Baker-Polito Administration Files $45.6B Fiscal 2022 Budget Proposal

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BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration on Wednesday filed its fiscal year 2022 budget recommendation, a $45.6 billion proposal that continues the administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and addresses critical priorities including promoting economic growth, fully funding the first year of the landmark Student Opportunity Act, and supporting cities and towns across Massachusetts.
This balanced proposal does not raise taxes on the commonwealth's residents and preserves substantial financial reserves for the future, according to the administration.
Submitted as House 1, this budget recommendation provides $246.3 million in new funding for the Student Opportunity Act including an increase of $197.7 million in Chapter 70 funding, with a particular focus on school districts serving low-income students. The administration is also proposing to allow municipalities to count $114 million in federal dollars toward their Chapter 70 required local contribution increases to further deliver on the commitments in the Student Opportunity Act. Additionally, House 1 maintains the administration's promise to cities and towns with a $39.5 million increase in unrestricted local aid, which is equivalent to the 3.5 percent consensus tax revenue growth rate.
"We are proud to submit a fiscal year 2022 budget proposal that despite the challenges of the pandemic, invests in economic growth and fully funds the first year of the landmark Student Opportunity Act — all without raising taxes on the commonwealth's residents," said Gov. Charlie Baker. "This balanced budget proposal allows the commonwealth to respond to the pandemic and promote our recovery, while investing in key priorities such as education, health care, substance misuse, and racial equality and diversity. We look forward to working closely with the Legislature to adopt a full spending plan for FY22."
This budget recommendation is based on the $30.12 billion consensus tax revenue estimate, which anticipates a 3.5 percent growth in total tax collections over revised FY21 tax estimates. House 1 includes $45.6 billion in gross spending, a decrease of 0.7 percent from fiscal year 2021 projected spending, excluding transfer to the Medical Assistance Trust Fund. This year-over-year decrease accounts for current tax projections and is primarily driven by caseload and cost decreases at MassHealth, which previously experienced significant cost increases in FY21 due to the pandemic.
This proposal authorizes a withdrawal of up to $1.6 billion from the Stabilization Fund to help ensure the continuation of essential government services and responsibly preserve financial reserves for fiscal year 2023 and beyond. Working together, the Legislature and the administration have been able to grow the the so-called "Rainy Day" fund since 2015. Improvements in tax collections or new federal revenue will allow the amount of this withdrawal to be reduced. This current Stabilization Fund withdrawal is projected to leave the fund with a balance of approximately $1.11 billion.
This balanced and fiscally responsible spending plan makes investments across key areas including:
Fund the Student Opportunity Act with $246.3 million in new funding added for initiatives laid out in this legislation. This includes an increase of $197.7 million in Chapter 70 funding, with a focus on school districts serving low-income students. The administration's proposal also provides an increase of $22.5 million for special education circuit breaker reimbursement for local cities and towns, as well as $26.1 million in additional funding for charter school reimbursement.
Another $16.9 million is targeted to additional funding for transforming vocational high schools into Career Technical Institutes and training 20,000 new workers in skilled trades and technical fields over four years. 
Also, a $1.310 billion investment for the Department of Higher Education, University of Massachusetts, and state universities and community colleges, representing a $146.1 million (12.6 percent) increase since 2015
Unrestricted General Government Aid investment has increased by $39.5 million compared to the FY21 budget, which is consistent with the expected 3.5 percent growth in tax revenue. This translates to a total UGGA investment of $1.168 billion to local cities and towns across the commonwealth.
This budget provides $4 million in funding for Community Compact-related programs including best practices and regionalization and efficiency grants. Additionally, the budget includes $4.8 million for the Public Safety Staffing Grant Program managed by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, as well as $3 million for local technical assistance.
The proposal includes $4 million for the Small Business Technical Assistance Grant Program for entrepreneurs and small businesses and $1 million for regional economic development grants. There is $668 million for Small Business Relief Grant Program, which is providing financial assistance to Massachusetts businesses with a focus toward minority- and women-owned businesses, as well as those sectors most impacted by the pandemic.
In relation to COVID-19 response, $1 billion will be used through MassHealth to help stabilize health-care providers, including more than $60 million in field hospitals and isolation and quarantine hotels; $56 million to address food security; 41 million pieces of personal protection equipment. The COVID-19 response is also being supported by the most recent federal COVID-19 legislation, which contains more than $450 million for testing and tracing, and nearly $90 million for vaccine distribution efforts.
House 1 supports these efforts with $707.1 million in funding for the Department of Public Health and investment in key new positions with a focus on the State Lab and public health hospitals, and maintains $10 million in grants to health departments to support municipalities' capacity to respond.
More on the budget items, including investments in diversity and equity, sexual and domestic violence, homelessness, transportation, substance abuse prevention and treatment, care for seniors and veterans, disabilities and behavioral health, public safety, children, and climage change can be found here.

Tags: fiscal 2022,   state budget,   

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State Education Board Approves Push for In-School Learning

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley explains the reasoning for getting students back in classrooms and off remote learning. 
BOSTON — Schools across the state are being ordered to resume in-classroom instruction as soon as possible, beginning with elementary grades on April 5. 
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 8-3 on Friday afternoon to accord DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley authority to change requirements for learning time that would not include remote learning.
Families would still have the ability to remain remote for the rest of this school year and some schools may be able to get waivers, but the state would have the ability to hold back Chapter 70 education funds for schools out of compliance. 
The vote followed hours of testimony from medical professionals, educators and parents that veered from strongly encouraging the return to school as an important to students' health, well-being and educational needs to cautions that many schools did not have the ability to provide adequate spacing or COVID-19 precautions and calls for school employees to be vaccinated prior to any return. 
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