OP-ED: School, General Government Aid Will Not be Cut

State Sen. Will Brownsberger

The following piece was provided by State Sen. Will Brownsberger, who represents Watertown, Belmont and parts of Boston:

The legislature and the Governor recently announced a joint commitment to avoid cuts in state aid to municipalities in the current fiscal year despite the state’s own loss of revenues. While critical information from the federal government is still needed in order to finalize a full fiscal year budget for the Commonwealth, the Baker-Polito Administration and the Legislature are committing to no less than the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) level of funding for UGGA and Chapter 70 education aid as a baseline amount for FY21 funding.The FY21 funding commitment also includes Chapter 70 increases for inflation and enrollment that will keep all school districts at foundation, under the law as it existed for FY20, providing an additional $107 million in aid over FY20. This increase comes in addition to approximately $450 million in new federal supports for K-12 schools to assist with educating students during the pandemic.   Division of Local Services Alert, July 30, 2020. This commitment reflects our shared belief that the services municipalities provide are truly essential. As we struggle through the pandemic, now is not the time to reduce support for police, fire, and schools. 

Since COVID-19 arrived in force in March, three fundamental uncertainties have made it impossible for the state to plan its overall budget for the current fiscal year (Fiscal 2021, which began on July 1).   

First, no one knows what the course of the pandemic will be. By now it does seem clear that we are in for a long struggle, but no one knows exactly what that means.   

Second, no one knows how the economy will respond to the epidemic itself and to the shutdown orders issued in response to the epidemic. How many businesses will fail? Will people find employment in newly needed services? 

The state’s available revenue depends very directly on the health of the economy. Most of the state’s major revenue sources – income taxes, sales taxes, corporate profit taxes – go up and down as the economy goes up and down.   Economic recession means state revenue loss. 

Even in good times, states depend heavily on aid from the federal government, especially to support the Medicaid program. With falling revenues for state governments across the country, all eyes are on Washington for relief. The decision from Washington is the third major unanswered question for budget planners. 

We expected an answer by May or June and congressional Democrats did put forward a strong bill in May. The House bill would fully protect Massachusetts and its municipalities from service cuts 2021. As of this writing, negotiations between the Democrats and the White House continue. I hope that as you read this, we will have an interim answer, but the longer-term outlook depends to some extent on the outcome of the fall elections. 

In the absence of a major infusion of federal aid, the total revenue losses for Massachusetts in Fiscal 2021 might approach $6 billion, a big chunk of the $45 billion budget. There is every reason to believe that Fiscal 2022 may also be grim. 

Like me, many legislators have previously served in local government and know the fundamental value of the services provided by municipalities. We also know that local governments function within a very tightly defined financial box: They can only raise the revenues authorized by state law and can only do so within the parameters of Proposition 2.5, the tax limitation law. Additionally, many town governments have a rigid budget planning cycle built around the annual town meeting – it is hard for them to make mid-year course changes. 

Conscious of these factors, legislators are always eager to make a strong commitment to local aid that communities can rely on early in the spring. This year we were unable to do that, first due to COVID-19 and then due to the delays in Washington.   

As July came to an end with no answer from Washington and with schools struggling to make plans for the fall, we decided we had to make a commitment to municipalities and resolve to meet that commitment regardless of the unknowns. We do have a rainy-day fund that now stands at $3.5 billion, although our hope has been not to use it all in the current fiscal year. Jointly, the House, the Senate, and the Governor concluded that we could, perhaps with other sacrifices, avoid cuts for municipalities and that is the announcement that came forward. 

Budget planners in some communities were surprised.  Indeed, for months, we have been warning that aid could be cut. Some planners were suspicious that there might be some hidden catch.  

Our budget leaders are acting after great deliberation and with great appreciation for the work that municipalities do. Local planners should feel safe relying on this commitment for Fiscal 2021. 

Fiscal 2022 is another story. But our actions this year should signal how much we value the work of the police, the firefighters, the teachers, and other municipal public servants. That appreciation will continue to guide our actions in 2022. 

OP-ED: Is It Time to Hit the Brakes on Reopening in Mass.?

State Sen. Will Brownsberger

The following piece was written by State Sen. Will Brownsberger, who represents Watertown, Belmont and parts of Boston:

In order to safely reopen our schools, we may need to hit the brakes on our phased reopening of the economy in Massachusetts. The latest numbers are telling us that we may need to reclose some businesses or find other ways to reduce infection. As we manage the reopening of the economy, we need to think more clearly about the trade-offs we are making and the consequences we are willing to accept. The decision to open optional services like casinos, movie theaters, and health clubs may make it impossible for us to safely reopen our schools. There is some guesswork in estimating how each specific business closure or infection control measure will affect the average rate at which people with COVID-19 transmit it to others.

OP-ED: Mass. Senate Passes Police Reform Bill, Brownsberger Gives Details

Massachusetts State House. State Sen Will Brownberger provided the following piece:

Early in the morning on July 14, the Senate passed S.2800 — the Reform, Shift and Build Act. We look forward to working with our colleagues in the House of Representatives to finalize soon a joint package to lay before the Governor. The outline below offers a thematic organization of the bill. Links in the outline lead to relevant resources.

OP-ED: Sen. Brownsberger Discusses Voting by Mail in Mass.

State Sen. Will Brownsberger

The following was provided by State Sen. Will Brownsberger, who represents Watertown, Belmont and parts of Boston:

Massachusetts voters will have three options in the statewide elections this fall: They will be able to vote early by mail, vote early in person, or vote in person on election day. The Massachusetts Senate passed a bill providing these options (Tuesday, June 16) and the House has already passed a similar bill. Our hope is that final legislation will be on the Governor’s desk very shortly. The new voting options are intended to reduce the risks of transmitting COVID-19. We hope that many voters will choose to vote by mail and avoid physically appearing at the polls.

Sen. Brownsberger Surveying Residents About COVID-19 and the MBTA

State Sen. Will Brownsberger

State Sen. Will Brownsberger’s latest survey seeks to find out how the COVID-19 outbreak has impacted how people work and if they are using public transportation. Brownsberger, who represents Watertown Belmont and parts of Boston, posted the survey on his website on Tuesday evening. Questions include what people’s work situations are (working from home, going into work, unemployed), what people did before the outbreak and their plans for when the state reopens. Also, how much people are using the MBTA now, previously, and plans in the future. There are also questions about Massachusetts’ response to the Coronavirus and how financially secure people are feeling.

Sen. Brownsberger: After Re-opening, Efforts Must Continue to Stop the Spread of COVID-19

State Sen. Will Brownsberger

The following piece was written by State Sen. Will Brownsberger, who represents Watertown, Belmont and parts of Boston. When we begin to reopen, whenever that occurs, we will all need to accept continued personal responsibility for controlling the spread of COVID-19. 

Governor Baker faces difficult judgment calls about the pacing of reopening.  Without expressing an opinion on the particulars of his judgment calls, he is taking fundamentally the right approach – namely, an incremental and data-driven approach.  

For all the reasons that we had to shut down, the potential consequences of re-opening too fast are unacceptable.  Given the risk of a catastrophic second surge, the only safe way to proceed is incrementally.  We will want to open in phases and evaluate the disease statistics daily for any early indication of an upswing. 

As we slowly reopen while the virus is still at large in the community, it will be more important than ever to do the basic things that all the public health professionals tell us will reduce the rate of transmission:  Wear masks, don’t touch our faces, wash our hands frequently and especially after making contact with high touch surfaces, stay home when we feel sick, work from home whenever we can, maintain physical distance from each other. 

Some businesses and employers will need to change their operations to support more distancing.  If the conclusion is that people have to come in, can they come in on some kind of shift system?  Does everyone need to come together at the same time? 

The Governor  bears primary responsibility for pacing the reopening, but it will be on all of us to take the personal precautions that will make the reopening work.  People managing the work of others will bear special responsibility for protecting their employees.  Customer-facing business managers will bear special responsibility for protecting their customers.

OP-ED: Sen. Brownsberger’s Survey Finds Most Agree with Mass. Social Distancing Measures

State Sen. Will Brownsberger

State Sen. Will Brownsberger surveyed people about the social distancing steps that Massachusetts officials have taken, and found that the vast majority agree with them and expect it to be “a long time” before the situation returns to normal. Brownsberger — who represents Watertown, Belmont and parts of Boston — sent out the following write up about the survey, which was the second he has conducted about the state’s response to COVID-19 (see the first here). COVID-19 Check-in Survey II

Key Takeaways

95% support Massachusetts’ social distancing policies or feel we should go further.96% expect we will take a long time to get back to normal or will have to adapt to a permanent new normal. Summary of Survey

A total of 2,662 of people responded to an email and Facebook survey initiated on Saturday, April 25, 2020, with 85% responding on that day.As to Massachusetts’ COVID-19 response, only 5% of respondents stated “We have gone too far — the economic impact is not worth it.”Public support for social distancing remains strong: 65% felt “The balance is right at this time” and 30% felt “We have not gone far enough — people are still doing unnecessary and unsafe things.”As compared to the March survey which was completed mostly before the Governor’s non-essential business closures of March 23, the group feeling “We have not gone far enough” has declined from 54% to 30%, while the group feeling “We have gone too far” has increased slightly from 3% to 5%.9% reported that they were unemployed as a result of the epidemic while 3% reported they were previously unemployed. The newly unemployed were somewhat more likely to feel our response has gone too far (12%) than the respondents as a whole (5%), but 88% of them felt we have the balance right or have not gone far enough.The share of respondents currently behind on bills dropped slightly from 3% to 2%.

OP-ED: Mass. Legislature Passes Bill for Moratorium on Evictions, Foreclosures

State Sen. Will Brownsberger

The following piece was provided by State Sen. Will Brownsberger, who represents Watertown, Belmont and parts of Boston:

The legislature enacted (Friday) a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. We should not put tenants or homeowners out on the street while we are trying to enforce social distancing. The bill is not a rent or mortgage holiday. It does not extinguish the obligations of renters or borrowers. Those lucky enough to avoid job loss during the COVID-19 recession should continue to make their regular payments.