Back in April when Massachusetts Democrats first started their push for a 25% increase to the sales tax (which goes into effect next month), we were told that the increase would amount to just a "penny on the dollar." Such a piddling amount - the change that falls into the couch - who could object?
Now fast-forward to this month's budget imbroglio. To justify the fact that the budget passed by the Democratic Legislature and signed yesterday by our Democratic Governor contains over a billion dollars in tax increases we are told repeatedly that it represents a gut-wrenching exercise in tough choices and spending restraint. It is "without question an austere - and in some respects, painful - budget." (Governor Patrick). It is "perhaps one of the most difficult [budgets] in our state's history." (Speaker DeLeo). "The Senate and House made tough decisions." (Senate President Therese Murray).
Last week I did a little napkin math and was unable to come up with a level of spending reduction that would substantiate all of this heated rhetoric. And then Monday, in a story about Governor Patrick's budget signing ceremony, the State House News made this observation:
The budget's spending level cuts 3 percent from the one Patrick signed last year, a package reduced during this fiscal year as state revenues have tanked... If pending fiscal 2010 supplemental appropriations are factored in, spending in the fiscal year that starts Wednesday would rise to $27.316 billion, less than 1 percent below projected fiscal 2009 spending. Much of the supplemental request represents Patrick's insistence on spending that lawmakers have rejected.Read that again. The Legislature's budget cuts spending by 3 percent (3 pennies on the dollar). Given his druthers, Governor Patrick would enact a budget that cuts spending by one percent. One percent! The proverbial "penny on the dollar."
This is the spending restraint that Governor Patrick would have you believe is "austere - and in some respects, painful." This is the budget that Speaker DeLeo says presented difficulties of historic proportions. High end, three percent. Low end, one percent. That is the net-net of Senate President Murray's "tough decisions."
Back to my initial point, though: one percent. The "penny on the dollar" that is no big deal when it comes out of your wallet suddenly represents privation beyond all belief when wrung from the Commonwealth's spend-heavy budget.
Remember this dissonance next year, when the Democrats set out to convince you that they had no choice but to raise taxes by billions of dollars while your family struggles through the current recession.