September, 2004 —
Long-time CLT members are accustomed to our keeping track of state budgets year-to-year, so they can see how much state government is growing. This has been difficult the last few years as items like the MBTA, pension funding, and some Medicaid funding are funded differently or
Unlike the Dukakis years — when we had to spend huge amounts of time and effort digging out the secrets behind
his "11 balanced budgets in a
row" — we now have access to the fiscal experts on Beacon Hill.
The Department of Revenue is always helpful with
revenue numbers; for the budget data we went to the independent state Comptroller's office and to Governor Romney's Office of Administration and Finance. With the help of a budget expert in the latter's Fiscal Affairs Office, we were able to add the FY'99-'05 numbers to our chart.
As nearly as we can determine, Beacon Hill leaders don’t publicize budget comparisons themselves because they are writ on shifting sands, and official numbers that are used by the bond
rating agencies must be exact. There are also various accounting procedures, some of which add in federal fund transfers and other complexities. We look only at the state operating budget, the one you read about in newspapers when the various budgets are
presented and discussed, and we try to adjust for new definitions of the word "budget."
The best source of "right now" numbers is the state bond prospectus, which experts in budget
writing put together. But with
the state's budget history, don’t bet on the numbers; some of the adjustments are still a mystery to us.
For instance, we don’t know what caused the big jump in FY'97 that wasn’t there at the time. And keep in mind that each year’s numbers are an estimate until the comptroller's office closes the books several months after the budget year ends.
The baseline budget that we use is the last Dukakis budget. Note that the first Weld budget is a genuine decrease in dollar spending; the apparent decreases in later years reflect "off-budget" movement. By the way, these are actual
dollar amounts, not adjusted for inflation.
September, 2008 —
In 2005, not being forensic accountants with
expertise in obscure budgeting practices, and realizing that
"truth in budgeting" was elusive: difficult to find and harder
to follow year-to-year. When it became a matter of
comparing apples to oranges CLT/CERF stopped keeping track. With more of
the state's billions in overall spending being moved
"off-budget" where it is less visible or reported, the task of
following the money became almost impossible.
But in early 2008, Harold Wolfe, a CLT activist with an MS degree in Computer Science, decided to try to analyze the state
budget in his free time. The link below will take you to the
results of his extraordinary labors.