The Governor released his fiscal 2012 budget last week. The Governor makes some very ambitious proposals.
The budget provides for relatively modest cuts in local aid. General government aid is decreased 7.2%. Chapter 70 education aid is technically increased 3.5%, but with the loss of federal assistance grants, most communities will see a small drop in education assistance. Combining the two major programs, general government and Chapter 70 aid, Arlington would see a 2.6% drop, Belmont a 2.9% drop and Cambridge a 5.3% drop. For full detail, click here.
These drops are not as bad as many have been forecasting. Also encouraging is the proposal to increase special education circuit breaker funding by $80 million to $213 million. This is a restoration to FY09 levels. The program was cut in FY10 and FY11 while districts were benefiting from extra federal IDEA money. So, in effect circuit breaker funding would be flat over the last three years under the Governor’s proposal — better than many programs have done.
There is a lot to like in the Governor’s budget, but there is no consensus yet as to whether the Governor’s numbers are feasible. The Governor’s budget depends on some very ambitious ideas, which may or may not work out in the budget process:
- Closing two prisons by reforming sentencing for non-violent drug offenders. This is an idea I support, but it is has made only limited progress over the last 20 years in Massachusetts.
- Holding Medicaid to no increase while adding another 4.6% increase in membership — given the huge size and the history of robust cost increases in this program, controlling this cost is a priority, but level-cost may or may not be possible. In the current year, we have added hundreds of milllions of dollars to cover unrealistic funding of this program in the last budget cycle.
- Complete reform of the bar advocacy programs that provides legal services for indigent defendants.
- Taking another $200 million from the already-depleted stabilization fund.
The bottom line is that communities are going to need to wait another couple of months for reliable state aid numbers. During this time, if economic conditions continue to improve, then the probability of the Governor’s local aid proposal holding up will go up.