Boston – July 1, 2016 – On Thursday, State Representative Jennifer Benson joined the vast majority of her colleagues in voting to pass the $39.14 billion Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) state budget.
The FY17 budget makes significant investments in local aid, housing, education, substance abuse treatment, and human services, among other critical priorities for the most vulnerable populations in the Commonwealth. The budget includes modest increases over FY16 funding levels for many essential programs, including a $116 million increase in Chapter 70 education funding (providing for $55 per pupil), a $2 million increase in regional school transportation, and an increase in $6 million for circuit breaker special education funding.
“This budget demonstrates the Legislature’s continued commitment to remaining fiscally responsible, while ensuring that we are still prioritizing the items that are most important to our districts,” said Representative Benson.
The budget passed by the House and Senate includes a 2.6%, or $1 billion, increase in spending over the last fiscal year, $395 million less than the original House recommended level of funding in April, to reflect changes in revenue expectations. Since the budget debates began in April, the Baker Administration and the Legislature became increasingly concerned with the decline in the FY16 and FY17 tax revenue projections used in calculating the available funds for the FY17 budget. Cuts to the proposed budget were made to ensure that it remained balanced and on-time.
The budget resolves the expected $750 million decrease in tax revenue, while ensuring that the towns of the 37th Middlesex District (Acton, Ayer, Boxborough, Harvard, Lunenburg, and Shirley) will still see increases over last year to their Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), while the Harvard, Lunenburg, Acton-Boxborough Regional, Ayer-Shirley Regional, and Nashoba Valley Technical school districts will see increases to their Chapter 70 education funding.
Representative Benson filed and co-sponsored several amendments during the budget debates that were incorporated into the final budget, and directly benefit the District. These include funding for an additional van for the Acton and Maynard Senior Van Program, prison mitigation funding for the town of Shirley to support their hosting of the MCI Shirley facility, regional bonus aid for regional school districts formed after 2013, and Chapter 40S funding that benefits towns like Lunenburg that have created smart-growth zoning districts that have a high percentage of affordable housing units.
“While we were faced with making significant cuts from the original budget, critical priorities like Chapter 70, UGGA, and circuit breaker were not impacted,” said Representative Benson. “We were able to ensure that many of the priorities of the District remained intact.”
Additionally, the final budget includes amendments filed by the Representative that benefit the entire Commonwealth, including language extending the expiration of the Afterschool and Out-of-School Time Coordinating Council, on which Representative Benson serves as Co-Chair, language changing the monthly personal needs allowance for nursing and rest home residents from “up to $72.80” to $72.80, and language requiring the Center of Health Information Analysis to factor rebates and discounts on pharmaceutical products into their healthcare cost analysis, which will result in more accurate data and higher quality public policies.
The budget now goes to Governor Baker’s desk for approval.