPENDING: On March 17, I was appointed to my fourth ongoing Conference Committee when I was named to the Transportation Bond Bill Conference Committee. I had also been appointed to the Welfare Reform Conference Committee, the Mercury Management Conference Committee, and the Election Laws Reform Conference Committee. As a member of the Transportation Bond Committee, I worked to include funding for several important road and bridge projects in our district, including improvements to Route 3A and Route 53. Also included was a $300 million authorization for cities and towns to fund local road and bridge projects under Chapter 90. While I had hoped the legislation would have been brought up sooner to allow cities and towns to have the funding in place at the start of the public construction season, I am proud of the work we did on the Conference Committee to turn around a final bill in a little over three weeks. While not perfect, including some misguided projects I oppose, it’s overall a good investment on a lot of worthy projects that will improve our infrastructure, increase public safety and create many good jobs.
LOCAL AID: The good news is that for the first time since 2009, the legislature passed an early Local Aid resolution that will help cities and towns better plan their FY15 municipal budgets. The bad news is that cities and towns will see little additional help from the state. Frustratingly, it continues a trend that has seen state aid become less and less of a percentage of local revenues, has put more pressure to raise local taxes and fees.
Despite continued surging revenues and a FY15 budget based on 5% revenue growth, legislative leaders are only increasing the two main Local Aid accounts by 2.4%. The nominal Local Aid increase adopted by the Legislature means that five of the eight towns I represent will see a less than 2% increase in Local Aid. Statewide, the majority of school district will only receive the minimum $25 per pupil increase over the current fiscal year.
Compared to the original FY09 budget, Chapter 70 Education funding has risen just 1.8% annually on average. The five-year phase-in reforms of FY07 have yet to be fully implemented, leaving nearly 100 school districts without the full funding they were promised. In addition, Special Education funding has seen just 2% annual increase on average since FY09 and is currently underfunded by $28 million.
The state’s commitment to Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), to help cities and towns fund local police and fire departments, is even worse. UGGA is still 30% below FY09 levels. That represents $400 million taken from cities and town. Many smaller local aid accounts are also still below FY09 levels, including payments in lieu of taxes for state owned land (down 11%), Regional Public Libraries (down 44%), Municipal Public Libraries (down 32%), Regional School Transportation (down 16%), Charter School Reimbursements (down 6%), and Shannon Anti-Gang Grants (down 46%).
Several other state commitments to cities and towns have been gutted along the way as well, including the Quinn Bill for police officers, Water/Sewer rate relief, and Community Preservation matching funds.
And despite a sustained rebound in state revenues, Democrats have repeatedly shot down even the most modest attempts to increase Local Aid accounts. And in a sign of the arrogance that comes with one-party government, Democrats even passed a budget rule in the House that blocks any amendments or debate on Local Aid.
LINE-OF-DUTY DEATH BENEFITS: On April 7, The Senate passed a supplemental budget that included an increase in the state death benefit for a public safety officials killed in the line of duty. The amount had been $100,000 and not changed since 1994. The legislation increased the amount to $150,000. While money is no substitute for the tragic loss of heroes such as Lt. Walsh, Firefighter Kennedy and Police Officer Maloney, we hope it helps ease some of the financial burden placed on their families.
STUDENT GOVERNMENT DAY: The 67th Student Government Day was held on April 4 at the State House. Hundreds of high school students from across the Commonwealth came to participate in this hands-on civics lesson by taking part in a simulated legislative hearing as well as a simulated Joint Session of the legislature in the House Chamber. The students were elected by fellow classmates to travel to the State House to participate in the annual event.
Students were assigned roles in either the legislative, executive, or judicial branch to familiarize themselves with the various functions associated with the offices. Every high school in the commonwealth was invited to send two students in their junior or senior year to participate.
Eleven students from my district participated this year. Congratulations to Christian Cunnie and Timothy Cavanaro of Cohasset High School; Christopher Leaverton and Benjamin Caliendo of Duxbury High School; William Helfrich and Emily McPhillips of Hingham High School; Erin Smith and Sarah DeBenedictis of Norwell High School; Noel Maguire of Sacred Heart High School; and Patrick O’Brien and Marlaina Reidy of Scituate High School. I was pleased to provide them recognition for their efforts.
UI RATE FREEZE: On April 10, I joined my Senate colleagues in approving legislation to freeze unemployment insurance rates. The House approved the same measure two days earlier. The move will save small business owners from a $420 million increase.© Copyright 2014 Tanna Bk, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed