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This Week in Massachusetts – October 18, 2022

Posted on October 18, 2022

Marty Walsh Returns to Boston; Speaks on Future of Work and Education

WHDH – Former Boston Mayor and current U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh returned to his roots, visiting his hometown to talk about preparing students for the future of work.

“When you look at the future of our workforce, it’s about opportunity,” Walsh said.

He joined Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to meet with students at the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology. Those students are training for careers in new technologies.

Walsh said ensuring representation in these new fields is essential for economic equity.

“Right here in Boston, the average wealth of a Black family is $8. It’s still $8. It was $8 when I became mayor,” Walsh said. “The average of a white family is $237,000. You know what that is? That’s the ability to buy a home. That’s the ability to have investments. We need to change that narrative.”

The school’s president and CEO gave a tour of its Center for Energy Efficiency and the Trades, which trains students for careers focused on solar and wind energy, electric and autonomous vehicles and electric power generation.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., also joined the panel of speakers. She and Walsh agreed that institutions like this will help provide new career opportunities for students in Massachusetts and across the country.

“These investments, and this institution, ensures that every learner can thrive, and that our region can grow,” she said.

Walsh also discussed President Joe Biden’s plans to build pathways for the future, while recalling his own efforts to do the same when he was mayor.

“When I was the mayor of Boston, I started a program called Operation Exit,” he said. “The folks who have gone through (this program) are earning good wages today. The folks that have gone through (it) have healthcare, have pension benefits, have annuity benefits, have opportunities to do amazing things.”

The White House has set aside $200 million in this year’s budget for investment in career-connected high schools.

It’s Almost Impossible to Find a CEO Who Isn’t Bracing for a Recession

WBUR – Top business leaders are preparing for the worst.

Federal Reserve officials maintain they’ll be able to get surging inflation under control without triggering a recession, but almost every chief executive in the United States is getting ready to face an economic downturn in the next 12 to 18 months, according to a recent survey from The Conference Board.

“Our CEOs are overwhelmingly bracing for a recession — both in the United States, and in Europe,” says Steve Odland, the head of the business trade group.

It seems almost impossible to find one who doesn’t foresee a global downturn, with 98% of chief executives in the survey gearing up for a recession in the United States, and 99% prepping for one in Europe.

CEO confidence has now eroded to lows last seen during the Great Recession, the survey found.

The Fed’s fight against high inflation has been getting tougher, stoking worries that the rapid fire of aggressive interest rate hikes will lead to a downturn. Executives and professional investors have begun issuing more somber warnings.

One of the world’s most powerful CEOs, Jamie Dimon, delivered a gloomy assessment that startled Wall Street this week during an interview with CNBC.

Massachusetts May Have to Rely More on Immigrants as it Faces a Shortage of Skilled Labor

WGBH – To meet workforce demands in health care, IT and other sectors, Massachusetts will need a lot more immigrants to fill jobs. Baby Boomers are retiring more quickly than previous estimates suggested and there aren’t enough U.S. workers to replace them. At the same time, overall college enrollment is declining.

Brooke Thomson, a vice president at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the state’s largest business group, recently spoke to one employer who spent years training a recent Northeastern University engineering graduate, only to have him forced to return to India when his visa expired.

‘“If we cannot keep and retain the individuals who we are drawing here through academia then you’re really disrupting the pipeline,” she said.

A new report by the think tank MassINC projects a 10% decrease in the number of skilled workers in Massachusetts by the year 2030. That comes after a four-decade run of 25% increases in workers with degrees, according to Ben Forman, who directed the research.

One key factor is that international immigration has slowed since 2016. “It’s kind of like going 90 miles an hour and hitting a brick wall,” he said.

Forman says Massachusetts, like many other states, has built a knowledge economy based on the idea that companies and hospitals could depend on a steady supply of college-educated workers. And to him, the downward labor trend is troublesome, though not surprising.

Greater Boston Support Networks Struggle as Thousands of Migrants Surge into the Area

Boston Globe – When Florida Governor Ron DeSantis flew two planes of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard last month, the stunt commanded national headlines and prompted an outpouring of support from good Samaritans and state agencies.

But the Vineyard migrants’ numbers — fewer than 50 — represented a mere drop in the bucket when compared to a surge of thousands of migrants who have reached the Boston area in recent months. Their arrival is overwhelming the resources of local aid groups and prompting calls for more resources to handle the influx.

“The system is strained,” said Jeff Thielman, CEO of the International Institute of New England, which serves newly arrived migrants in Greater Boston.

The new migrants, by and large, have come to the state after crossing the border in Texas and then bouncing between detention centers, shelters run by nonprofits, or friends’ living rooms throughout the country. They have left their homes in Haiti, Central America, and, increasingly, Colombia, Venezuela, and Peru, driven out by violence, political instability, and a lack of work.

They turn up at Logan Airport, South Station, emergency rooms, the front stoops of churches, and the packed waiting rooms of nonprofits looking for a meal, a place to sleep, and help with immigration paperwork.

Gladys Vega, executive director of La Colaborativa, which helps Latin American migrants settle in Chelsea, said that in the past three months a “wave” of South American migrants has forced her organization to make difficult choices about how to allocate limited resources.

“How do I give priority to this new group when I already have 800 people waiting for affordable housing?” Vega said.

While state and local officials do not have definitive numbers, reports from some aid groups are startling. One Mattapan nonprofit, the Immigrant Family Services Institute, which serves mostly Haitians, performed approximately 5,200 intakes from April through September. That figure represents a more than sixfold increase compared to the first half of last year.

Warren Holds Hearing in Boston to Urge MBTA Improvements

WBUROngoing safety problems at the MBTA and their economic impact were the focus on Friday of a rare Senate hearing held here in Boston.

Leading that hearing was Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who’s long been critical of the MBTA’s efforts to improve.

“Look, I am a huge supporter of transit, of the MBTA. We’ve tried — Senator Markey and I and the rest of the delegation — to get plenty of funds into the MBTA. But without a plan, without management, without some indication that they’re actually using that money to deliver what the people of Massachusetts are entitled to, and that means safe, accessible trains that runs on time, a transit system that works, we can’t just keep pouring money into this.

“So this is about the management report that the federal government has now done as a matter of oversight and bringing in the leaders of the MBTA to say basically, what’s gone wrong and why is it you guys still have your jobs? At the federal level, I want to be able to support the MBTA. I want to help get it resources. But not just pour money into a hole with no real plan on what they’re going to do going forward.

“I think some of it should come from the federal government and some of it should come from the state. This is about a good partnership. But money without vision is just a waste. We need that money to be used in ways that really do produce a transit system that works. And part of what we’re going to talk about are the preventable errors, the preventable waste. That’s going to be a big part of what this hearing is about today, and why it is that a strong governor can step in and put her vision on the MBTA, and really make it work for the people of Massachusetts.”

Healy Puts Community Colleges at Center of Her Workforce Plan

State House News – To address workforce shortages in Massachusetts and the rising costs of higher education, Democratic candidates for governor and lieutenant governor Maura Healey and Kim Driscoll released a new policy plan Monday to help older state residents complete their education after high school.

The policy, which the candidates have named MassReconnect, would fund community college certificates and degrees for state residents who are 25 years old and older and have not earned a college degree. Students could pursue either certificates or degrees, depending on which would better serve their career goals.

The program would offer “last dollar” financial assistance, the campaigns said, meaning the state would fill any gaps to fully cover the price of a students’ community college degree after federal financial aid and grants.

“One of our challenges in the community college space is that most people think college is unaffordable, or not for them, or both,” said Nate Mackinnon, executive director of Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges. “This program attacks one of those barriers head on. Having the narrative available that they can go to college for free is going to be huge in terms of convincing folks to take that step and not worry about taking on additional fiscal debt.”

Sustainability, Climate and Energy

New England Risks Winter Blackouts as Gas Supplies Tighten

Wall street Journal – New England power producers are preparing for potential strain on the grid this winter as a surge in natural-gas demand abroad threatens to reduce supplies they need to generate electricity.

New England, which relies on natural-gas imports to bridge winter supply gaps, is now competing with European countries for shipments of liquefied natural gas, following Russia’s halt of most pipeline gas to the continent. Severe cold spells in the Northeast could reduce the amount of gas available to generate electricity as more of it is burned to heat homes.

The region’s power-grid operator, ISO New England Inc., has warned that an extremely cold winter could strain the reliability of the grid and potentially result in the need for rolling blackouts to keep electricity supply and demand in balance. The warning comes as executives and analysts predict power producers could have to pay as much as several times more than last year for gas deliveries if severe weather creates urgent need for spot-market purchases.

“The most challenging aspect of this winter is what’s happening around the world and the extreme volatility in the markets,” said Vamsi Chadalavada, the grid operator’s chief operating officer. “If you are in the commercial sector, at what point do you buy fuel?”

Power producers in New England are limited in their ability to store fuel on site and face challenges in contracting for gas supplies, as most pipeline capacity is reserved by gas utilities serving homes and businesses. Most generators tend to procure only a portion of imports with fixed-price agreements and instead rely on the spot market, where gas prices have been volatile, to fill shortfalls.

“Anybody who is depending on the spot market for their natural-gas supply is probably going to have a pretty significant sticker shock,” said Tanya Bodell, a partner at consulting firm StoneTurn who advises energy companies in New England.

New England has been grappling with fuel-supply challenges for more than a decade because the region has limited pipeline capacity. Imports of LNG can make up more than a third of the region’s natural-gas supply during periods of peak demand, according to the Energy Information Administration. The Jones Act, a law restricting the movement of ships between U.S. ports, makes maritime delivery of domestic supplies nearly impossible, so the region relies on gas produced abroad.

Now, intense competition for LNG cargoes driven by European demand makes securing supply ad hoc a costly proposition. This summer, the European benchmark price for natural gas topped $100 per million British thermal units. Gas prices in New England, by comparison, rarely reach much above $30, said Eugene Kim, a research director at energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie—a differential that encourages suppliers to provide gas to Europe rather than New England.

U.S. Gas Producers Under Pressure as Russia Cuts Off Supplies in EuropePlay video: U.S. Gas Producers Under Pressure as Russia Cuts Off Supplies in Europe

As Europe races to wean itself off Russian energy, American natural-gas producers are struggling to meet the demand and prices are rising. Factors including extreme weather and equipment needs have created a bottleneck amid the war in Ukraine. Illustration: Laura Kammermann and Sharon Shi

This summer, the governors of New England states sent a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Graholm citing high natural-gas prices as a reason to waive the Jones Act and allow for domestic LNG imports to the region. They also requested more coordination with the federal government to ensure energy reliability and help modernizing New England’s heating-oil reserve.

New England residents are facing some of their largest electricity bills in years and are likely to pay even more this winter because of higher gas prices. Utilities purchase electricity from generators on the wholesale market and recoup those costs from customers.

Thad Hill, chief executive of Calpine Corp., which operates several plants in the region, said he expects fuel supplies this winter to be sufficient but expensive. The circumstances, he said, might warrant the need for the grid operator to implement stronger incentives for power producers to store or contract for firm supplies ahead of winter.

“The goal should be to put in place a market mechanism that’s actually durable for all but the most egregious situations,” he said.

New England’s challenges are becoming more acute as older coal, oil and nuclear-fueled generators shut, leaving gas-fired ones to serve a greater percentage of demand. Since 2013, about 5,200 megawatts of that capacity has retired, according to the New England ISO, an amount equal to roughly a quarter of peak winter demand. Some older plants risk closing faster than they can be replaced by renewable-energy projects, which account for the majority of new capacity proposed for the region.

The changes to the region’s power mix have left it increasingly reliant on imports of gas as well as oil to power the remaining plants, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has roiled the global markets for both commodities. Similar to gas, fuel oil is used for home heating and power generation, creating a tight market for the resource on cold days.

The New England ISO expects that the grid can weather a mild-to-moderate winter without significant reliability challenges. However, it has warned that electricity demand could threaten to surge beyond available supply after multiple sustained periods of severely cold weather, which would result in calls for conservation similar to those issued in California in September during a regionwide heat wave.

LS Power Development LLC has been working to prepare its two gas-fired power plants in New England, one of which can run on oil as backup. Nathan Hanson, the company’s senior vice president of energy and commercial management, said the company is filling the one plant’s backup tanks with oil and has an option to procure for the other plant an emergency supply of gas for use during peak demand.

“The grid overall is in a much tighter position,” he said. “If we get a sustained cold period in New England this winter, we’ll be in a very similar position as California was this summer.”

How the DPU is Preventing Communities from Lowering Utility Bills — and Carbon Emissions

Boston Globe – After a series of powerful nor’easters pounded its shores and flooded its streets in recent years, the oceanfront town of Scituate decided it needed to do everything in its power to push back against the planet-warming forces driving such destructive weather. Near the top of its list: greening its electricity supply to move away from fossil fuels.

Fortunately, there was a state-sanctioned program that does just that — and can even slash residents’ electricity bills in the bargain. Grass-roots leaders scrambled to earn support across the community, completed the application, and in February 2020 sent it off for approval by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities.

And that’s where it sat. For two and a half years.

It turned out that 31 other communities were in the same boat, waiting at least a year and a half for the state regulator to review and approve their new or updated plans to choose their own supplier instead of the local utility and buy electricity in bulk. This despite the program, known as municipal aggregation, being in place since 1997, with nearly 160 Massachusetts communities already using it.

Health Care

Study: Telehealth Sticking After Initial Surge

State House News – Over the course of 2020, patients went from seeing their doctors primarily on a Zoom screen at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, to returning to in-person visits for most of their care.

However, preliminary results of a state Health Policy Commission study show there are still areas where telehealth remains an important piece of the patchwork of health care in the state.

The Massachusetts Legislature in an early 2021 law charged the Health Policy Commission with studying the utilization of telehealth and its effect on total spending since the beginning of the pandemic, and with recommending possible policy considerations.

The commission’s Market Oversight and Transparency Committee plans to present a finalized version of the study to the Legislature when it resumes formal sessions early next year.

According to the preliminary results reported at a committee meeting Wednesday, telehealth accounted for a third of all commercial ambulatory visits in 2020, reaching a record-high of 66 percent in April 2020 and leveling out around 32 percent for the last five months of the year.

Mental health care made up almost two-thirds of all those visits, averaging 63.2 percent of telehealth appointments in 2020. In contrast, the clinical area with the second highest percentage of telehealth visits, musculoskeletal system care, accounted for only 4 percent of the total virtual visits.

“Patients really like telehealth, especially for mental health conditions,” said commission research associate Yue Huang. “They feel it is really analogous to in-person visits.”

Blue Cross Pilot Cuts Times for Prior Authorizations

Becker’s Payer Issues – Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts said its prior authorization pilot at Boston-based New England Baptist Hospital significantly reduced prior authorization approval times.

The pilot program, called FastPass, focused on hip and knee procedures for 32 orthopedic providers over the course of four months, according to an Oct. 12 BCBS news release. Eighty-eight percent of prior authorization submissions were processed automatically in real time. Prior authorization approval times went from an average of nine days to an average of less than one day.

“We realize that the prior authorization process is widely recognized as the single biggest administrative pain point for hospital staff,” said Kathy Gardner, RN, vice president of clinical operations at BCBS. “We wanted to figure out a way to retain the value of prior authorizations — ensuring our members receive treatments that are medically necessary and clinically effective — while eliminating the administrative burden on our clinical partners and allowing members to get the care they need sooner.”

Four things to know:

  1. BCBS partnered with artificial intelligence company Olive for the pilot. Olive’s AI technology automated the process of cross-checking the payer’s prior authorization requirements in real time to identify if a prior authorization was required.
  2. If prior authorization was not required, the provider received an instant notification that it could move forward with scheduling a procedure.
  3. If prior authorization was required, FastPass used AI to cross-check the clinical history in the EMR against BCBS’ medical necessity criteria and automatically generated a recommendation in real time.
  4. For prior authorization submissions that required more complex clinical review, FastPass automatically packaged and made available all the clinical documentation and notes to the clinical review team, significantly streamlining and accelerating the reviews.

COVID Patients with Behavioral-Health Conditions Saw Longer Hospital Stays

Axios – A new state report shows hospitalized COVID-19 patients with behavioral health conditions were staying at the hospital on average a day longer, and readmitted more, than COVID-19 patients without those coexisting conditions.

The Center for Health Information and Analysis report covered the first wave of the pandemic (April-June 2020).

Comorbid behavioral health conditions were also associated with longer stays for non-COVID patients and higher readmission levels.

Health-care leaders are looking for ways to reduce avoidable readmissions, but the industry has historically focused on medical and surgical conditions, not behavioral health conditions, as factors, according to the report.

This is CHIA’s fifth report examining how behavioral health impacts the health care system, but the first to examine its impact during the pandemic.

Almost half (46%) of adults hospitalized in Massachusetts acute care hospitals had at least one comorbid behavioral health condition, representing a majority of discharges (54%) in fiscal 2020.

This pattern continued during the first wave of the pandemic.

Readmission rates on average were 2.2 times higher for COVID patients with a comorbid behavioral health condition than for COVID patients with none.

Readmission rates for non-COVID patients with behavioral health conditions were 1.8 times higher than for non-COVID patients without those comorbidities.

Long COVID Took their Health. Then It Took Their Money.

Boston Globe – Melissa Hamre’s nursing career was abruptly put on hold in March 2020, when she contracted COVID-19 while working at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. She was one of hundreds infected in the facility’s devastating outbreak.

She survived but was soon racked with a cascading series of symptoms: debilitating fatigue, digestive issues, inflammation. That May, she developed two blood clots in her right arm. The last time she went into work was in July 2020. She left in an ambulance.

“My blood pressure had gone through the roof. I couldn’t control my heart rate,” said Hamre, 51. Insomnia, which has plagued her since her infection, sometimes keeps her up until 3 a.m.

Something else keeps her up, too: She can, quite literally, no longer afford to have long COVID. The disease has robbed Hamre not only of her health, but of her career, income, and insurance coverage. Since getting sick, she exhausted the short-term disability insurance from her job and about $20,000 in savings. Her health insurance has changed five times. In December, she was approved for monthly disability checks from Social Security, but it’s barely enough to cover her mortgage.

“I had been climbing that ladder for 20 years,” Hamre said of her nursing career. “It’s just absolutely devastating to be in this situation now and not be able to work my way out of it.”

Hamre is one of thousands of people in Massachusetts and millions across the country who face significant limitations resulting from long COVID — the term coined for the array of long-term health problems that can arise after a COVID-19 infection. Ailments, which often don’t show up on routine tests, range from “brain fog” to joint pain to heart palpitations.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

City to Adopt Diversity Mission, Work on Hiring Barriers Following Equity Audit

Worcester Telegram – In response to a September racial equity audit that revealed deep dissatisfaction among workers of color at City Hall, the city has announced a series of steps to address the findings.

According to the city’s website, Acting City Manager Eric D. Batista will take actions that include town halls for city employees; adding new diversity, equity and inclusion language to the city’s strategic plan; and a series of measures to work on employment barriers.

The audit, conducted by Letterman White Consulting found a “racially toxic” culture at City Hall so entrenched that the report questioned whether the city was even ready for change.

A team of auditors was asked to “evaluate current policies, procedures, and culture,” and to “provide recommendations to disrupt systems of racism and inequity in any form,” as a result of former City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr.’s February 2021 Executive Order to Assess and Address Institutional and Structural Racism. It was inspired by calls for reform following the murder of George Floyd.

Consultants audited two city departments: Health and human services and human resources. The data collected from the two departments were consistent, the audit noted.

Taxation and Budget

Tax Debate Pivots on Who, Exactly, Would End up Paying New Levy

Boston Globe – A November ballot proposal that would raise taxes on the state’s wealthiest has turned, to a degree, on a seemingly contradictory query: Would the very richest among us actually be the ones shouldering the new costs?

The question reared its head Friday during a debate over Question 1, a proposed constitutional amendment that would impose a 4 percent surtax on annual income over $1 million.

At the dispute’s center is the prospect of many so-called one-time millionaires — the small-business owner or retiree finally selling their company or home — suddenly eating a higher tax bill, all because of a measure being touted as a way to make our tax system fairer.

How many taxpayers would fall into that category can’t be known, and data vary wildly.

Dan Cence, a spokesman for the business-backed committee opposing the question, argued Friday that half of those paying the tax each year could fall into that category — “50.5 percent” he said, composed of people who “don’t consider themselves millionaires.”

“Is that who we’re going after with this? I thought we were going after the uber-wealthy?” Cence said during the debate, hosted by WBUR in partnership with WCVB Channel 5 and The Boston Globe. “This is people who’ve worked their entire life for one single event that would fund their nest egg, fund their retirement.”

The number, which is cited in a January report produced by Tufts University’s Center for State Policy Analysis, stems from a separate 2010 report produced by the Tax Foundation, a pro-business think tank, and covers from 1999 to 2007.

It’s also a period that touches two recessions, argued Andrew Farnitano, a spokesman for the labor-backed Fair Share committee pushing the ballot question.

“That number is out of date. It’s not based in reality,” he said during Friday’s debate.

What’s the Latest on the Massachusetts Tax Refund?

NBC Boston – A group of progressive Democrats will push to set a $6,500 limit on the maximum tax credit high-income earners in Massachusetts can receive under a mandatory refund law known as Chapter 62F, taking aim at the policy less than a month before the Baker administration expects to begin shipping out cash.

Cambridge Rep. Mike Connolly filed a bill Wednesday that would reshape the 1986 voter-approved law requiring the state to return excess tax collections on a proportional basis equal to the amount of income tax they paid. The law has only been trigged twice since its passage.

The new legislation would cap any 62F credit at $6,500, roughly the amount a taxpayer who earned $1 million in 2021 will receive in the current batch of refunds. If any taxpayer who earns $1 million or more is due a larger amount, the bill would require the administration to slice off the overage above $6,500 and redistribute it equally to all other taxpayers whose credits do not hit the cap.

Critics of the law, which was last triggered in 1987, argue that the formula puts the state’s richest taxpayers in line to receive checks worth tens of thousands of dollars while offering lower-income earners, for whom the refunds would make more of a difference, insignificant amounts.

“62F delivers a huge cash windfall to the state’s top income earners and very little to lower-income workers. If we don’t act, roughly 26% of the $2.9 billion excess will go to taxpayers who earned more than $1 million in income in 2021,” Connolly wrote in a blog post, linking to research by the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. “Taxpayers with incomes of $1 million or more will get refunds of about $22,000 on average. On the other hand, taxpayers in the bottom 20% of incomes will get refunds of about $9 on average. In this time of economic hardship for so many, this sort of disparity is unconscionable.”

The bill would also make explicit the executive branch’s authority to deliver refund checks “to all eligible taxpayers on or after the 2021 tax return filing extension deadline of October 17, 2022.” Connolly said that move will align Gov. Charlie Baker’s plan with the exact text of Chapter 62F, which calls for excess tax revenues to be returned as a “credit” against tax liability.

Massachusetts is Losing Taxpayers at Fourth Highest Rate: Tax Foundation

Boston Herald – The Bay State has been highlighted on a list of states that are losing taxpayers, while some New England states are in the top 10 states for taxpayer growth.

Massachusetts is the highest outward migration state in New England, according to a new report from the Tax Foundation that uses IRS data to track taxpayer movement.

Across the country, Massachusetts is now ranked the fourth highest state for losing taxpayers. The top three states are New York, California and Illinois, according to the report.

“Massachusetts is relatively small when compared to the other states that make this list, but we punch well above our weight when it comes to forcing taxpayers to flee,” Paul Diego Craney, spokesperson of Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said in a statement.

“The Tax Foundation report shows that Massachusetts had the 4th largest outward migration of taxpayers in the entire country and one of the main reasons for that is due to our state’s pursuit of aggressive tax policy,” Craney added.

The IRS data between 2019 and 2020 shows that Massachusetts’ outward migration represented a 0.54% decrease in the state’s overall population.

The fleeing taxpayers represented 20,395 taxpayer entities that comprised 36,982 individuals, and about $2.5 billion in lost revenue.

“The Tax Foundation report sends a clear and stern warning to Massachusetts,” Craney said. “If states like us continue our pursuit to aggressively overtax our population, we will continue to lose taxpayers.”

Meanwhile, Maine and New Hampshire placed in the top 10 states for taxpayer growth during the same time period.

Auditor Identifies $1.2 Billion in Unfunded Mandates

Commonwealth Magazine – The state has a $1.2 billion shortfall in aid promised to cities, towns, and school districts, Auditor Suzanne Bump concluded in a report released Thursday.

The report looked at several major categories of state aid and identified $711.4 million in unfunded mandates related to school aid; $448.3 million related to school transportation; and $103.3 million in government aid, mainly related to the Community Preservation Act.

“The state should be accountable to fulfill its funding obligations to cities and towns,” Bump said in an interview. “These are mandates that have long been on the books, and it just seems it’s easier to focus on the new and forget about the old.”

State law prohibits unfunded mandates, requiring the Legislature to fund anything it requires cities and towns to do. But practically, lawmakers have often ignored those obligations. For example, they regularly appropriate only a portion of mandated expenses for school transportation.

“Insufficient state appropriations or allocations have left programs underfunded, and some programs have seen financial obligations completely ignored despite a commitment under law,” the report says.

Bump’s 59-page report, released by her office’s Division of Local Mandates, is an attempt to document some of the major categories that remain underfunded. She called it a “roadmap” for lawmakers “if they truly want to address the problems of shortfalls in municipal reimbursements.”

The report is likely to be among the last issued as auditor by Bump, who was elected to the post in 2010. A former state legislator who served as labor and workforce development secretary under Gov. Deval Patrick, she is not seeking a fourth term this fall.

Lawmakers have for the last couple of years had extra money to spend due to unexpectedly high tax revenues and an influx of federal COVID recovery money.