NORTHBRIDGE, Mass – State officials brought a cautionary tale to area town administrators as they prepare budgets for Fiscal Year 2013.
Gov. Deval Patrick's proposed budget provides little in the way of extra state aid, and some of what is there may go away as the Senate and House of Representatives reviews and makes its own recommendations.
State Sen. Jennifer L. Flanagan, assistant vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways & Means, advised local officials to rely on last year’s budget numbers to be safe. “I would be very cautious,’’ she said.
Flanagan spoke Friday morning during the annual “The State of Local Aid’’ meeting hosted by Sen. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge, at the Singh Performance Center at Alternatives on Douglas Road.
In addition to Flanagan, guest speakers were Roger Hatch, administrator of School Finance for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education; and Rick Kingsley, bureau chief of the Municipal Data Management and Technical Assistance Bureau of the Division of Local Services.
A final state budget is expected in July, Flanagan said. An earlier budget isn’t possible, she said, because federal aid and tax collection numbers aren’t yet known. It can’t be set in stone until all the “variables’’ are known, she said.
The state is doing “better,’’ she said, pointing to an improved bond rating and more people working. “But we’re still treading water’’ in tax collection, the federal stimulus money has dried up, and Massachusetts lost a court case regarding health care for illegal aliens which carries a $150 million price tag.
In addition, health care costs continue to rise, and with the recession, the state is also dealing with a large increase in transitional assistance.
“All the programs you and I support will have to be looked at,’’ Flanagan said, and with many of those programs “already cut to the bone, we’re not looking forward to having to make decisions about them.’’
Hatch reviewed Chapter 70 funding for schools, and acknowledged that adjustments are needed. “Special Education is the number one problem and still remains underfunded,’’ he said.
Reimbursement “really should be raised to be a better reflection of what schools really spend,’’ he said.
“People are looking for substantial change in the foundation budget,’’ Hatch said, which is the state’s calculation of an “adequate spending level for a district.’’ He believes change is possible without a cumbersome, years-long study.
Despite significant improvement in many areas, Moore said the state is looking at a $1.3 billion budget shortfall.
Budget deliberations will be difficult, he said. “Much of the state budget is already obligated. We don’t have a lot to play with.’’
Kingsley recommended anyone interested in the state budget sign up to receive regular updates to the state budget process at http://www.mass.gov/dor/local-offiials/dis-newsroom/subscribe.html.