Roll Call: How Legislators measure up for students and public education
The MTA has compiled a record of roll call votes taken by members of the Massachusetts House and Senate from January 2011 until July 20, 2012, 11 days before formal sessions ended.
The MTA included all of the votes cast by legislators that affected public education. The fact that all votes are not of equal importance is reflected. Although the MTA recognizes that the record is not the only measure of a legislator’s support for public education, examining these votes is a concrete way to measure that support.
The Great Recession resulted in the state losing billions of dollars in revenues and cutting more than $3 billion to programs, making this a difficult session in which to achieve our goals.
MTA’s main goals in the Legislature for this two-year session included:
- Protecting and increasing funding for public education — preK through graduate school — even as state revenues were significantly reduced.
- Maintaining meaningful participation by public employees in decisions on municipal health insurance and ensuring quality health insurance coverage.
- Protecting pension benefits for current and future public employees.
- Increasing state revenues.
- Passing legislation to allow early childhood educators to form a non-traditional union.
- Protecting collective bargaining rights in the face of a ballot initiative that would have eroded them and done many other things to hurt our public schools.
While the state did increase revenues by close to $1.5 billion in 2009, attempts to increase taxes were rebuffed by the Legislature during the 2011-2012 session. To balance the budget, one-time funds were used and cuts were made to many programs and services, including education. At the same time, health care costs continued to increase. So did the cost of safety net programs, because of the increase in the number of people who had to rely on them.
Despite the loss of state funding, the House resisted even modest proposals to increase revenues that the governor made in both of his annual budgets. There were a number of attempts by Republican legislators to reduce revenues even further. Fortunately, these attempts failed.
Pressure to cut funding for services, as well as calls to scale back public employees’ benefits to save money, reached a fever pitch across the country. Massachusetts was not immune to that pressure.
In 2011, after bills had been introduced in the previous four sessions, a measure was finally enacted that makes changes in the way municipal health insurance is negotiated.
The debate became extremely contentious when an amendment to the fiscal 2012 budget moved through the House with virtually no input from the unions that represent public employees. The unions and public-sector retirees had made proposals to rein in costs, but these were initially ignored by the House. Ultimately, Governor Deval Patrick vetoed many of the provisions passed by the Legislature as part of its budget. He also proposed an amended version that passed the Legislature, which he then signed. The unions and retirees supported this measure because it provided a meaningful voice for employees in the process of determining health insurance, ensured that the sickest employees were protected from excessive out-of-pocket expenses and protected retirees and survivors from sudden increases in health care costs.
Calls to reduce the cost of the state’s pension liability came from many quarters last year. The governor had introduced a bill at the beginning of the session in 2011. The MTA opposed reducing benefits for future employees. But in September 2011, the Senate passed a pension bill. The House passed its version of the bill later in the session. The MTA successfully urged support for amendments to make the bill fairer while making it clear that we opposed scaling back benefits for future employees.
After a well-attended hearing on a bill supported by the Campaign for Our Communities to raise the income tax did not result in increased support by legislators, the strategy shifted. The coalition — in which the MTA plays a key role — began building grassroots support to push for legislation that would increase revenues in 2013, as well as helping candidates talk about the need to raise revenues in order to invest in communities across Massachusetts.
MTA’s advocacy during the past two years included strong efforts to protect funding and to win increases for public education at all levels. Funding for fiscal 2013 is up over the previous year by more than 4 percent for preK-12 schools and by almost 7 percent for our higher education system. But funding for preK-12 schools is down 3.5 percent from 2009, and higher education funding has been reduced by 13 percent. Remaining money from the federal stimulus bill and the education jobs bill prevented education from sustaining the devastating cuts that many other programs saw during the past two years.
MTA’s advocacy on education funding included supporting an adequacy study to determine what additional resources are needed for all students to achieve the standards set by the state. While that bill did not advance, the MTA supported an attempt to revive the Foundation Budget Review Commission in the fiscal 2013 budget. The Senate unanimously voted to include the provision, but it ultimately was dropped by the legislative Conference Committee.
How Do They Measure Up for Students and Public Education: Roll call of votes from the 2011-2012 legislative session of the Massachusetts General Court