[[Editor’s note: The lobbying effort described below expresses the real pain being felt by communities across the state. Unfortunately, it is directed toward Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey who has almost no ability to reverse the cuts imposed by the Massachusetts Legislature which is 85% Democratic. We recommend that anyone concerned with these issues make their views known to the persons who are actually responsible for the cuts and who have the power to reverse them – the Democratic Party leadership in the House and Senate.]]
October 8, 2005
Towns press Healey on sharing the wealth:
Want state surplus used for local aid
By Tyler B. Reed / Daily News Staff
HOLLISTON — Officials from MetroWest and Milford area towns, strapped by the rising costs of fuel and employee health insurance, asked Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey yesterday for a piece of the state’s projected $1.2 billion surplus this year and a reinstatement of recent years’ local aid cuts.
Towns have been rocked by the aid reductions since 2002 — Ashland lost $3.5 million, for instance, and Holliston lost $1.8 million — and become increasingly dependent on Proposition 2 1/2 overrides to avoid drastic cuts to services, officials said.
The state boosted local aid last year by about 4 percent, but many communities west of Boston received little to no increase, Southbridge Town Council Chairman Ronald Chernisky said.
“Level-funded local aid cripples a local community,” he said, because towns need to cover pay raises and the inflating cost of fuel and health insurance for town employees.
“Local aid needs to be distributed on a more equitable basis,” Chernisky said. “We have to at least maintain the rate of inflation.”
Medway Selectman Raphaela Rozanski was more blunt. “I can’t emphasize enough about the local aid,” she said, “local aid, local aid, local aid.”
Medway officials almost closed their library last year, but managed to keep it open by cutting staffing in half and reducing the budget by 22 percent. It’s now in jeopardy of losing accreditation.
The senior center is bursting at the seams, and Medway doesn’t have the money to renovate it. Council on Aging Chairman Joseph Hoban asked Healey if the state could provide grant money for an expansion.
“We need help from the state,” Hoban said. Seniors’ “taxes are skyrocketing and most of them are on fixed incomes.”
“We generally did increase the amount of local aid to communities,” Healey said, though she admitted some received more aid, while others saw their aid cut.
State Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, said MetroWest area residents have been hit especially hard by local aid cuts.
“The burden does get shifted to the taxpayers, especially in the MetroWest area,” she said. “The overrides aren’t passing anymore. We haven’t caught up from the cuts in the last few years.”
A spokesman for Gov. Mitt Romney said the projected surplus is evidence that the Massachusetts economy is “firing on all cylinders.”
Romney has since renewed calls for cutting the income tax rate from 5.3 percent to 5 percent. And in July, he proposed spending $400 million in surplus money on capital improvements at public colleges and universities.
Romney’s surplus spending plan also includes $100 million in Chapter 90 funding for infrastructure improvements.
“It’s an important way to help cities and towns meet their obligations,” his spokesman Felix Brown said.
In fiscal 2004, the state reported a $724 million surplus in revenue. As part of a $439 million supplementary budget Romney signed in September 2004, cities and towns received $75 million in one-time reimbursement.
Healey said there is a chance the state Legislature might kill the Chapter 90 money out of the spending plan. She told the officials present to lobby their legislators not to cut the funding.