Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A good illustration... but this is not a real budget

I was partly wrong in my earlier prediction about the House Budget, which was released earlier today. This budget makes some very serious cuts, as described generally in this Boston.com article:
House lawmakers are releasing a budget this afternoon that includes steep cuts in nearly every area -- from police grants and anti-gang programs to local aid and education grants – that are bound to be met with protests and calls for new taxes.
In fact (here I go again, venturing into paranoia-ville), these cuts appear to be almost too deep to be real. Note the final part of that excerpt: "...that are bound to be met with protests and calls for new taxes." The programs the House has chosen to cut seem carefully selected to provoke the strongest possible reaction. Local aid axed by 25 percent? Police training and education funding eliminated, along with anti-gang grants? These will bring out the teachers, the unions, the local officials, the police, the firefighters... There will be a steady stream of protests at the State House. Powerful unions will roll out radio and television ads. The Globe will launch an immediate series of op-eds, editorials and feature articles highlighting sympathetic programs and individuals impacted by these cuts. All to what end?

Well, consider this: there is not a single "revenue measure" in this House budget. In Massachusetts. This is the same House that has been perfectly willing to implement a series of under-the-radar tax increases over the past year, a House where the Speaker recently acknowledged there is an "appetite" for further increases, specifically on telecom companies doing business in Massachusetts. Last week the Joint Committee on Revenue took a day of testimony on no fewer than 27 tax hike bills. And yet, not a single one made it into the House budget?

Am I the only one whose Spidey sense is tingling? The only one who smells a set-up? Note House Ways and Means chair Charlie Murphy's comment on this budget (from Boston.com): “We’re trying to illustrate the fiscal reality.” Not, "we're trying to pass a realistic budget in lean times." Not, "government has to live within its means." They are creating an illustration, a demonstrative device to emphasize a point. And what point is that?

Recall a recent comment by Rep. Dan Bosley:
"You're not going to get people to vote on four or five different taxes. People can't feel like we're raising taxes on them every week. You need . . . to do this one time."
Now recall the Globe's own prediction about this budget, printed last week:
While a House budget next week with heavy cuts would provoke an uproar from social-service advocates and others, the budget calendar gives lawmakers time to change their minds. And waiting could provide them with more accurate revenue estimates before they commit.
Commenting on that Globe article, I asked at the time, "Could it be that they have recognized the political folly of 'raising taxes... every week,' and have resolved to first reap a political windfall by proposing a responsible budget, only later to 'change their minds' and pass a large tax increase in one fell swoop?"

Now consider Senate President Murray's off-the-cuff answer to a question posed to her just this morning about the budget situation: "It is going to be stark, which is why we need to raise revenue." And there you have your answer to the question "what is this budget intended to 'illustrate.'?

It is intended to illustrate Beacon Hill's secret, pre-determined conclusion: "we need to raise revenue." The hue and cry even now going up in response to these proposed cuts will provide plenty of additional illustration.

Call it triangulation, call it trickery, call it an iced cream sundae. This budget is not truly a budget at all. It is an accelerant, it is gasoline poured uphill from an open flame. It is deliberately calculated to touch off a firestorm of pro-tax hike advocacy, at the end of which the House will 'reluctantly' concede the necessity of raising taxes and will do so, per Bosley's sage advice, in one fell swoop. House members will have their cake and eat it, casting furrowed brow votes for the tax hike they have always wanted, while preserving the ability to tell their voters next year that the House tried valiantly to push a budget with no tax increases.

Maybe I am wrong. I do not think I am. We'll know soon enough.

1 comment:

  1. You are not wrong. This a version of the Washington Monument strategy -- instead of sensible cost cutting, they're going visible and painful. It's like when there's a budget shortfall and they shut down some services for the mentally ill and throw them out on the street. People freak out -- at the shortfall. Not at the politicians who are trying to make a point on the backs of the most vulnerable. It's all the same. And it's sickening.

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