State aid cuts to town could top $800k

With the state economy deteriorating and bad vibes emenating from Beacon Hill, folks here in Belmont have been waiting for news of further cuts to state aid for months. Now Rep. Will Brownsberger says that pre-release figures from Gov. Deval Patrick’s office suggest that Belmont could be looking at a 10% cut in state aid, totalling more than $800,000.

In an e-mail to constituents, Brownsberger said that Patrick’s office had shared figures with state legislators for his FY 2010 budget that shows him keeping Chapter 70 funding level. (Chapt 70 provides state aid to pulbic elementary and high schools.) However, Brownsberger points out that cuts to other aid to towns could have the effect of draining funds from schools anyway, as towns like Belmont, Cambridge and Arlington move money around between the school and town budgets  to cover losses.

Rather than cutting funds from Chapter 70, Patrick is targeting what he terms “Unrestricted Municipal Aid,” a catchall category that comprises Lottery and Lottery Supplement fund and “additional assistance.”

Reductions in state money to Belmont year over year (including Chapter 70) will be almost 11 percent, or $802,265, Brownsberger estimates. Increases to meals and rooming taxes that Patrick is pushing will take away some of the pain, but Brownsberger estimates a net loss of 6.5% or $482,968 in 2010, even with the tax increases figured in.

(By comparison, Brownsberger estimates Arlington and Cambridge’s hit to be even larger:  Arlington is looking at a 17% ($2,695,615) cut in total state aid in 2010 , 10% after the tax increases are figured in ($1,567,147). Cambridge faces a whopping 21.2% ( $7,633,144) cut in aid that would drop to 10%  ($3,605,401) after the meals and rooming tax increases are figured in (gotta love all those restaurants).

Will points out that there’s plenty of game left to play in the budget process and that things are just getting rolling. Depending on how the economy shapes up in the second half of 2009, the picture could get a bit brighter.

Another big unknown is the impact of the Federal stimulus package on the states, especially around issues like spending on schools and capital expenses. As the New York Times reported on Wednesday, the Obama Administration’s stimulus plan would send a “flood” of money from Washington to the states, much of it earmarked for education. Those funds could help offset or even erase the kinds of cuts Gov. Patrick (need we note: a close friend of the new President) is weighing. Cross your fingers!