BOSTON (AP) The Massachusetts Senate is preparing to wade into
a contentious budget debate today with Democrats pushing a $1.2 billion tax plan and outnumbered Republicans
vowing to fight it.
"This budget is embarrassing. We're just trying to stick it
to the taxpayer," said Senate Republican leader Brian Lees, R-East Longmeadow.
Democrats defended the tax package, which includes a freeze
in the state income tax and a 75-cent hike on cigarettes. They say without the higher taxes, the state will be forced to
make dramatic cuts to services.
Even with the extra money, Democrats say, they will have to
cut about $800 million from what would be needed to maintain services at their current levels in the fiscal year beginning
Lees said Democrats have not looked at other alternatives.
He said he will push a plan that would allow the state to
take up to 30 percent of all the money it is expected to collect from its settlement with the tobacco industry and sell
it on the bond market.
Lees said the plan could reap about $1.26 billion immediately.
Ways and Means Chairman Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, called
the plan a "horrible idea."
"Over time we would lose hundreds of millions just to get
the money up front," he said.
Lees said he will work to legalize casino gambling and will
fight proposals to do away with a tax cut for charitable gifts and to cut the personal income tax exemption.
With just six Republicans in the 40-member Senate, Lees
concedes he will have a tough time pushing through his proposals.
Montigny met for more than six hours behind closed doors
with fellow Democrats on Monday to review the $23.2 billion spending plan. The proposal would spend about $200
million more than the Massachusetts House.
Montigny said there was general support for the plan. He
said he discouraged those who sponsored amendments that would add to the bottom line.
"It's a challenge to those who are proposing an amendment to
cut somewhere else," he said. "There will be a lot of pressure to spend, but there will be even more pressure to save."
More than 600 budget amendments have been filed.
Some would restore proposed cuts, including adding back $3.5
million for the state's zoos or $396,000 for the state Film Office.
Others would allow the state to spend $9.5 million from its
Clean Elections fund on this year's campaigns. The House budget spent virtually all the state's Clean Elections money to
satisfy outstanding union contracts.
Most of the amendments face an uphill fight, including a
proposal to eliminate the Metco voluntary school desegregation program and another plan to delay Turnpike toll hikes from
July until March.
Some of the amendments have seemingly little to do with the
budget, including a plan to establish a new education program on the proper etiquette, correct use and display of the
United States flag or a one year moratorium on new charter schools.
Two amendments that might effect the bottom line include a
proposal to deny education aid to schools that give diplomas to students who fail the MCAS test and another amendment
requiring parolees to pay the state $5 to $30 a day for the cost of court-ordered drug testing
or electronic bracelets.
Return to top
The Boston Globe
Tuesday, June 11, 2002
A Boston Globe editorial
A senate savings plan
Massachusetts tax revenues continue to come in well under
projections, yet the Legislature is considering the budget for next year without panic because it is able to draw on state
reserves, including the rainy day fund. This fund will probably be exhausted by the end of the
next fiscal year - June 30, 2003 - and Senator Frederick E. Berry of Peabody has proposed
a sensible plan to replenish it.
Berry wants to restore, as of this July 1, the 5.6 percent
income tax rate that was in effect for 2001. The $270 million that would be raised in the next 12 months would go directly
into the stabilization fund. The tax increase would gradually sunset out of existence if the economy
Berry is offering his plan as an amendment to the budget
proposed by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which will be debated on the Senate floor today. The Senate proposal
differs in many details from the budget passed by the House last month,
but they both raise additional revenue by freezing the income tax at 5.3 percent, increasing the capital gains tax,
raising the cigarette tax by 75 cents, and eliminating the charitable deduction on the income
tax. The Senate package, like the House, draws $500 million from the rainy day fund, but
unlike the House, diverts an extra $110 million from the annual tobacco settlement.
Even though it violates a House-Senate agreement from last
year's much delayed budget, using that extra tobacco money is justified to maintain Medicaid coverage for 30,000
long-term unemployed people, whom the House would leave without health
The Senate Ways and Means budget tries, within severe fiscal
constraints, to maintain the many services performed by state government. At $23.4 billion, by the reckoning of the
Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, it will be out of balance with the revenue-generating
capacity of state government, even with the tax increases voted by the House.
That $23.4 billion would represent a slight increase in
spending. However, tax revenues for the first 11 months of the current fiscal year are 11.9 percent below what they were a
year ago. The Senate plan is based on a 3.6 percent growth in state revenue - a consensus figure
accepted by the governor and legislative leaders in April - but it would be unwise to count
on this growth when actual revenues for April and May were well below the most conservative
Given these numbers, Berry estimates that there will be
nothing in the rainy day fund by June 30, 2003. That will be enough to ignite a fiscal crisis of the sort seen in the late
1980s recession, when the state had virtually no reserves. The result then was drawn-out agony,
cutback after cutback, and two whopping tax increases. It makes sense to learn from the
past and augment the reserves while there is still time.
Return to top
The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune
Monday, June 10, 2002
Declare the pennies on your eyes
The Massachusetts Senate wants to get a few more tax dollars out of the elderly before they
pass on to their final reward.
Spending one's final days in a nursing home bed is no one's
idea of the "golden years."
Except, that is, for the Massachusetts Senate. For the fat
and happy of Beacon Hill, there's gold in them there beds.
In the Senate's version of the $22.2 billion state budget is
a plan to raise revenues by imposing a $9 a day "bed fee" on nursing home patients who pay for their own care. The fee
amounts to $3,300 a year.
That's right. Grandma and Grandpa aren't going to get
through their final days without the state of Massachusetts squeezing a few more dollars out of them. Perhaps when they
finally have the misfortune to die, the Senate can go through their pockets for loose change.
Among the local supporters of this pickpocketing of the
elderly are state Rep. Brian S. Dempsey, D-Haverhill, and state Sen. Steven A. Baddour, D-Methuen.
Supporters say it's the only way the state can get an extra
$145 million in matching federal Medicaid dollars to help pay for the nursing home care of those too poor to cover their own
It's another "tax the rich" scheme. But this time the rich
aren't Bill Gates or Ross Perot. They're the middle-class folks next door who were prudent enough to save for their old age
-- the people who didn't want to "be a burden" on their children or the state. The truly rich
get personal care in their own homes. Those who pay their own way to nursing homes
generally have little left over after a bill that can run into the thousands per month.
Dempsey and Baddour argue that the nursing homes should
absorb the cost of the bed fees since they will benefit from increased Medicaid reimbursement.
"Our position is that it's really on the backs of the
private pay nursing home people," Dempsey told our reporter. "If they pass the cost on, it's because they don't want to eat
into their own profits." Dempsey supported a similar provision in the House budget.
What Dempsey seemingly does not understand is that a nursing
home is a business. If it does not make a profit, it will close. The nursing homes will have little choice but to pass
the bed fee on to their patients.
The Senate should look elsewhere for money before going
after the little the elderly have left after a lifetime of taxation. Let them spend their final days without worrying
about the tax man.
Return to top
The Boston Herald
Tuesday, June 11, 2002
A Boston Herald editorial
Tax cap before Senate
The Massachusetts Senate, which has given every indication
it will be on a tax and spend spree this week as it debates the fiscal 2003 state budget, has the opportunity to redeem
itself in one small way.
The spending cap adopted in the House budget will be
proposed in an amendment by Sen. Steven A. Baddour (D-Haverhill) with the co-sponsorship of Sen. Bruce Tarr
(R-Gloucester). As drafted it is identical to the House version and thus if adopted in that
form wouldn't even be subject to conference committee debate. Ah, but that is still a very big
The plan, which is also backed by acting Gov. Jane Swift,
would limit future spending growth in the state budget to the rate of inflation plus 2 percent. If during boom years - years
in which legislators are inclined to increase the depth, breadth and cost of existing programs
and add new ones - revenues started to really roll in, those surpluses would be
put aside and divided three ways: 25 percent would be returned to taxpayers, 40 percent would go into the
rainy day fund and 30 percent would go toward capital projects.
Now as we stated when the House took up the measure last
month, it's hardly a perfect piece of legislation. Does it, after all, surprise anyone that taxpayers would get the
smallest share of the return? And that 30 percent set aside for "capital projects" would actually be
funding a sizable amount of pork.
It is, of course, merely legislation, and would be subject
to change by future sessions of the Legislature by simple majority vote. It's nothing carved in stone, although sometimes
a good idea such as this does take root.
But rare is the proposal on Beacon Hill that is perfect, and
so any effort to control spending is an effort worth making.
"The current budget shortfalls clearly demonstrate that
farsighted fiscal discipline is the only solution to the cycle of boom years, followed by times of painful cuts and tax
hikes," Baddour said in announcing his sponsorship of the amendment.
Given the Senate's current plans, this promise of future
fiscal discipline is the least it could do for taxpayers.
Return to top