Friday, April 7, 2000
Forked tongues speak on Beacon Hill
Why does a "temporary" tax last longer than
a "lifetime" auto registration?
Massachusetts legislators should be the
ones taking the MCAS tests next week, not fourth-graders.
The lawmakers don't know the meaning of
such fourth-grade-level words as "lifetime" and "temporary."
To them, "lifetime" means
"here today, gone tomorrow."
"Temporary" means "as long
as we can get away with it."
At least those are their definitions
judging from the latest scheme to let you keep less of your money and the state keep more.
With Gov. A. Paul Cellucci's tacit
blessing, lawmakers are quickly moving to do away with the "lifetime" auto
registrations that were supposed to save the state's drivers millions of dollars in fees.
They said they had to do it to raise
money to pay for a cost "overrun" on the "Big Dig" project that now
appears likely to exceed $2 billion. (Statehouse definition of "overrun: "The
part we weren't telling you about.")
This is the project, incidentally, that
Gov. Cellucci says has been "well-managed." ("Close enough for government
Meanwhile, these same lawmakers have
their jaws clamped like pit bulls on your wallet, gnashing their teeth over an attempt to
roll back a "temporary" state income tax hike.
The income tax rate was raised from 5
percent to 5.95 percent as a short-term response to a "budget crisis"
When it was first enacted in 1989, we
were told the temporary hike would last 18 months. The blessed event turns 11 this year.
A citizens group has mounted an
initiative petition campaign to finally repeal the temporary increase.
History is repeating itself here. The
state imposed a "temporary" tax hike in 1975 to solve an earlier
"crisis." It took 11 years and another petition campaign to kill it.
You can be sure that state lawmakers will
decry the latest tax-cut effort as "risky."
Just remember, these people have trouble
with the meaning of simple words. They think "lifetime" auto registrations
should expire before "temporary" tax hikes.
They need to brush up on their
vocabulary, starting with the word "honesty."
State House News Service
ADVANCES (Week of April 10, 2000)
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON: Despite all the bad
news about the Big Dig, it may be that an abundance of good news is creating just as many
problems for state government....
On the eve of legislative debate over a
$21.7 billion budget, all sides are readying for battle over whether it is more prudent to
use excess dollars to cut taxes or to pay for capital projects like the Dig -- and whether
it makes sense to grow the state budget by another billion dollars.
While House leaders this week will try to
convince their colleagues to hold the line on any additions to the budget crafted by House
Ways and Means Chairman Paul Haley (D-Weymouth), those representatives have already shown
signs they are in a spending mood.
Last week, they filed 1,433 amendments to
the budget that will be debated on the House floor beginning at 10 am Monday. In addition
to the 'good times' reflected in the economy, this is an election year. Even if they know
most amendments will go nowhere, members like to show constituents back home that they
have their interests at heart, whether it's a financial boost for the local hospital, a
new library or a neighborhood bike path.
MAJOR BUDGET ISSUES: Even before House
members start tacking more spending amendments, the bottom line of the Ways and Means
budget is 7.5 percent higher than the post-veto-override fiscal 2000 appropriation. That
rate of growth isn't as high as the double-digit increases of the 1980s, but it's faster
than the spending growth of the 1990s -- a cause for some concern if past can be
considered prologue, says Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer.
"It will be important not to add
appreciably to the bottom line," he said. "Given the combination of Central
Artery cost overruns, health cost pressures, a slowing economy and an uncertain stock
market, it's important to resist the temptation to add expensive new programs to the
Fiscal watchdogs are especially concerned
about two policy initiatives expected to crop up this week -- early retirement for
teachers and an expanded senior pharmacy program.
The teacher retirement piece very nearly
made it through the budget process last year, and is back in the form of legislation this
year. Teachers-union lobbyists have been in the State House almost every day for the last
week or so, and the scuttlebutt holds that the package will be taken up in the House this
week, either in the form of legislation or via amendment to the budget. [According to
an Administration and Finance report, this legislation will cost the state $50 to $70
million annually to cover the cost of the enhanced retirement benefits and diminish much
of the progress made in funding the unfunded pension liability of the Commonwealth.]
The senior pharmacy piece, which is being
submitted in the form of an amendment, was just announced last week by Speaker Finneran
and Senate President Birmingham. The House intends the program, which would encompass all
860,000 senior citizens in the state, as a replacement for last year's Senate-sponsored
senior pharmacy initiatives. The Senate is sending strong signals that it sees the new
program as a supplement. Either way, Widmer said both the senior pharmacy plan and the
teacher retirement package involve "significant long-term cost issues that, if
approved, are a cause of serious concern."
TOBACCO: Anti-tobacco activists are in a
fizz about what they call a House Ways and Means "raid" on tobacco control
money. Under last year's agreement on how to spend Massachusetts' $8.3 billion share of
the 46-state master settlement with the tobacco industry, 70 percent of the yearly tobacco
money installments will be placed into a trust fund and the other 30 percent will be
available for immediate spending....
WELFARE: Welfare activists were surprised
and pleased that the House budget contains two of what they thought were long-shot
priorities -- a 10 percent cost of living adjustment for welfare recipients, and a
provision allowing recipients to count 10 hours of education or training toward their 20
hour-per-week work requirements. But activists aren't totally satisfied....
ED AMENDMENTS: While special education is
expected to garner the most debate, perhaps in the entire House budget process, look for a
slew of education-related amendments. Floor proposals are floating around to boost overall
Chapter 70 education reform funding, and to begin tinkering with the distribution formula,
now that the original seven-year mechanism has expired. Suburban communities with booming
enrollments, in particular, will be looking for more money....
HOUSING: Advocates for public housing
dollars have three key amendments ready for this week. The first calls for a $35 million
expenditure to rescue between 800 and 900 units of so-called "expiring use"
housing. The privately owned but publicly subsidized housing is located in 53 cities and
towns. The problem is that private landlords are paying off their federal mortgages early,
then converting the affordable units to market rate rents. The second amendment adds $10
million for a pilot program under the Massachusetts Housing Partnership and the third
would direct that $8 million in federal funds be used for homeless prevention....
TAXES: House Taxation Committee Chairman
John Rogers (D-Norwood) will be offering amendments altering the implementation of the
triggered tax cuts in the budget. The tax cuts are only supposed to go into effect if the
economy is strong. But his staff has discovered that using the proposed standards, such
tax cuts would have gone into effect in 1989 and 1990 -- just as legislators had to hike
the income taxes to cover budget shortfalls. Rogers' amendments would give tax officials
more discretion in determining if a tax cut was affordable by factoring unemployment data
into the formula.
The Boston Globe
Saturday, April 8, 2000
Activists cry foul over state budget
By Michael Crowley, Globe Staff
In the latest skirmish over how
Massachusetts should spend the money it is receiving from a huge tobacco lawsuit
settlement, antitobacco activists are accusing House leaders of undercutting programs that
warn people about the hazards of smoking.
The House budget plan, which will be
debated next week, would divert $10 million in antismoking money to fund school nurses
statewide. But activists say that money had been earmarked for other programs, such as
public-service advertisements that seek to jolt current and would-be smokers by featuring
gravely ill victims of smoking-related diseases.
More than 50 House members have signed on
to an amendment to spend the $10 million on the antismoking campaign. They say the current
plan breaks an agreement Beacon Hill leaders reached in November on how to allocate
tobacco lawsuit funds. Massachusetts expects $8.2 billion over 25 years from the
settlement of a multistate lawsuit against the tobacco industry....
[House Ways and Means Chairman Paul]
Haley added that his budget spends a total of $45 million, not counting the school-nurse
program, for tobacco-control efforts. Most of that money comes from sources other than
Legislators interviewed yesterday said
they intended to fight hard for the amendment, which would preserve the funding for school
nurses but require that it come from tobacco-settlement money not earmarked for
"I will certainly be arguing pretty
strenuously on its behalf," said House Ways and Means Vice Chair Harriett L. Stanley,
Democrat of West Newbury. "And if our word is not good in this building, then what