Mayor Walsh files 2017-2018 legislative agenda
January 23, 2017
Mayor Martin J. Walsh today unveiled his priorities for the 2017-2018 Massachusetts State Legislative Session. Comprised of 64 bills, the legislative agenda highlights the Mayor's commitment to ensuring the City of Boston is healthy, thriving and innovative, and provides pathways to educational achievement and economic mobility for all.
"Boston is fortunate to have strong partners in state government who want to ensure our capital City's continued growth and success. I am proud to put forth a legislative agenda that builds upon the work we are doing every day at the City level to provide improved educational opportunities, safer communities, access to affordable housing and economic mobility for all of Boston's residents," said Mayor Walsh. "I look forward to working with the Massachusetts Legislature over the next two years to bring these proposals to fruition. In particular, I would like to thank Boston's State Delegation for their continued partnership during the legislative process to improve all aspects of life in our City."
Investing in Public Education, Eliminating the Opportunity Gap
Mayor Walsh filed comprehensive education finance reform legislation at the State House that aims to invest equitably in public education and expand access to high-quality education for students of all ages.
"I believe deeply in public education and I will continue to fight for more resources for our students and our schools," said Mayor Walsh. "We are working every day to close opportunity and achievement gaps, meet the individual needs of every student and make our district schools top choices for every family in every neighborhood. I am committed to working with our partners on Beacon Hill to fix education funding formulas, and get every student on a pathway to success from pre-kindergarten through college and career. I want to thank our legislative partners for their willingness to sponsor and support these reforms."
The bills in the Mayor's legislative agenda on education will:
- Make the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) responsible for charter school facilities charges and makes charter schools eligible for MSBA funding for school construction and renovation. This reform would both relieve districts of $35 million in annual costs and afford charter schools the same opportunities as their district school peers. The $35 million freed up by this change, paired with the more affordable direct funding model proposed by the Mayor, would allow for full charter transition funding, which is currently underfunded by 54%. Boston has contributed almost $1 billion to the MSBA since its creation, but has only been approved for $65 million in capital spending.
- Reform charter school financing by reducing the state's overall liability while returning to a true partnership between the Commonwealth and its cities and towns. The proposal would replace the current charter reimbursement model with a new three-year transition funding system. Current law provides for the Commonwealth to reimburse the city for the full first year costs of charter growth and five years of partial growth. However, over the past three years, the Commonwealth has not approached full funding for transition costs, leading to an aggregate $48 million in lost revenue for Boston alone. While the Commonwealth was allowed to underpay on its statutory commitment to Boston's students, the City of Boston's full $154 million assessment was deducted directly from its education aid. The transition funding formula was created to account for the difficulty of immediately achieving savings when students leave district schools to attend charter schools. Under the proposal, the Commonwealth would fund 100% of the growth in tuition in Year 1, 50% in Year 2, and 25% in Year 3 directly to the charter schools, with the municipality responsible for the balance in Years 2 and 3. Cities and towns would be responsible for 100% of the cost from the fourth year on.
- Adjust the charter school per-pupil tuition calculation to recognize the full transition costs for students leaving BPS to attend charter schools, rather than just the amount funded through the transition funding formula. Due to a flaw in the current formula, the charter assessment directly penalizes communities that have had their charter reimbursement appropriations underfunded.
- Increase Circuit Breaker reimbursement for the highest need and highest cost students. Boston Public Schools students overall face more significant and more numerous disabilities than students in other districts. BPS has seen an increase in the number of high need students and DCF involved students placed in group homes who require private placement. These students in out- of-district educational programs cost an average of $84,000 per pupil. Currently, the state reimburses districts for 75% of costs above 4 times the average pupil cost. The proposal would change this threshold to 3 times the average pupil cost. If fully funded, the change would increase BPS funding by about $6 million.
- Find efficiencies in school transportation by allowing district and charter schools to split transportation costs equally if transportation schedule agreements cannot be reached, and by prohibiting charters from passing costs of third party transportation to districts. The City dedicates significant resources to school transportation, spending over $100 million, or 10% of the annual BPS budget. In recent years, BPS has made numerous policy and operational changes aimed at reducing its own transportation costs, but has limited ability to influence the charter transportation costs that it is responsible for.
- Fix the Chapter 70 Education Aid Formula for communities that spend beyond state guidelines and serve high cost populations, but do not receive significant education aid increases.The Commonwealth's Chapter 70 per pupil Education Aid to Boston has been decreasing despite rising costs of educating students. Boston's per pupil Chapter 70 Aid decreased from $3,519 in FY08 to $3,365 in FY17, while City funding for BPS and charter schools grew by almost 40%, leaving the City, with its limited revenue raising ability, to fill the gap at the expense of other City programming. If new state revenue is identified for education aid, the proposal caps the municipal revenue growth factor at 2 1/2% for communities like Boston that teach the most economically disadvantaged students, are investing more in education than required, and are not receiving any new foundation aid. With the Mayor's proposal, Boston could fundamentally change its State Education Aid picture and invest an additional $150 million per year in its students within the next several years. If the Commonwealth identifies a new revenue source for education, the Mayor's proposal combines needed foundation budget updates for economically disadvantaged students, special education, and English Language Learning with a local contribution reform for communities like Boston.
Close the "quality gap" in pre-kindergarten seats in Boston by Fiscal Year 2025 by creating approximately hundreds more quality pre-kindergarten seats, which would be funded by redirecting surplus revenue raised in Boston from the Convention Center Fund to the City of Boston. This proposal would guarantee free, high-quality pre-kindergarten for every four-year-old in Boston by dedicating $16.5 million to early education in Boston. This legislation will redirect two Convention Center Fund revenues that are produced exclusively in the City of Boston: the Boston Sightseeing Surcharge and the Boston Vehicular Rental Transaction Surcharge. Neither revenue source is directly related to convention center business, and Convention Center revenue is almost entirely raised in Boston. However, in recent years, Fund surpluses have been used to balance the statewide budget. In FY16 alone, the Commonwealth drew $60 million from the Convention Center Fund to close the year in balance. Boston residents have a strong claim on this revenue, and supporting early education will make a difference in the lives of thousands of children and families, and will provide all children with equal opportunities for success. The Walsh Administration has added hundreds of pre-kindergarten seats over the past three years and, while families now have virtually universal access to pre-kindergarten seats, they do not have universal access to free, high-quality seats in their neighborhoods.
Bringing Opportunity to the Entire City
Mayor Walsh believes in providing tools that enhance the economic mobility of all Bostonians. These proposals are aimed at eliminating the achievement and wealth gaps by investing in our children and our workforce.
"Our residents are the backbone of this great city, so it's critical that we do what we can to make it easier for them to stay and succeed in Boston," said Mayor Walsh. "Whether through tax credits, financial empowerment initiatives, or job opportunities, the City will continue to provide support to help residents thrive."
The bills in the Mayor's legislative agenda designed to provide economic mobility will:
- Ensure that Children's Savings Accounts (CSA) reach their maximum benefits by not counting against asset limits for the state's various cash assistance programs. CSAs are one part of the Mayor's efforts to encourage post-secondary learning by helping families save for college and career training. Research shows that children with as little as $500 in a bank account dedicated to college are three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate from college than children who do not have similar dedicated funds.
- Hold general contractors accountable for any wage theft carried out by subcontractors on their projects. This builds upon Mayor Walsh's October 2014, "Executive Order Establishing Requirements For City Contracts In An Effort to Prevent Wage Theft" to provide local solutions to the epidemic of wage and hour violations that have historically plagued low-wage industries. Community Labor United (CLU) estimates that wage theft costs workers in Massachusetts over $700 million in wages on an annual basis.
- Increase the amount of the State Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to 50% of the federal tax credit in order to help low-income residents of Massachusetts maintain their standard of living in our high-cost state. In 2016, the Boston Tax Help Coalition assisted over 13,000 low and moderate income Boston households with free tax preparation and asset building services. More than $24 million was returned to Boston's neighborhoods through the Coalition's free tax preparation services. The EITC was an important component of that strategy, providing millions of additional dollars to Boston's taxpayers.
- Provide local licensing boards with another disciplinary tool by allowing monetary fines to be levied when appropriate. Currently, the City can only levy penalties such as warnings, suspensions, or revocations for entertainment and liquor license violations. This can have unintended consequences that are detrimental to the employees who rely on the income from those service industry jobs.
Authorize the Boston Police Department and Boston Fire Department to implement a residency preference of three years prior to the date of civil service examination for individuals seeking appointment in the respective departments. Currently, individuals must only live in the City for one year prior to the civil service examinations. By increasing the years of residency requirement to three, the departments will attract individuals that are invested in the City and assist in diversifying the departments.
Alleviating Residential Displacement
Mayor Walsh will submit legislation at the State House to address displacement of Boston residents from their homes by expanding tenants' rights, rewarding good landlords and creating additional funding for affordable housing.
"Even as Boston sees historic levels of housing being built, we must make sure no one is left behind," said Mayor Walsh. "To preserve, enhance and grow neighborhoods, we must protect our neighbors from displacement."
The Mayor submitted proposals that will:
- Make legal representation in eviction proceedings a right, rather than an option. If a tenant cannot afford his or her own attorney, one will be appointed by the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services. By offering tenants a higher likelihood of success in eviction proceedings by requiring legal representation, this bill will assist with housing and economic stability for families and individuals, and help alleviate homelessness by diverting people from having to enter the emergency shelter system. Currently, only seven percent of tenants brought to Boston Housing Court receive some type of legal assistance while a majority of landlords have representation.
- Authorize the City to amend its zoning code to require inclusionary zoning for affordable housing. Currently, the City's Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) is only triggered when a project requires a variance from the zoning code. This will allow IDP to be triggered by project threshold as opposed to project variance. The city's linkage program serves a similar function by requiring new large commercial developments of 100,000 square feet or larger that need zoning relief or opt into Planned Development Area review to contribute to affordable housing and local jobs funds. The legislation will now also ensure continuation of the linkage program where projects no longer require zoning relief but do need approval under the Article 80 process.
- Codify conditions under which landlords can evict a tenant or former homeowner living in their foreclosed unit and requiring landlords to notify the City in case of eviction, allowing the City's Office of Housing Stability to proactively reach out to tenants to inform them of their rights.
- Allow tenants and non-profits a right of first refusal to purchase properties subject to foreclosure or short sale at fair market value. Lenders will be required to notify the City and tenants of the foreclosure.
Provide landlords who are keeping their rents below market rent with a $1,500 state income tax credit.
Promoting the Health and Safety of Bostonians
"A city can only thrive and grow when its people are healthy," said Mayor Walsh. "From implementing new safety measures to continuing our focus on substance abuse recovery and prevention, the City of Boston will do its part in aiding residents to lead healthy lives."
Mayor Walsh's health bills will:
- Require that side guards and blind spot mirrors be installed on large vehicles operating in Massachusetts.
- Amend state law to define "lead poisoning" for the purposes of triggering lead abatement, emergency case management and civil liability to 10 micrograms per deciliter, lowering the level from 25. Lead poisoning is a serious but preventable disease that affects the development of a child, and can cause speech, hearing, learning, and behavior problems. This piece of legislation is particularly important in Boston as the City has the third oldest housing stock in the country and older homes are more likely to contain lead-based paint.
- Expand access to appropriate in-patient substance abuse treatment by ensuring that 30-day treatment programs are covered by health insurance. In Massachusetts, the 1574 unintentional opioid overdose deaths for 2015 represents a 20% increase over 2014. Ensuring access to treatment programs is critical to reversing this troubling trend.
- Entitle individuals facing first and second drug offenses to be examined to determine if they are drug dependent and would benefit from treatment. If they are found to be, an individual will be able to request assignment to a drug treatment facility. This would stay all court proceedings until treatment program is completed.
Require chain pharmacies to have drug collection kiosks.
Mayor Walsh is committed to a more inclusive and transparent government that affords more opportunities for residents to be involved in the democratic and decision-making processes.
"From giving Bostonians more access to the ballot box, to providing potential candidates for office a better opportunity to engage with the public, and ensuring a more transparent decision-making process, these proposed legislative measures aim to make City Hall and government more inclusive and give citizens more opportunities to participate, learn about what we do, and get their voices heard," said Mayor Walsh.
Mayor Walsh's bills will:
- Allow eligible citizens, with proper identification, who missed the registration deadline to register to vote and then cast their ballot on Election Day at designated sites throughout the City.
- Eliminate the requirement that an inactive voter must make written affirmation of his or her current and continuous residency and instead ask for suitable identification and address verification, with the aim of reducing lines at the polls.
- Allow voters to sign nomination papers for as many candidates as they choose, providing the opportunity for more candidates to get on the ballot and lead to a more equitable process for candidates.Under current law, voters are only allowed to sign one nomination paper for candidates for mayor and district city councilor, and up to four nomination papers for city council at-large candidates. This Home Rule Petition will allow voters to sign nomination papers for as many candidates as they choose providing the opportunity for more candidates to get on the ballot. This not only benefits those who seek elected office, but also the voters who may now have more options when entering the voting booth.
- Establish an additional polling location in several large City precincts with over 3,000 registered voters, which have grown dramatically over the past ten years, alleviating lines at the City's busiest polling locations.
Reform municipal lobbying to allow greater access to information concerning efforts by third parties seeking to influence discretionary decision making at all levels of municipal government. With this home rule petition, Mayor Walsh aims to make municipal lobbying efforts easily accessible to the public for the first time in the city's history. The framework of this home rule largely mirrors that of the existing state ethics law, with some key changes better tailored for municipal government.