Saturday, May 2, 2009

You do the math (because the House didn't bother)

Last year's $28.3 billion budget was hopelessly, egregiously out of balance. It required mid-year cuts, end-of-year cuts, and monthly re-visitations to the tax revenue estimates, which routinely ended up far too optimistic. The state is taking in far less - billions less - than $28 million this year. With the economy contracting and no reasonable expectation of a miraculous turnaround in the next 14 months, it is safe to assume the state will take in even less money next year than it did this year.

In any other state, then, this morning's headline in the State House News would be surprising - shocking, even: "House approves $28 billion budget."

How in God's name can that be possible, you ask, with all of the rhetoric you have heard about sacrifice and "tough decisions" and "cutting to the bone," etc? A scan of the last week of State House News budget updates provides more than one clue. It all started, of course, late Monday night, with "House backs higher sales tax." Although we were told more than once that increasing the sales tax by 25% would not even close the current budget gap, House Democrats quickly moved back into their good-times spending comfort zone. Here's a partial run-down of headlines as the week progressed:
  • House turns to spending amendments;
  • House rejects DC office cut;
  • House adds $25M for elder services, historical preservation to budget;
  • House budget bottom line grows;
  • House adds $3.5 mil to budget through early ed;
  • New Speaker, similar process;
  • House adds $$$ to healthcare acccounts;
  • House tacks on $13M for higher ed programs;
  • House considers earmark for mentally ill homeless;
  • State doles out loans to life science start ups;
  • House additions to budget reach $311 mil;
  • Sales tax kitty fueling House spending spree;
  • House approves HHS spending additions;
  • Slipping revenues undermining House budget;
  • House adds $2M for veterans programs;
  • House requires long-horned beetle study;
  • With housing amendment, House adds $25 mil to bottom line;
  • House bumps public health account $24M;
  • House budget add-ons, $53o million and counting;
  • House passes $21.8 million public safety amendment.
All of this spending culminated, finally, in this:
HOUSE APPROVES $28 BILLION BUDGET: After adding about $600 million to its bottom line over five days, the House voted 137-19 Friday night to approve a $28 billion budget for fiscal 2010. Ways and Means Chairman Charley Murphy acknowledged that dismal economic projections will likely derail the House budget but said it reflected priorities that he would fight for in an eventual conference committee. Speaker Robert DeLeo said the budget reflected both compassion and fiscal restraint. He also touted investments, tacked onto the budget after Monday’s vote to raise the sales tax to 6.25 percent from 5 percent, of $275 million for transportation infrastructure and $205 million for local aid. House Republicans voted against the budget, with Minority Leader Brad Jones protesting the adoption of the $900 million sales tax increase and noting that April tax collections alone could fall below last April's take by an equal amount. Jones said the budget’s spending levels were “unsustainable” and predicted the spending plan would undergo major revisions. Reps. Jennifer Callahan, Colleen Garry and Tom Stanley were the lone Democrats to vote against the budget. The Senate budget plan is due out in mid-May. A final budget is due for the July 1 start to fiscal 2010.
Speaker DeLeo "said the budget reflected both compassion and fiscal restraint." "Compassion," in the Massachusetts Legislature, is defined as follows:

Compassion (n): Spending commitments, whether or not supported by actual revenues or a realistic expectation that the funds will actually materialize.

Telling various constituencies that they will receive state budget funds, knowing full well that these allocations will be cut - either by the Senate, through the reconciliation process, or - much worse - part way through next year... this is "compassion."

It is also called "political," or "CYA." Having passed this "compassionate" budget, all but a few Legislators - the 16 Republicans and three independent-minded Democrats - can now say to the unions and other powerful liberal groups who fuel their campaigns every two years, "Hey, we tried to maintain spending on ________. I voted for it. The [Senate/Governor/economy] is to blame for your cuts."

This is not compassion, and it is as far as one can be from responsible budgeting. Scanning down the list of headlines above, one reads "higher ed," "elder services," "veterans services," early education." All are worthy causes. A case can be made, and no doubt is made, for each spending item in this once-again bloated budget. But we cannot afford it.

The core problem with the legislative super-majority in this state is right there in that list. They do not care that we cannot afford it. We voters do not make them have to care.

1 comment:

No spamming, flaming, cursing, or other such nonsense tolerated. Thanks for engaging on those terms - Greg