Yesterday I joined my colleagues in the Legislature to enact a $32.5 billion state budget for fiscal year 2013 (FY13). The spending plan prioritizes funding for cities and towns and commitments to reform and job creation. I am proud to support a budget that does not contain any new taxes and uses a combination of ongoing revenue initiatives, one-time resources and spending reductions to close a $1.4 billion budget gap, the smallest budget gap the state has had since FY08.
The budget restores some painful cuts from previous years and makes new targeted investments, while leaving the state’s rainy day fund at $1.2 billion which, along with careful spending and targeted reform, is responsible for the Commonwealth’s highest bond rating in history.
I am proud to announce that budget represents the Legislature’s continued commitment to cities and towns, boosting investments in Unrestricted General Government Aid, Chapter 70, and the Special Education Circuit Breaker – the three largest sources of direct state aid to municipalities and school districts.
The budget increases funding for local aid by $288.9 million over FY12 projected spending, including $899 million for unrestricted local aid. Chapter 70 funding is increased to $4.17 billion, ensuring that all school districts receive at least an additional $40 per pupil in aid. Regional School Transportation is also increased by $2 million to $45.52 million. Additionally, the budget fully funds the state’s obligation for the Special Education Circuit Breaker at $242 million for first time since FY08, ensuring that students with special needs receive the services and education they deserve.
The budget continues to improve public higher education resources and connects those resources to workforce needs across the state. New programs include Rapid Response to expedite the process of community colleges creating workforce training programs by targeting specific requests from employers, and a Degree Auditing System to more easily track credits and make it simpler for students to transfer from community colleges to state universities.
In another effort to aid cities and towns, the budget directs $25 million from the state’s FY13 budget surplus to the state’s community preservation trust fund and further strengthens the Community Preservation Act (CPA), by expanding the use of funds to rehabilitate and support existing outdoor parks, recreational centers and affordable housing. This is especially important to me because the Town of Chelmsford is a participant in the Community Preservation Act.
The budget also continues to prioritize essential services for our most vulnerable citizens. It maintains mental health services, ensuring all regions of the state have access to care, and includes funding to keep 45 beds at Taunton State Hospital. It also increases funding for elder protective services, substance abuse services, independent living centers, and the department of veterans services.
The budget also supports public safety programs, which are important to Lowell and Chelmsford, including Shannon Grants, which help maintain partnerships at the local level to address the root causes of gang violence; the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative, which targets services to youth who have been identified as most likely to be criminally involved; and support for municipal police staffing in cities with the highest crime rates and decreased police staffing.
The budget also increases public safety by closing a drunk-driving loophole that was exposed by a recent Supreme Judicial Court ruling. The language enhances penalties for repeat drunk drivers and ensures that individuals who are convicted, have a case continued without a finding, or are assigned to an alcohol or controlled substance program are subject to penalties for repeat drunk driving offenses.
The budget now goes to the Governor for his approval.