While the state's fiscal 2000 budget remains stuck in conference
committee, likely to set a new record in foot-dragging, the Legislature has approved a
supplemental capital spending bill and a transportation bond bill amounting to more than
The Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation, a trusted fiscal watchdog, has
warned that such a high level of spending is not supported by revenues.
That legislative leaders seem unable to come to grips with fiscal
realities is cause for concern.
While using part of the surplus for infrastructure improvement is
prudent, the size of the supplemental bill is disappointing.
Originally, the House called for $242 million package, and the Senate
asked for $475 million. But by the time all the local pork was added, a $609 million
The prospect of a future budget crisis is clearly reflected in Big
The Legislature also has approved an additional $450 million of a
total of $1.5 billion of "grant anticipation note financing" for the Central
Artery. The new borrowing must be repaid from future federal money Washington will provide
for all highway projects across the state. Thus the Big Dig will consume up to one-half of
the state's entire federal highway assistance funding through 2015.
Michael Widmer, executive director of the taxpayer foundation, said
the way the Legislature handled the capital supplement may indicate a penchant for
spending in the long-overdue regular state budget as well.
The foundation warned that fiscal 2000 spending should not exceed the
$20.8 billion that already has been approved by both chambers. Even that amount would
represent a 7 percent increase -- way beyond the rate of inflation.
Gov. Paul Cellucci is expected to veto $140 million in the
supplemental budget, mostly from local pork-barrel projects. Cutting excess fat would
But unless policy-makers learn to restrict their appetite for
spending, Massachusetts will face an uncomfortably tight fiscal environment in 2000 and