Limited Taxation
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Barbara's Column
November 2001 #3

Swift's fiscal ultimatum well-earned
by Barbara Anderson

The Lowell Sun
Sunday, November 18, 2001

November is my favorite month. Leaves crackling underfoot, trees that reveal their true essence, roses that have changed from romantic to hip. Two Thanksgiving Days, one of them called Veterans Day. The beginning of the Celtic New Year and the commonwealth's fiscal year.

Wait! that doesn't fit. The state's fiscal year began in July.

So how come its budget doesn't get passed until November?

What a way to spend my favorite month, with Sen. Berry, Reps Slattery and McGee wanting to raise my taxes and Sen. Tarr, Reps. Verga and Cahill open to the suggestion, according to the Salem News.

Instead, legislators should support a voluntary tax check-off, so that liberals can choose to increase their own taxes to pay for management severance packages, race track and convention center subsidies, and legislative payraises.

Wait! Why would legislators, who are four and a half months late with the state budget, and ignoring the will of the voters on Clean Elections and the income tax rollback, get a payraise?

I remember. The voters supported a ballot question giving their representatives an automatic pay hike every other year. Well, then, the will of the voters be done.

Wait! How come that doesn't work for the other things we voters want?

Hey, I finally get why they call Jane Swift the "acting" Governor. It's because she acts while the Legislature refuses to act, or doesn't know how to act, or at best, re-acts.

Action Jane got tired of waiting for the legislature to pass a budget, so she took matters into her own hands. She can't access the state rainy day funds without legislative approval, but she can set priorities and restrain spending to match available revenues.

One of her priorities is to cut the legislature's slush fund account, part of which the legislature increased so it could survive the voters' Clean Elections law, which the same legislature is trying to kill anyhow. She is also cutting her salary, with an implied suggestion that the inactive legislature cut its own pay.

Best of all, if the legislature finds itself unable to act on anything but a tax increase, she will veto their easy-way-out. Then they will have to use rainy day funds that exist for just this weather pattern, or cut budgets, or raise taxes.

I saw a television news story about possible service cuts. It showed a handicapped child playing with her puppies who might lose state assistance.

Wait! If you were looking at a $22 billion budget that had doubled in 12 years, and two billion in surplus funds, then were told that this year's budget might have to be the same size as last year's, would your first suggestion be cutting services to handicapped kids and their puppies?

Just remember that "cuts in human services" means a reduction in the human services budget that's been increasing every year, not necessarily a reduction in actual services. "Education cuts" doesn't mean less education, just a smaller spending increase in the overall education budget.

If the Roxbury Community college president doesn't get a golden handshake for incompetence, this doesn't equate with a cut in any student's education. Cutting the Public Health Department doesn't mean ending vaccinations or clinics but might temporarily end the make-work activities of the anti-smoking-campaigns.

I don't blame cities and towns for being angry about proposed local aid cuts, but their anger is misplaced if it's aimed at Action Jane. A responsible legislature would have anticipated an economic slowdown and given communities fair warning as they planned for their own budget year that started in July.

If I were a mayor or selectman getting a cut now, four and a half months into my fiscal year, I'd be planning a run against my state senator or state representative next year. My campaign slogan: "I'll get the budget done on time."

The new mayor of Peabody might draft Peter Torigian; he could be a great state senator and still have plenty of time to spend with his grandchildren during all those months when the Senate doesn't act.

Former Chelsea representative Richard Voke could run for his old job of House Ways & Means Chairman. Because he was there during the real fiscal crisis in 1989-90, he was invited to be on a panel for a MassInc Forum that I attended on November 14th. "It's beyond my wildest comprehension how you can be in the fifth month of the fiscal year without a budget" he said.

My hand was the first in the air for audience questions. "If you were in charge of the budget this year, would you support the ((so-called) Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation plan to kill the people's income tax rollback"? I asked. Both he and another panelist, former Senate Ways & Means Chairman Pat McGovern, agreed that it would be a last resort after serious budget cuts.

Voke was the creator of the state rainy day fund, back in 1986. Thanks to him, serious budget cuts will not be necessary this year, so the income tax rollback should be safe -- and my favorite month may end happily after all.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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