Amazingly, A Rainy Day On Beacon Hill

Published January 21, 2011

He saved it for a snowy, er, rainy day. Gov. Deval Patrick will call for a 7 percent cut to non-school local aid. The Globe reports:

He announced that he would propose increases in state aid for schools, special education, and road repairs, as well as a grant program to encourage regionalization. But he said he was cutting unrestricted local aid by $65 million, to $833.9 million.

Administration officials said the reduction would be offset by health plan changes to rein in the exorbitant cost of providing health care to municipal employees, retirees, and elected officials. Health care spending has become a major drag on city and town budgets.

Patrick is proposing a $120 $140 million increase to Chapter 70 education funding, to $4 billion. Chapter 70 money is earmarked for schools and can’t be used for anything else.

Cities and towns can spend non-school aid however they see fit — firefighters, cops, construction projects, etc. That funding got the whack.

But WBUR’s Steve Brown provides some good insight. While a city or town can’t reallocate state money meant for schools, it can choose to cut its own school funding to make up the difference.

Say Lawrence gets $2 million for schools. I’m making this up. Lawrence couldn’t spend a cent of that $2 million on road repairs. But it could cut $2 million from the school budget, thus recovering the cash that Patrick cut. It all comes out in the wash.

Meanwhile, the governor gets political points, because he promised to focus on education in his inaugural address and then boosted education spending.

Patrick is expected to unveil his entire state budget next week. Then he’ll wrangle with lawmakers for a final budget, hopefully in time for July 1 — the start of the 2012 fiscal year.

Update: I updated this post to reflect the fact that he proposed 7 percent cut is to non-school aid. Saying, simply: “Patrick proposes 7 percent cut to local aid” is not accurate or fair.