Eldridge: house budget to lift lottery cap; bump of $80,646 expected for Harvard

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HARVARD — The town will receive an additional $80,646 in lottery aid for fiscal year 2007 and can expect an as-yet unspecified bump in Chapter 70 school aid as well, said state Rep. James Eldridge on Tuesday.

Though the House Ways and Means budget will not be released until April 10, Eldridge said the house speaker has committed to those increases, and there’s clear indication that the senate will follow suit.

”The Senate Ways and Means (chairman) has indicated the senate will do that in its budget and the governor had it in his budget,” he said. “We’re all on the same page.”

The total lottery spending increase is $920 million, a hike of $158 million from the current fiscal year. As a result, Harvard would receive $1,779,682 in lottery aid for FY07.

Town administrator Paul Cohen said he hadn’t received confirmation from the state house by Wednesday morning, but it’s good news if it happens.

The figures quoted by Eldridge were identical to those within the governor’s proposal, he said, which was factored into assumptions for the budget recently approved at town meeting. While the additional aid wouldn’t create a surplus, he said the move would ensure there wasn’t a deficient either.

”It’s very good that the lottery monies have been uncapped, and the lottery funds going back to the cities and towns,” he said.

The legislature was forced to divert local lottery aid into the state general fund during the recess of 2003, said a release from Eldridge’s office. As a result, communities were required to make cuts in public spending and raise property taxes.

The increased lottery aid is good news, said Eldridge.

”Local aid is one of the most worthwhile investments the house makes each year,” he said. “These additional dollars will make it easier for cities and towns to provide the essential local services our citizens depend on and ease property tax burdens across Massachusetts.”

On the topic of Chapter 70 school aid, Eldridge said the exact figures have not been released, but an increase is expected.

”I do expect an increase in chapter 70 aid and the circuit breaker program,” he said. The Circuit Breaker program reimburses districts for special education expenses.

Eldridge cautioned that the so-called Acton Proposal he filed during the winter is unlikely to be part of that budget. The bill would have established a statewide baseline of $2,000 in per pupil aid, more than doubling what Harvard receives under the current formula, which uses economic factors to determine aid. While that figures to be a disappointment for those who supported the bill, Eldridge said it could still affect deliberations.

”My hope continues to be that components of the bill are folded into the budget numbers for chapter 70,” he said. “There has been discussions about putting a minimum on Chapter 70 aid, which is what the Acton Proposal did.”