Healey and Diehl will not commit to continue local aid commitment

BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS) — When Governor Charlie Baker ran for office in 2014, he did so by pledging to increase local aid at the same rate state revenues are expected to grow.

Eight years later, whether that practice continues or is abandoned when Baker and his team leave the State House depends on who claims the corner office in this fall’s election. Intentions regarding revenue sharing with city and municipal governments differ between candidates, although all say they recognize the importance of such assistance.

Baker and lawmakers funded unrestricted local aid in the fiscal year 2021 budget — signed in December 2020 instead of the typical date close to the start of the fiscal year in July — after the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the state and global economies. Otherwise, the administration largely stuck to Baker’s campaign promise for unlimited aid, though the level of Chapter 70 school aid increases varied.

The approach sets aid expectations around which local officials can build their own budgets. Baker said last month that in years when the state collected less revenue than originally projected, his administration did not seek to recover the amount above projections. “The deal was the deal and we honored it when it didn’t work out for us,” he said.

In his fiscal year 2023 budget, Baker recommended a $31.5 million increase in unrestricted local aid, matching the 2.7% growth in tax collection that the administration and editors of the legislative budget jointly forecast for next year as the consensus revenue estimate.

Determining this estimate is one of the first steps in the budget process, and some local officials have raised concerns that cities and towns have not experienced the same revenue growth as the state, because actual tax traffic has exceeded initial expectations over the past two years.

The news service asked the 2022 gubernatorial candidates about how they plan to handle local aid.

Applicants were asked if they would commit to a particular annual increase for unrestricted general government aid or Chapter 70 school aid, or instead make annual decisions based on current budget conditions; whether they tied local aid increases to consensus revenue estimates like the Baker administration does or used a different method; and what factors they would consider when making their recommendations for local assistance.

Two candidates, Boston Democrat Sonia Chang-Díaz and Wrentham Republican Chris Doughty, have indicated they will stick to the method city officials have grown accustomed to during Baker’s two terms. Another, Republican Whitman Geoff Diehl, said he was “not in favor of mandates or payments based solely on benchmark numbers” and that local aid payments should be based on available resources.

Doughty, citing his experience as a business owner, said tying local aid levels to the consensus income process makes the most sense”[a]at this crossroads,” and Chang-Díaz said she would “continue the practice” of increasing unrestricted local aid as incomes grow.

A key figure in efforts to pass the state school finance reform law of 2019, Chang-Díaz also said she would veto any budget that does not implement the law’s changes in the time limit. The law calls for the changes to be fully incorporated into the school funding formula by fiscal year 2027 – the next governor’s fourth budget.

Diehl, a former state representative who served on the ways and means committee from 2011 to 2014, called on the state to relieve taxpayers and said a portion of excess revenue should go to cities and towns under form of unrestricted school assistance.

Attorney General Maura Healey’s campaign responded with a statement describing the Boston Democrat as “committed to ensuring municipalities have the support they need to serve their communities,” but did not elaborate on how it would handle the sharing of resources. revenue with local governments.

Neither candidate has said they would tie Chapter 70 school aid increases to the projected rate of growth in state tax revenue, a promise Baker made during his campaign but did not. not run as governor.

The full, unedited responses from the candidates are as follows.

Sonia Chang-Diaz

“Unrestricted general government assistance is a crucial lifeline for the important work being done in our local communities, and I would continue to increase it at the rate of annual revenue growth. We must also uphold our constitutional duty to implement implement the Student Opportunity Act. I am the only candidate who has committed to phasing in the Student Opportunity Act on schedule and who has fought to earn those commitments to our local communities in the first place. I would veto to any budget that would not. The new aid is essential to ensure that municipalities no longer have to choose between the resources needed for first responders, local health services and essential local services on the one hand and the covering current school budget deficits on the other hand, we can and must do both.

Geoff Diehl

“As a former local civil servant and member of the finance committee, I know only too well how important strong local aid payments are in supporting municipal government and, most importantly, schools. In addition, local relief payments help remove the press from local property taxes to fund municipal government. We should try to increase local aid payments whenever possible. But I am not in favor of mandates or payments based solely on reference figures. As a former state representative, I think what we need to do is prioritize local assistance and make payments with available resources whenever possible. We are living an example of that right now. In recent months, there has been an infusion of billions of dollars in additional revenue into Massachusetts due to federal government funds and tax collections far exceeding benchmark estimates. Naturally, some of these funds are for pandemic relief and infrastructure improvements, and should be spent (responsibly) for these purposes. However, that still leaves billions, especially because our state is overtaxing residents. I say, let’s give some of that money back. Some should be returned in the form of direct tax refunds, while other funds could be used for temporary relief from excise taxes on gasoline and motor vehicles in the face of high inflation. And, a share should be distributed to cities and towns through unlimited local aid and Chapter 70. We need to share our state’s success with cities and towns, and we also need to be honest with the taxpayers to whom we asked to pay too much. The state government cannot make a deficit, but neither should we make a profit. »

Chris Doughty

“As the next governor, ensuring that our schools and municipalities have the necessary funds to provide the best services possible will be a priority. As the only candidate who had to sign the front of the paycheck, I have the financial experience to manage the state budget and departments to find the savings so we can maximize funds for local aid . At this crossroads, linking it to consensus revenue makes the most censorship.

Maura Healey

“Maura is committed to ensuring municipalities have the support they need to serve their communities. More recently, she advocated for increased funding for local public health systems in ARPA’s spending program. She also advocated for full Chapter 70 funding and called for federal funding to support our local schools. It will ensure that adequate resources for towns and villages, within and outside local aid distributions, are available to our municipalities through grants and other credits,” a spokesperson said. .