- Office of State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump
- Bureau of Special Investigations
- Division of Local Mandates
Media Contact for Auditor Bump Testifies on Agency Budget, Priorities
Mike Wessler, Communications Director
Boston — Good afternoon Chairwoman Spilka, Chairman Sanchez, and members of the Committee. It is an honor to join you today to not only share with you our recent work and how our budget request will allow us to continue to make government work better, but to also discuss some of the areas beyond our own line items that our work has demonstrated warrant your consideration.
During the past 7 years, we have evolved substantially. Increasingly in our audits and reports we have been identifying systemic challenges and using these audits and reports to provide you with potential solutions to assist programs in becoming more efficient and effective.
Reflecting on the work of the past year, a recurrent theme emerges. It concerns data sharing. Take, for example, our audit of the Department of Veterans Services, which found that veterans’ services officers are not provided with the most complete information about veterans in their towns that might be eligible for services. Tools at our state’s disposal are not being used to identify these individuals. For example, the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office collects data on the number of veterans living in each community. Data sharing like this can ensure that DVS and the local veterans services officers identify and assist veterans to gain access to all the assistance for which they may qualify.
Similarly, the Sex Offender Registry Board was not using data tools that the legislature had directed them to use back in 1999 and so did not know the whereabouts of 1,769 sex offenders who were in violation of reporting requirements. The ease with which some unregistered offenders can be found was demonstrated by our auditors, who located 39 of them just by checking the rolls of one HHS agency.
Then, of course, was the audit of the Department of Children and Families which found the agency was not aware of 260 incidents of what MassHealth medical data showed to be serious bodily injury to children in its care. DCF’s reliance on mandated reporters to inform the agency of serious bodily injury should no longer be considered adequate when the agency has the capability to much more fully track kids in their care.
Breaking down silos between government entities, and using the technology to which we have access, can help us more effectively serve our constituents. You have spent countless hours molding these programs through legislative deliberations and carefully allocated resources. Our work is designed to give you insight into whether these programs are working as you intended.
The $565K increase I am requesting today will continue to support the high quality and impactful work we do, not only in auditing but in our public assistance fraud unit and division of local mandates.
While I recognize that my time before you today is intended to serve as my opportunity to advocate for resources for my agency, and some may say it is foolhardy to advocate for funds that do not exclusively bolster my agency’s bottom-line during this time, that is exactly what I’m going to do. Our work has identified several areas that warrant your examination and consideration as you put together the budget for the Commonwealth in the coming year.
First, as you likely know, last year, my office determined that parts of the early voting law constituted an unfunded mandate on local governments. Last month, at the request of the legislature, my office provided a formal certification of unfunded, mandated costs associated with early voting in the 2016 elections for municipalities. Our analysis showed that our 351 communities collectively spent more than $1 million to provide this important service. The House recently included funding in a supplemental budget to provide this reimbursement, and while it was not included in the Senate’s version of that bill, I encourage you provide this funding in one budget vehicle or another in the near future.
For the coming fiscal year, Governor Baker included $1.1 million in the early voting line item. The Secretary of the Commonwealth, however, requested $2.5 million to cover what he anticipates will be higher mandated costs in 2018 due to the popularity of early voting as well as the discretionary grant program for non-mandated costs. I urge you to fully fund early voting by following the Secretary of State’s recommendation.
Second, I ask that you provide additional funding in the area of regional school transportation. A recent report from my office examined the challenges facing regional school districts and discouraging additional regionalization. Among our findings is that school districts are struggling to meet rising operational costs and are dis-incentivized from further regionalization due to the failure of the Commonwealth to fully fund regional school transportation costs.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education estimates that fulfilling our promise of full regional school transportation funding in FY19 would require an appropriation of $86 million, a $24.5 million increase over FY18 funding levels.
In addition, my office determined in 2011 that McKinney-Vento homeless student transportation costs constituted an unfunded mandate on municipalities and in 2015, my office released a report examining the fiscal impact on municipalities of the growing disparity between actual costs and the Commonwealth’s reimbursement to municipalities. Despite these two reports, the Commonwealth continues to underfund municipalities for these items. For FY17 and FY18, the McKinney-Vento homeless student transportation costs totaled just over $22 million each year with only $8.3 million each year in reimbursement. This enables the state to only reimburse districts between 33-35 percent of actual costs. In FY19, this account requires an additional $14.7 million for a total appropriation of $22 million.
One non-monetary solutions to relieving pressure on regional schools is to do away with an archaic prohibition that prevents regional schools from utilizing regional transit authorities to provide school transportation. My ongoing discussions with both legislators, school officials, and the RTAs indicate support for this proposal, which can be achieved by repealing Chapter 71, section 7C of the General Laws.
Finally, a 2017 report from my office found that municipalities face significant water infrastructure needs and that only 6% of communities have in place a plan to ensure their water infrastructure is ready for the challenges of climate change. Governor Baker’s budget level funds Climate Adaptation Planning grants for communities at $2 million, which allows for only a small pot of money per community. With already strapped budgets, this limited funding will not make a significant impact in their planning efforts. I encourage you to explore this need to better equip our communities with the assistance they need to prepare for the future.
I recognize that the task you face in crafting a budget that aligns with the values of our state is no small feat. I want to thank you for providing me the opportunity to speak with you today about not only the work of my office, but also a few of the issues that our work has shown need additional attention from the state, and I want to thank you for your service to the residents and taxpayers of the Commonwealth.
I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.