The Boston Herald
Monday, November 26, 2001
A Boston Herald editorial
The budget mess needs another look
The full dimensions of the Massachusetts Legislature's
budget debacle are not yet clear and may not emerge for several more days. Acting Gov. Jane Swift plans to ask the lawmakers
to take another look at their handiwork, and they should.
Current plans are for the governor's request to be "revenue
neutral," respecting the Legislature's spending total of $22.257 billion. The bizarre spending decisions in that total
make it appropriate for any governor in such a situation to do more than send up a list of
By the preliminary reckoning of the Executive Office of
Administration and Finance, the Legislature's cuts from the governor's revised budget request included $680 million in
spending the state is obliged to undertake. This includes $287 for Medicaid and $120 million
under collective bargaining agreements with state employees. It also includes $22 million
for placing mentally disabled adults in group homes as provided for in a court settlement with
2,400 families. That is a real requirement and it's shameful to try to duck it.
The $23 million for the Clean Elections Law is definitely a
required expenditure, since the state Constitution says the Legislature "shall appropriate such money as may be necessary"
to carry out laws enacted by the voters," as this one was. By dropping the sum, the Legislature is
begging the courts to order the money appropriated, a terrible scrambling of the
separation of powers.
You could argue that a reduction of $30 million in the
amount for highway snow and ice removal this winter falls into the same category. The administration's request assumed an
"average" winter. One way or another, roads have to be cleared of snow.
It seems that the Legislature, running out of time to pass a
budget before the long-scheduled end of the session the day before Thanksgiving, fell back on familiar routines (as human
beings tend to do when confronted with novel demands and pressed for time). In other
words, the old game of short-changing some accounts that everybody knows will require
supplemental appropriations before the fiscal year is over.
This year there simply won't be money available for those
make-up budgets. The only place to find the money will be the rainy-day funds, already scheduled to contribute a whopping
$809 million this year. Those supplemental budgets could bring the use of reserve funds to
$1.2 billion, in one year more than half the total available. That would be unwise in the
Neglecting these duties stands out since the Legislature
increased the administration's request in one area where it didn't have to, adding $134 million to reduce the unfunded
employee pension liability. It is truly gruesome to keep trying to fully fund pensions by 2018 (a goal set
only recently) instead of 2028 (the previous goal), while at the same time
reducing the $25 million earmarked for pay raises for human service workers to $5 million.
Reasonable people can differ on how much to appropriate for
schools and courts and open space and breast cancer screening and everything else, and the Legislature bears the ultimate
responsibility for those decisions. On a sober second look, the Legislature should agree that
the set of decisions it has just produced is a mess and ought to be fixed.
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Sunday, November 25, 2001
Democracy loses at the Statehouse
Late-night shenanigans once again deny the people of Massachusetts a say in public
Once again, the iron-fisted dictators who rule the Legislature have stuck it to the people of
Massachusetts. To call this body a "legislature" at all is misleading. A
legislature is a place where laws are written and debated. It is a temple of democracy.
But thanks to the puffed-up potentates who lord over Beacon
Hill, laws are written in the dark where no one can see the trickery that transpires. Debate is stifled lest the
leadership's mendacity be exposed. Our Statehouse is no temple of democracy. It is a den of thieves.
The Legislature was supposed to have completed the 2002
state budget by July 1. It was supposed to do what state legislatures across the country do -- debate spending
proposals, balance appropriations and revenues, listen and respond to public comment.
But such democratic behavior is beyond House Speaker Thomas
M. Finneran, D-Mattapan, Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham, D-Chelsea, and the rest of the leadership. They
delayed and stalled, put off and procrastinated, all so they could once
again work their late-night magic.
The leadership produced its $22.25 billion budget just
minutes before midnight Tuesday, the day before the last day of the session, as members were eagerly anticipating getting out
of town for Thanksgiving. On Wednesday, members of the House and Senate passed the
budget, many without having read the document's more than 300 pages.
Gov. Jane Swift called the process "a mess" and she is
absolutely correct. The leadership's action is shameful.
While the Legislature's administrative budget remained
untouched, cuts were made from earlier proposals in several health and human services areas. Among these was a $15 million
cut for adult education, which pays for high school equivalency programs and teaching of
Such cuts will hit particularly hard in Lawrence, where
there is an effort under way to reduce waiting lists lasting up to three years for enrollment in English as a Second Language
programs. Rather than support efforts to teach Spanish-speaking adults English, the
Legislature has sabotaged them.
We urge Gov. Swift to veto this absurd budget, knowing full
well her veto can be overridden. But it will be worth the effort if only to see House and Senate leaders stand up
and defend their buffoonery as a contribution to the legacy of democracy in Massachusetts.
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