State Senator Robert Hedlund, R-Weymouth, Representative Tom O’Brien, D-Kingston, and Representative Daniel Webster, R-Hanson appeared before Duxbury selectmen Monday night to brief them on the legislative budget process.
While this year’s budget outlook is not as dire as last year’s, all legislators said that Duxbury should continue to tighten its belt when it comes to state aid. Even though Governor Mitt Romney presented his budget last week and kept school aid (Chapter 70), special education funding, and lottery aid at the same levels as last year, the governor’s budget is just the first step in the budget process, said Duxbury’s lawmakers. They cautioned that state aid to Duxbury could be decreased, despite the governor’s budget. They said they would rather come back to selectmen after the state’s budget is finalized this summer and pronounce good news – that Duxbury’s state aid was level funded or increased – than have to tell the town to dig deeper to fill a hole left by reduced state aid.
Town manager Rocco Longo revised his FY05 budget last week to show level funding of state aid to Duxbury, which added over $180,000. His initial budget presented in December showed a decrease. The extra state aid money should help Longo and the school department avoid layoffs. Longo is counting on over $3.7 million in state aid, which is 9 percent of the town’s budget.
“It’s very critical that we get all the state aid we can,” Longo said. “$180,000 means a lot to our school system.”
When asked by selectmen what expectation they should include in the budget for state aid, each legislator had a different answer. Hedlund said Duxbury should count on a 5 percent decrease. O’Brien said he thought Duxbury would see a 0 to 5 percent decrease. Cutting the state aid estimate in the budget by “five percent is prudent,” said O’Brien.
Webster doubled this figure: “Being the conservative that I am, I would plan on a 10 percent cut in state aid,” he said. “If I was preparing a budget, I would prepare for a cut.”
Webster said he had been talking to a member of the House Ways and Means committee who said that since local aid was the largest component of the state budget it would be hard to leave it in tact. If the governor’s proposed reforms do not pass, local aid would likely be cut, said Webster.
Longo and selectmen said they still had time to revise the FY05 budget as more information comes in to help them make better decisions. Town Meeting on March 13 will have the final say on the town budget, including education funding.
Hedlund also updated selectmen on Romney’s proposal for the school building assistance program. Duxbury has two projects on the list, the Chandler and the Alden School expansions. They are #124 and #126 on the list of school projects waiting reimbursement from the state.
Romney proposes that the state issue a 40-year bond for $4.1 billion to pay off the 420 projects on the waiting list by FY2009. Doing this would save the state $150 million that would go into the fiscal year 2005 budget, according to the governor.
Usually state bonds are issued for 20 years, not 40. This action would not negatively impact the state’s bond rating, according to documents provided by Hedlund. Romney also proposes to enact a commission to reform the school building assistance program and end the moratorium on new projects. The program dates back to the 1930s, said Hedlund.
Paying off Duxbury’s projects would save taxpayers thousands in interest charges that they must pay each year before the state reimbursement takes effect. The state also saves because it must reimburse the town for those interest fees.
All three legislators agreed something must be done to reform the school building assistance program. Selectman Andre Martecchini said there should also be reform in the construction and bidding process