$145M added for schools; No state increase for municipal aid.

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Byline: John J. Monahan

BOSTON - Cities and towns would share a $145 million increase in state aid for elementary and secondary schools but would receive no increase to general municipal funding under a proposed budget announced yesterday by Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray.

Standing in for Gov. Deval L. Patrick, Mr. Murray told members of the Massachusetts Municipal Association that $65 million of the state aid for municipal operations will depend on the availability of surplus state funds at the end of the current fiscal year. The announcement comes days ahead of the unveiling of Mr. Patrick's fiscal 2013 proposed budget.

The governor will call for unrestricted municipal aid to be funded at $833.9 million, the same amount initially approved in the current budget. The state later contributed an extra $65 million after ending last year with a surplus. Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the municipal association, said he is hoping the Legislature will include the supplemental $65 million in the budget it enacts before July 1. "We had hoped the $65 million amount would be included in the base, so that's a disappointment, and we are looking to work with the Legislature and the governor to restore that to the upfront appropriation," he said. Mr. Beckwith said without that supplemental funding, some communities will face layoffs.

Most municipal leaders said the increase in school aid and level funding of non-school money was good news in that they are not facing deep cuts in state assistance next year.

Worcester Mayor Joseph M. Petty said that, unlike recent years, local communities can begin planning their budgets with positive news.

"It seems like the first year we are on a positive track and are not starting with a huge deficit," Mr. Petty said. He said one helpful factor is that the city renegotiated employee health care contracts with unions last year and is expecting several million in savings. He said it will reduce the projected deficit in the city budget to about $7 million for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzales said the state has "a very challenging budget across the board," but that the administration has made a priority of increasing local school aid.

Mr. Murray said local aid would increase to $5.2 billion, including a record $4.1 billion in Chapter 70 school aid. The school appropriation will fully fund all school districts at foundation levels, a spending benchmark linked to local...

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