Dear Municipal Official,
I hope this letter finds you well and having an enjoyable summer. The 2013-2014 Legislature has finished its formal sessions and I wanted to share with you a couple of the major pieces of legislative action that will be of interest to you and your community.
Fiscal Year 2015 Budget
The $36.5 billion state budget for Fiscal Year 2015 represents the Legislature’s continuing commitment to cities and towns, by making increases in Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), Chapter 70 Education Aid, and the Special Education Circuit Breaker – the three largest sources of direct state aid to municipalities and school districts. UGGA received its first increase since FY2010, at $945.8 million, about $45.8 million above FY2013. Chapter 70 Education Aid increased 3 percent above FY2013 to $4.4 billion. The FY2015 budget also provides full funding as well as $70.25 million for Regional School Transportation. Specific amounts for your community are attached.
Environmental Bond Bill
This legislation (Chapter 286 of Acts 2014) provides for the preservation and improvement of land, parks and clean energy in the Commonwealth. The legislation authorizes a $1.9 billion, 4-year capital plan and includes: $10 million for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs for general improvements and replacements to infrastructure; $1.62 million for a conservation district grant program; $75.7 million for the Department of Environmental Protection for investment in water and air quality protection; $255.4 million for the Department of Conservation and Recreation for the design, construction, reconstruction, removal, improvement, or rehabilitation of department reservations, forests, parks, and other recreational facilities; $25 million to clean up and redevelop brownfields; $20 million for the development of a statewide climate center; and $10 million for a grant program to support regional management plans.
In addition, I was proud to successfully fight to include a $10 million authorization to create the Water Innovation Technology program, under the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), to provide assistance to professions that are finding new ways to treat and keep water clean, and for securing $5 million for the Department of Environmental Protection’s (Mass DEP) water quality monitoring program.
Public Housing Authority Reform
As the Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Housing, I helped write the legislation (Chapter 235 of Acts 2014) that strengthens the requirements of local housing authorities, increases performance management, and encourages future innovation in housing development. It makes every member of a housing or redevelopment authority a fiduciary of the housing authority and requires one of the five members of the housing authority in a town to be a tenant of the housing authority.
The legislation requires the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to create three capital assistance teams to provide capital planning and technical assistance, as well as maintenance and repair assistance, to all housing authorities in the Commonwealth. It also creates a regional public housing innovation program designed to achieve increased coordination and cooperation among several housing authorities, foster innovative models for the development, redevelopment and repair of public housing, and increase economic efficiencies and opportunities.
In addition, it requires capital assistance teams to complete a survey of surplus land owned by DHCD and housing authorities to encourage development of new units of affordable housing, paying special attention to housing opportunities for disabled veterans. The legislation requires DHCD to implement a single statewide centralized waitlist for state-aided public housing.
I feel strongly that if Massachusetts is going to address its homeless crisis, and if every resident is going to have a safe and decent place to live, every community must step up and build more affordable housing, including public housing. I look forward to working with you to achieve this goal.
Transportation Bond Bill
This $12.76 billion transportation finance bill (Chapter 79 of Acts 2014) will bolster the state’s transportation systems, improve existing infrastructure and assist Massachusetts’ communities in funding local projects. It authorizes $300 million in Chapter 90 funding to help municipalities complete road, bridge and infrastructure improvement projects, and requires earlier notification of funding levels so cities and towns can prepare appropriately. The legislation includes funding such as $2.97 billion for state-wide non-federally aided road and bridge projects, $1.9 billion for interstate/non-interstate federal highways, $350 million in investments for Regional Transit Authority improvements, as well as other state-wide enhancements to rail service and new regional transit authority facilities.
In addition, I was proud to champion in the Senate $50 million for the Complete Streets “smart design” program, which the town of Littleton is a model for, and secure funding and legislative language to keep the North South Rail Link, which would build a tunnel connecting North and South Stations, a long-time vision of Governor Dukakis, a reality for the future. Just think of taking the train from near where you live into Boston, and then traveling north to Maine or Canada, or south to New York or Washington, DC!
Water Infrastructure Reform
This legislation (Chapter 259 of Acts 2014) that I sponsored with Senate President Therese Murray, and led the fight for with my good friend Rep. Carolyn Dykema (D-Holliston) expands the spending capacity of the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust, formerly the Water Pollution Abatement Trust, with an increase from $88 million to $138 million and imposes a spending floor of 80 percent. It creates a sliding scale interest rate from 0 to 2 percent and establishes a principal forgiveness program for qualifying projects, and creates and allocates $3 million to a technical assistance program to be used for the development of asset management plans and to identify green infrastructure opportunities in the Commonwealth. The legislation also simplifies the regulatory burden of complying with Title V, and encourages regional projects by allowing public entities to jointly apply for planning grants to develop water pollution abatement plans.
The economic development and jobs bill (Chapter 287 of Acts 2014) aims to further strengthen Massachusetts’ innovation industries and position the state as a global leader both economically and culturally. It focuses on emerging industries, investments in workforce development and education, and promotes targeted regional growth. The legislation makes targeted investments in the state’s economic drivers including innovation and Big Data, workforce development, tourism and marketing. I fought to include an amendment in the bill that would have uncapped liquor licenses for all towns and cities; unfortunately, the provision was removed from the final bill, so I will be re-filing that again next year.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank you for all of your hard work on behalf of your constituents. With the formal session of the 2013-2014 Legislative Session having ended, I am eager to hear more from you, between now and the end of the year, on policies, legislation, funding, and projects that I can work with you on, to better serve the community that you represent, and also improve the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
As always if you have any questions, concerns or a matter that I can be of assistance with, please do not hesitate to contact my office at (617) 722-1120.
James B. Eldridge
Middlesex and Worcester District