By Bob Katzen

The Local Government Advisory Commission heard from state and local officials at a hearing last week. The topic was how the state should spend its estimated $1 billion fiscal 2018 surplus. The 40-member commission was formed to be an independent advocate for the interests of local city and town governments in their relationship with state and federal governments. Under current law, approximately half of the surplus is required to go into the state’s reserve fund. The rest is up for grabs.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s Administration and Finance Secretary Mike Heffernan assured the commission that the administration is on top of the issue. “We’re engaged at both the staff and leadership level … especially now that we got through the primaries,” Heffernan told the commission.

Baker recently filed a package to use the surplus money for several things including $150 million for K-12 and higher education programs, with $72 million of that amount dedicated to support school safety. The proposal includes training of first responders to better handle threats within schools; $40 million in additional aid to school districts to hire social workers, mental health counselors and psychologists; $20 million in matching state grants for security and communications upgrades in K-12 schools and public colleges and universities; $1 million for school safety training for educators, health officials and first responders; $4 million to provide training to School Resource Officers; $2.4 million to create a tip line to provide public safety and school personnel with timely information on potential risks; $2 million for a statewide “Say Something” campaign; and $500,000 to create a school safety website.

Other provisions include $50 million for cities and towns to fund local road and bridge maintenance and improvement projects; $30 million for municipal clean water projects; $8 million for multi-year municipal police training needs; $5.9 million for tuition and fee reimbursements for National Guard members; and $5 million in transitional housing assistance for hurricane evacuees from Puerto Rico.

“We hope that the administration and municipal leadership will again get behind an effort to secure legislation to make incremental improvements to school budgets by implementing recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, especially as it includes accurate census of economic disadvantaged children and immigrant students, and addresses retiree health insurance,” said Beverly Hugo, president of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

“The surplus our state government is experiencing should be returned to the taxpayers in the form of a tax rebate,” said Paul Craney, Executive Director of the Mass Fiscal Alliance. “It is their money.”

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