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Gov. Baker's Budget To Offer Modest Hikes For Cities, Towns

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker told municipal officials Friday that he would propose modest increases in state assistance to local communities and school districts in the budget he files with the Legislature next week.

Baker, a Republican, said he would recommend a $42 million increase in unrestricted local aid, which can be spent at the discretion of cities and towns, in the fiscal year starting July 1. The 4.3 percent increase would bring total unrestricted aid to more than $1 billion and would mirror the expected increase in state tax revenues in fiscal 2017.

The governor also said his spending plan would include a more than $72 million boost in so-called Chapter 70 education funds, which flow directly to local school districts. The increase would bring the statewide total to about $3.9 billion but would be less than 2 percent above current year levels.

"These investments are key to continue building stronger, safer communities for our families and ensuring schools across the Commonwealth are able to prepare our children for success," Baker said in a statement.

Baker spoke at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Municipal Association on the heels of his state of the state address Thursday night, in which he pledged to provide more local aid in the budget.

The association, which advocates for the state's 351 cities and towns, welcomed the governor's proposal for unrestricted aid but offered a much cooler response to his plan for education assistance.

Local officials and educators have long pushed for revisions in the more than two-decade-old formula for distributing Chapter 70 funds. A report last year from a special commission that studied the issue concluded that the formula used to determine "foundation budgets" — the amount of money districts need to educate each student in accordance with the state's overall academic goals — was outdated and left many schools underfunded.

In a statement posted on its website, the MMA said the modest Chapter 70 increase sought by Baker would not begin to implement the commission's recommendations, while adding it was unclear how much the budget would provide in minimum aid per student.

The governor separately announced details on Friday of an $83.5 million plan to boost vocational and technical education in Massachusetts. The funding would come partly from Baker's budget proposal and partly from capital grants in an economic development bill he planned to file with lawmakers next week.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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