Town and city leaders can expect a boost of $145 million in school aid and level funding for the other main source of state aid to municipalities under Gov. Deval Patrick's fiscal 2013 budget proposal.

Town and city leaders can expect a boost of $145 million in school aid and level funding for the other main source of state aid to municipalities under Gov. Deval Patrick's fiscal 2013 budget proposal.


Patrick released his budget plan Tuesday, proposing $833.9 million in unrestricted general government aid for a new fiscal year that begins in July. The House and Senate will follow with their own proposals.


If there is enough money left over at the end of the current fiscal year, the budget would give towns and cities another $65 million in October. State leaders used a similar two-step process to deliver the same total this fiscal year.


Repeating that approach is disappointing because cities and towns cannot be sure the $65 million ultimately will be available, said Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Mass. Municipal Association.


Local officials cannot rely on that money when they set their budgets in the spring, meaning they effectively face a $65 million cut from this year, he said.


“It means there will be greater budget pressure on cities and towns, and communities will face more difficult choices,” Beckwith said.


The boost in Chapter 70 school aid will help, but it will not directly replace the uncertain local aid money, Beckwith said. Chapter 70 money is distributed based on a formula that could mean more money for some towns and level funding for others.


The municipal association will work with the Patrick administration and state lawmakers to add $65 million to the base general local aid budget, he said. Beckwith noted Patrick and legislative leaders predict state tax revenues will climb 6.9 percent next fiscal year.


“Unfortunately in the governor’s budget submission, none of that … would be directed to increasing the initial base amount of aid,” he said.


The governor’s proposed local aid levels continue a difficult four-year streak for town and city coffers.


The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center recently released a report finding Massachusetts has cut general local aid 36 percent since the end of fiscal 2008, after adjusting for inflation.


A series of state tax cuts in the 1990s and 2000s reduced available funding for local aid, along with the rapid rise of health care costs in the state budget before the recent economic crisis, MassBudget President Noah Berger said.


Last year was the first that lawmakers held the line on local aid after three consecutive years of cuts, the report said.


“The national economy is still not recovered from the recession and our long-term fiscal condition hasn’t changed in that we’re still down a couple of billion dollars in revenue because of those tax cuts,” Berger said.


Because of the way local aid is distributed, cuts disproportionately have hit poorer cities and towns harder, ranging from $114 per capita in the least wealthy fifth of communities to $40 per capita in the top fifth, the report said.


The study called for several possible reforms in the way local aid is distributed, such as updating the formula to better reflect local need.


Berger said there is serious discussion in state government about reforming the way local aid is distributed.


“I think it’s unlikely to happen until there is additional money to increase local aid, but I think that it’s likely those discussions will continue,” he said.


(David Riley can be reached at 508-626-4424 or driley@wickedlocal.com.)