Deval Patrick, in an effort to let us know how serious the budget
crisis is, says that "if we fired every single state employee, we'd
still have a billion-dollar hole."
course we would. Many of those employees would go out on instant
pensions. Others would collect unemployment, have state-subsidized
health insurance, or get a job at one of the independent authorities
where they would start to accrue bigger pensions like those
available at the MBTA after 23 years.
still have a $28-billion state budget to go with the billion-dollar
budget hole? Who would be running it and spending the money?
Governor, what's your point? That payroll costs aren't much of the
stop being silly now?
Patrick's sticking to his demand for "reform before revenues."
Unfortunately, the Legislature is sticking to its resistance to
various Democrats have said: "We can't reform our way out of this
Translation: "Let's go directly to the revenues."
Senate opened its budget debate by passing a 25-percent sales tax
hike and local option taxes. Maybe it will get to reforms after my
column deadline. Darn, it's hard to write while holding my breath.
course, what they talk about is "a blended approach," which means:
Some cuts, especially to the most vulnerable recipients of state
services, so they can be used to make taxpayers feel guilty about
resisting higher taxes; some new money from the federal government's
stimulus package, money that's being charged to future generations
in an enhanced national debt; and lots of new taxes and fees, as far
into the future as we can see.
offer a different "blended approach": Massachusetts taxpayers will
continue to pay existing taxes — already among the highest per
capita in the nation — as they have for decades; and legislators
will set priorities that put services to seriously handicapped
citizens ahead of their and the other public employees' benefits.
you have $28 billion to spend, roughly the same amount you had last
year. To keep up with minimal inflation and the extraordinary cost
of state-subsidized health insurance, which would you choose:
cutting services to the mentally ill, mentally retarded, and
physically handicapped; or
cutting benefits to public employee unions and legislators that
exceed the average benefits of their employers, the taxpayers?
get a speeding ticket, you must also pay a $50 surcharge that the
ticket says is applied to the "Head Injury Treatment Services Trust
Fund." But WBZ-TV reported last week that the Legislature voted a
few years ago to put half that money into the General Fund where
it's spent on whatever the Legislature considers more important than
helping people with head injuries.
another recurring budget debate phrase: "It's not our fault, this is
a national economic problem."
Translation: the federal government has been spending beyond its
sustainable means, too.
the items driving everyone's budget crisis is the cost of health
insurance. A few years ago, Massachusetts passed a health insurance
reform law that was sold as an affordable way to provide basic
health insurance to everyone. Unable to leave well enough alone,
legislators recently increased the cost with a mandated provision
for prescription drugs. Now the new law is far less affordable.
Meanwhile, the federal government, already trillions of dollars in
debt, is planning to emulate the failing Massachusetts experiment.
right along: "It's not just a state and a national crisis, it's
yourself: Is the answer to a scary worldwide crisis a tax assault on
the private sector that will have to somehow recover to provide the
jobs that provide all the revenue for all government services?
Republicans have offered a package of reforms that includes a
statewide wage and hiring freeze for government employees not
critical to public safety, repealing corporate welfare and
eliminating that prescription-drug mandate.
Pioneer Institute and Beacon Hill Institute have been proposing
savings from various reforms for years. Newspaper editorials list
some, investigative reporters find more; pension scams are all the
rage this year.
instead of addressing these, the Senate has joined the House in
voting to increase the sales tax; both votes are presently
veto-proof. Without reforms, this is only the beginning of tax
increases, and the beginning of what Paul Nicolai, former chairman
of Citizens for Limited Taxation, calls the Commonwealth Death
Watch. He cites economists who warn that Massachusetts has several
years of recession ahead of it, and predicts that a gas-tax
increase, supported by many elements of the business community to
address infrastructure needs, will have to be used for operating
budgets instead, leaving the infrastructure to deteriorate.
hold our breath hoping for state government to become responsible.
All we taxpayers can do is make major purchases before July 1, when
the sales-tax increase goes into effect, and wait for the November
2010 election. If we fire every tax-hiking state legislator we'll
still have a budget hole, but maybe a better chance to keep the
entire commonwealth from falling into it.