State House News Service
WEEKLY ROUNDUP (WEEK OF MARCH 27, 2000)
By Michael P. Norton
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 31, 2000 ... It was a week
of budget bravado.
Adding another $1.4 billion to bottom-line annual state spending, House leaders called
press conference after press conference to announce their plans for tackling society's
problems and making life better for state residents. Like last year, education and health
care drew considerable, continuing attention from policy makers. But unlike last year,
housing and human services efforts returned to the public spotlight.
And tax cuts, a prominent part of recent budget
debates, retreated into the legislative shadows, replaced by talk of higher auto
registration and license fees to close a shortfall in Big Dig finances that may reach $1.7
billion. Lawmakers even found room in the $21.7 billion plan to pad their own expense
Here's a closer look at this week's headlines:
HOUSE INTRODUCES ITS FISCAL 2001 BUDGET, BIG DIG
Balancing budget priorities with the pressing need for
a Big Dig financing proposal, House leaders rolled out two plans. The $21.7 billion budget
includes a $100 million package of funding increases to shore up wages in the human
services industry. It proposes significant aid for struggling housing programs, and
education improvements and aid comparable to those proposed by the Senate. And it includes
no new tax cut proposals. The $1.7 billion House Big Dig plan calls mostly for borrowed
dollars to erase the cost overruns and be paid back over the years by higher drivers
licenses and automobile registration fees. The House also proposed a separate $750 million
borrowing plan to address statewide road and bridge projects, and capital needs in
education technology and water and sewer infrastructure upgrades.
BUDGET RETAINS STATUS AS BILL FULL OF MAJOR
SIGNIFICANT POLICY CHANGES
House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Haley (D-Weymouth)
was unabashed this week about the role of the budget, exaggerating about the reality of
"zillions of outside sections" proposing new laws. Among those in this year's
House budget: a complete reform of special education, added "per diem pay" for
lawmakers, a new health care management model for Medicaid-Medicare patients, degree
requirements for math teachers, expanded prison labor programs, and a program to help with
catastrophic drug costs. The 578-page bill, with 273 outside sections, will now be subject
to an assault of floor amendments. ...
FEAR OF AUTOMATIC GAS TAX HIKE PROMPTS SWIFT TO FILE
Economists are saying higher energy prices may be a
drag on the booming economy. That debate, largely waged at the federal level, is now
coming to the State House. A 1990 law requires the 21-cent gas tax to increase by a penny,
and then two more cents, when and if gas prices reach levels that are suddenly within
reach. To head off the automatic gas tax hike, Acting Gov. Swift filed to freeze the gas
tax rate. ...
CLT'S ANDERSON JOINS COALITION OPPOSED TO NEW FENWAY
Anti-tax crusaders joined a coalition of community and
good government activists opposed to taxpayer-funded subsidies for a new Fenway Park.
Activists said they feel a subsidy package will almost inevitably pass, but they want to
go on the record against what they feel is corporate welfare. The Sox are in talks with
legislative leaders over a stadium deal, but the ballpark figure that taxpayers will be
asked to pick up has not been officially announced. Estimates to date range from $250
million to $300 million. Anderson, who is fighting for a large income tax cut, says
stadium subsidies are not exactly the type of essential services government should
address. New Fenway boosters tout the project's big economic lift.
The Boston Herald
Saturday, April 1, 2000
Good times roll on Beacon Hill
A Boston Herald editorial
Oh, life's a wonderful thing when the good times are
rolling on Beacon Hill. And obviously the House Ways and Means Committee believes the good
times will roll on forever.
The House budget-writing committee took the governor's
already rather generous $21.3 billion effort and puffed it up to $21.7 billion, all the
while insisting that not a dime can be spared to return to taxpayers in the form of a tax
First we discover that the legislators have been
hideously generous to themselves -- doubling their own per diem allowances and granting
themselves generous and unregulated stipends for "district office expenses."
Then, as Herald reporters Ellen J. Silberman and Joe
Battenfeld documented in yesterday's edition,
the House budget is replete with legislative pork -- $4.3 million in tourism
appropriations alone that were never requested by the state's director of tourism. There's
a $750,000 "contribution" for Sail Boston, $200,000 for new air conditioning for
the John F. Kennedy Museum in Hyannis and $30,000 for a clock in Haverhill. Apparently no
project is too trivial to be overlooked for such earmarking by legislators eager to curry
favor with the folks back home.
And the fun of unraveling the mysteries of the House
budget have just begun.
What's truly unfortunate is that the budget also
attempts to do some rather worthwhile things. It attempts a long overdue reform of the
state's special education laws, and would approve a much-needed increase in the size of
the state appeals court.
But legislative greed and pork-barrel politics cast
their long shadow over what could have been a far better document.