You know a guy's been around Beacon Hill too long when he says things
like lower auto registration and license fees "loses us [emphasis ours] $100
million a year."
Clearly House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Haley (D-Weymouth) has
lost touch. He meant, of course, that's $100 million lawmakers no longer have available to
spend because it's now safely back in the pockets of their constituents. It was a telling
moment as Haley explained the House version of the state budget for the fiscal year that
begins July 1.
In fact, there is much in Haley's budget that turns logic on its ear.
Haley said he wants to "reduce the pressure on the state's
capital budget" -- the money used for long-term building projects -- by spending
today's operating cash. Perhaps a case can be made for minor repairs and long overdue
maintenance. One might even stretch the case to fund some road repairs (estimated lifespan
five years). But the House budget devotes $50 million to road and bridge repairs and
another $50 million for new school construction.
Haley insists this is the only way to keep the state's bonded
indebtedness within an agreed upon cap. It's also an effective way to spend down what
would otherwise be surplus revenues that should be returned to taxpayers.
On another issue Haley's goals are admirable, but his method
For example, the House budget allocates $14 million as a downpayment
to get the MBTA on a current budget cycle like every other state agency.
"We must immediately get T spending under control," Haley
said, "Right now they do as they please and send taxpayers from Provincetown to
Pittsfield the bill."
Good analysis of the problem, but wrong solution.
Haley proposed to dedicate one-fifth of the 5 percent sales tax
(that's about $600 million a year) directly to the MBTA in perpetuity. As the revenue
stream goes up -- and it is expected to rise by 5 percent or 6 percent a year -- so will
the T's share. Is that any way to encourage fiscal responsibility?
Meanwhile every attempt by MBTA managers to control costs by
contracting out some services has been stymied by the Legislature. This is the worst kind
of hypocrisy. And, Haley warns, the T will likely have to "make an adjustment at the
fare box." Perhaps so, but riders shouldn't be asked to pay more for a system that
remains all too fat and happy.
Although perhaps that's the only way to alert riders -- and taxpayers
-- to the real costs of this bloated system.