I hope this legislative update finds you and your family well after the 4th of July holiday. As the summer is in full-swing, the legislative session is nearing its end. The Legislature has been addressing issues still remaining on our legislative agenda and I want to take this opportunity to review some priorities.
MBTA financing legislation
Recently, the House passed legislation that closes the MBTA’s gap for the upcoming fiscal year. This legislation first transfers $1.5 million in excess snow and ice removal funds to the regional transit authorities as supplemental assistance and also authorizes a one-time transfer of a total of $51 million from the Motor Vehicle Inspection Trust Fund to the MBTA and to the regional transit authorities for preventative maintenance expenses. These funds will allow the MBTA to have a balanced budget for the next fiscal year.
Additionally, the legislation requires that MassDOT file a report to the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees and the Joint Committee on Transportation detailing the time needed to free the commuter boat service lots, piers, and the Fore River terminal from encumbrances in order to prepare these properties for appraisal and sale to Massport during FY 2013.
While this legislation does not directly address the recent fare hikes and service cuts that were put into place by the MBTA, in makes sure that their budget is sound for the time being so that no other fare hikes or service cuts will be proposed. A major priority of the House in the next legislative session will be a major overhaul of our public transportation system as we know it to restructure the MBTA, make sure we service any debt appropriately, and prevent additional fare hikes
Transportation Infrastructure financing legislation
The House also passed legislation that finances necessary improvements to the state’s transportation system. This legislation provides $200 million in chapter 90 funding, financial assistance for interstate construction projects in FY 12/13, support for regional transit authorities and the rail transportation system, and funding for other general operating costs of the transportation department. This legislation provides funding to local communities for transportation projects that include the repaving and reconstruction of roads and bridges.
The bill also provides for a Department of Transportation Board of Directors, a seven-member panel appointed by the Governor that shall exercise the MBTA’s corporate powers and oversee transportation projects state-wide.
Provisions of this bill include:
- $325 million for non-federally assisted construction projects in FY 12/13 including general highway maintenance, emergency bridge repairs, guardrail repairs, catch basin cleaning, line painting, etc.; and
- $225 million in supplemental funding for federally-assisted interstate construction projects and $525 million for non-interstate construction projects in FY 12/13.
The Legislature enacted a $32.5 billion state budget for fiscal year 2013. The spending plan prioritizes funding for cities and towns and commitments to reform and job creation. The budget does not contain any new taxes and uses a combination of ongoing revenue initiatives, one-time resources and spending reductions to close a $1.4 billion budget gap, the smallest budget gap the state has had since FY08.
The budget restores some painful cuts from previous years and makes new targeted investments, leaving the state’s rainy day fund at $1.2 billion which, along with the Legislature’s prudent reforms and fiscal decisions in previous years, is responsible for the Commonwealth’s highest bond rating in history.
The budget represents the Legislature’s continuing commitment to cities and towns, boosting investments in Local Aid, Education Funding, and the Special Education Circuit Breaker – the three largest sources of direct state aid to municipalities and school districts. The budget increases funding for local aid by $288.9 million over FY12 projected spending, including $899 million for unrestricted local aid. Education funding is increased to $4.17 billion. Additionally, the budget fully funds the state’s obligation for the Special Education Circuit Breaker at $242 million for first time since FY08, ensuring that students with special needs receive the services and education they deserve.
In another effort to aid cities and towns, the budget directs $25 million from the state’s FY13 budget surplus to the state’s community preservation trust fund. These funds will be used to rehabilitate and support existing outdoor parks, recreational centers and affordable housing.
While the Governor has signed the budget into law, he sent the Legislature various vetoes of certain budget items. I am particularly disappointed that Governor Patrick vetoed certain sections relative to reforming Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. I have worked with my colleagues in finding a solution that makes sure benefits that are meant for emergency assistance for food and clothing are not being spent on items including alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets, pornography, firearms, ammunition, tattoos, body piercings, manicures, jewelry, gambling, cruise ships, fees, fines, bail or bail bonds.
Fortunately, the House voted overwhelmingly to override the Governor’s veto of EBT reform.
Office hours during the months of July and August will be by appointment only. The regular schedule of office hours will start back up in September.