Senate budget debate kicked off behind closed doors
yesterday, with President Thomas F. Birmingham enforcing a strict regimen of conflict-free, no-new-spending deliberations.
By the dinner hour last night, senators had cranked through
300 of the 612 amendments - adding virtually no money to the $23.2 billion spending plan.
The 40 lawmakers spent much of the day in a private huddle,
where they worked on "bundling" amendments - sifting dead-on-arrival proposals into a "no" pile, so they could be
gaveled down en masse.
The early rush to streamline this year's process drew
complaints from conservative and liberal corners, where some senators were hoping to debate controversial proposals.
"The outcome of every single amendment was orchestrated,
preordained, and a conclusion arrived at behind closed doors in a Democratic caucus," said Sen. Robert L. Hedlund
In recent years, bundling hadn't begun until the very end of
debate, when lawmakers were rushing to wrap up and go home.
But Birmingham, a gubernatorial candidate, sent orders down
the pipeline early yesterday that any amendment adding money to the bottom line would be rejected out of hand.
Birmingham aides pointed out that with the state facing a
deficit exceeding $2 billion, the Senate Ways and Means Committee was forced to direct all new spending proposals into
the "no" pile.
"To the degree that (a) senator wanted to debate any
amendment in the 'no' pile, it could be pulled out," said Birmingham spokesman Alison Franklin.
Senators had filed amendments to add more money to the court
system, zoos, environmental programs, youth programs, health care, disabilities, libraries and public safety.
But with virtually no debate, Birmingham and his leadership
team gaveled down amendment after amendment, most on "voice votes."
The few amendments that were adopted involved money-free
studies - such as the work done by the state Sentencing Commission.
Today's debate session is expected to be livelier, with
Republicans spoiling for a fight over a $1.2 billion tax-hike package.
Senate Minority Leader Brian P. Lees (R-East Longmeadow)
pledged to force separate votes on the five tax hikes, and complained that the tiny band of GOP senators isn't getting a
fair airing for its proposals to raise money through casino gambling and reducing Lottery
"It's just ludicrous," Lees said. "I just don't think the
arrogance of 'we're right and everyone else is wrong' is good."
Clean Elections supporters, meanwhile, were girding for an
assault on the voter-approved law that dishes tax dollars to political candidates who adhere to fund-raising and spending
An amendment filed by Senate Taxation Committee Chairman
Marian Walsh (D-West Roxbury) would place a referendum on the November ballot, asking voters if they support
spending "taxpayer money" on campaigns.
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Wednesday, June 12, 2002
BOSTON (AP) The Massachusetts Senate launched their budget
debate Tuesday with a discussion about whether to add more funding for investigators looking into allegations of
In any other recent budget debate, the proposal to spend
$600,000 to rehire 30 investigators for the Department of Transitional Assistance might have sailed through.
But with lawmakers anticipating a $2.6 billion spending gap
for the fiscal year starting July 1, the plea for extra money, like dozens of others, fell on deaf ears.
"We don't have the money for it. It will put the budget out
of balance," said Ways and Means Chairman Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford. "We have funded as much as we can."
The proposal pointed to a key struggle in this year's budget
battle the tension between wanting to do more and having less money to do it.
It's a dilemma that hasn't been seen for years on Beacon
Hill, where lawmakers enjoyed booming tax revenues during the late 1990s and wrestled with how much more to spend, not
Any proposal to increase the budget's bottom line would
require an equal cut somewhere else in the $23.2 billion spending plan, Montigny said. Even with an extra $1.2 billion
in proposed higher taxes, he said, the budget must still cut about $800 million in anticipated
Throughout the day, the Senate rejected other funding
proposals, including plans to restore money stripped from the state Film Office and zoos and to boost spending on human
service workers and the state's school building assistance fund.
The Senate did approve amendments to target funds without
adding to the bottom line, including plans to set aside $2.7 million for early intervention literacy programs and give high
school students who fail the MCAS priority access to tutoring funds.
A plan to study privatizing the Massachusetts Water
Resources Authority was shot down while an amendment to clamp down on pricey marketing efforts for the new convention
center was approved.
Republican leader Sen. Brian Lees, R-East Longmeadow, pushed
a plan to do away with the Metco voluntary school desegregation program, calling it outdated. The plan failed.
Debate was scheduled to resume Wednesday.
One controversial proposal that could come up is a plan by
opponents of the voter-approved Clean Elections law to put the public campaign financing law back on the
Republicans have also promised to fight several tax
proposals including a plan to cut the personal exemption and to end a tax deduction for charitable gifts.
Lees has pledged to lobby for a proposal to allow the state
to take up to 30 percent of the money it is expected to collect from its tobacco settlement and sell it on the bond market.
Lees said the plan could reap about $1.26 billion. Montigny
said the proposal would end up costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars.
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The Boston Globe
Wednesday, June 12, 2002
Democrats show why we need Romney
By Scot Lehigh
Democratic Party panjandrums say we don't need Mitt Romney
on the ballot.
Meanwhile, on Beacon Hill, legislative Democrats daily
demonstrate just why we do.
To see why, compare this year's budget process with that of
1991. Back then, the state also faced a serious problem. The Democratic establishment's preferred solution was to raise
taxes (for what would have been the third time in three years) rather than take a hard look at
the state budget.
But Governor William Weld had been elected on a "no new
taxes" pledge - and the 16 GOP members in the Senate meant his veto could be upheld. Weld insisted that the budget be
balanced without another round of taxes, successfully pushed to repeal a
new sales tax on services, and, later, rejected efforts to keep the income tax at its temporary level of 6.25
percent. Forced to live within their means, Beacon Hill budgeteers went to work
scrutinizing state spending. Some real reforms were done, some real cuts were made.
The result: The fiscal year 1992 budget Weld finally signed
was actually 1.5 percent, or $205 million, less than the previous year's. And despite loud and frequent predictions to
the contrary, the world didn't end.
This year, the state once again faces a fiscal shortfall, on
a budget that has grown more than $9.5 billion in 11 years. But with Acting Governor Jane Swift lacking both the votes to
uphold a veto and the public clout an electoral victory earns, the Democratic Legislature has
largely ignored her budgetary alternatives to more taxes.
Instead, Speaker Thomas Finneran has ushered a $1.1 billion
tax hike through the House, and Senate leadership has proposed a $1.2 billion package as part of a Senate budget that,
amazingly, calls for spending $300 million more than in the current budget.
As for meaningful reforms of the sort that are only
politically possible during tough times?
"Neither the House nor the Senate has used the opportunity
of this fiscal crisis to make significant reforms in state government," says Michael Widmer, president of the
Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. "It is a great disappointment."
How bad was it? Incredibly, both the House and Senate
budgets now call for increasing funding for the Quinn Bill, which grants police officers raises for degrees of questionable
value. Police details are still with us, of course. Nor have state employees been asked to
contribute the private-sector average toward their health-care coverage.
Leadership simply brushed aside Swift's reasonable plan to
reduce Lottery scratch-ticket prize payouts, a proposal that could garner $150 million to $275 million a year. Casino
gambling, which could net an estimated $200 million to $300 million annually? Paternalistic
Democrats would rather see Massachusetts gamblers flock to Foxwoods and the Mohegan
Meanwhile, budgeteers have insisted on socking away for the
future between 20 percent (the Senate) and 50 percent (the House) of the state's annual tobacco-settlement money - even
though each such dollar held in reserve effectively means a dollar that must be raised in taxes.
In crafting their budget, legislators have also ignored voter sentiment from 2000,
repealing the deduction for charitable contributions and, at least in the House's case, thumbing its nose at
the Clean Elections law.
In short, without a strong opposition party to force a real
debate on reform - and a real look at alternatives - Beacon Hill Democrats have reverted to the stale and static approach
that comes of one-party dominance. It's a return to that place called
It would be one thing, after making real reforms, to freeze
the last year of the income tax rollback and to tax capital gains at the regular income tax rate. It's quite another to
make only a token gesture at good-government changes - then shove through an omnibus tax and fee
package that takes back, in various ways, virtually the entire amount of the tax cut
voters approved at the ballot two years ago.
As the Globe's Rick Klein has reported, other states are
doing a much better job of balancing their budgets without turning principally to new taxes. This state can do better,
But to do so, Massachusetts needs the ideas, alternatives,
debate, and choice that a strong, reenergized Republican Party can provide.
And that's why it's vitally important that Mitt Romney
remain on the ballot.
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