Here are some initial comments on common concerns in the district.
Talk to any local government leader, and regardless of party affiliation, the leader will want to know that the State Rep is fully aware of the importance of state aid for the local budgets.
Three key types of local aid are: (a) Chapter 70 aid for school budgets; (b) unrestricted local aid, funded primarily through the distribution of the earnings from the lottery; and (c) partial reimbursement for special education expenses.
The formula for allocating Chapter 70 funds changed from FY 2012 to FY 2013 (just enacted).
Arlington benefits from the change, and its Chapter 70 aid will increase from $6,880,580 to $8,109,496. On the campaign trail earlier this year I often heard the sentiment in Arlington that their Chapter 70 allocation was unfairly low, and this year's 17.9% increase goes a long way towards resolving that.
Belmont's aid is essentially unaffected by the change in formula, and its increase, from $5,571,323 to $5,724,243, is a smaller percentage -- 2.75% -- than the total increase in Chapter 70 total line in the budget -- 4.75%.
Whether the formula changes significantly again next year is something that I as your State Representative will follow closely, even before the formal session starts in January.
The unrestricted local aid appears to be more simple than the Chapter 70 formula. The total amount available for local aid depends largely on the lottery, although the legislature can always supplement the lottery take. The distribution is driven by the per capita property valuations in a community relative to the per capita value statewide, and scaled by population. The property valuation calculations are performed once every two years, and next year, for the preparation of the FY 2014 budget, the legislature will be working with a new set of property valuations. There is little reason to expect the relative rankings to change much; the key driver of whether or not more local aid will be available depends on the total size of the pot.
In this year's budget process, the total line item for the reimbursement for special education costs increased steadily throughout the budget process, and is significantly higher than last year's number. Bottom line, this is good news for all the communities' school budgets, and it will be important to try to keep the level of funding for special education reimbursements at this level in next year's budget.
Transportation Infrastructure and MBTA Service
Transportation concerns are local issues, regional issues, and statewide issues, all at the same time. After finding one more short-term fix to the MBTA long-term funding crisis this year, the legislative leaders acknowledge they will have to focus on a longer-term solution next year.
Locally, the chief concern is to preserve the current level of service to our district, including all the bus lines operating at their schedules and making the Alewife T station in North Cambridge an even more active hub for regional transportation services.
Regionally, our communities do better when the entire Boston metropolitan region thrives, and a strong regional transit system is critical. Better transportation options throughout the region help take the pressure off of our close-in communities to try to bear the brunt of the costs of congestion that come with growth.
Statewide, it is important that we get buy-in from the legislature as a whole for any local transportation solution, and we must be mindful of taking care of the legitimate needs of those in other parts of the state as we resolve our local issues.
Capital Funds for Minuteman Vocational School
The need for capital funds for the Minuteman Vocational School is clearly an important topic for 2013-14. Fortunately, the interests of Belmont and Arlington are closely aligned on this issue, and the Town Meeting in each community is well aware of the key unresolved issue -- who will pay for the capital expenses associated with building a new facility intended to service a large number of students from non-member towns.
There are a variety of possible resolutions -- state funding for a major portion of the capital costs, or authorizing a change in the governance structure to let the board pass the full share of costs to non-member towns, for instance -- all of which will require some state action or support.
As long as the state leaders recognize what is not going to happen -- that the taxpayers of Arlington and Belmont will not pay a disproportionate share of the capital costs -- then some resolution acceptable to our district is possible. Other area legislators are leading the efforts, and I as your State Rep will join forces with them in a collaborative effort.
Local Control versus Federal and State Mandates
In the give and take between local officials and state and federal officials, a common issue of contention is the imposition of mandates on the local governments. The local officials often regard the state and federal officials as out of touch with local needs and concerns, and local taxpayers particularly do not appreciate when the mandates come with no accompanying funding.
State and federal officials of course have reasons to support these mandates, for instance the uniform application of some policy initiative. They may think if they listened to every local objection, nothing could get done.
I am running to serve as your local, independent voice. I do not have obligations to support a state or national party agenda. I will take my cues from the local officials and the local governance processes in these matters.
One of the areas where there is this ongoing activity regarding mandates is in the administration of our schools. In discussions with school officials, it is clear that our schools are a highly regulated enterprise, and much time and energy has to be devoted to complying with unfunded mandates from both the state and federal administrations.
Our communities are desirable places to live, and the high quality of their schools is a key reason. Maybe there are other communities for which strong state regulatory oversight is needed to protect the students, but that is not the case here. Instead, to the extent statewide or nationwide proposed mandates are not relevant to our local systems and would divert our resources, I am ready to support our local officials in making that point and reducing the burden of mandates.