and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
August 2002 #1

Business as usual on Beacon Hill
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, August 2, 2002

Smokers who want to quit are going to die instead.

Children will be crammed into classrooms with fewer teacher aides to untangle them from each other when the school day is done.

"Culchah" will decline, as art is reduced to the level of unsubsidized cave paintings.

Children who want to dance will have to stand still, their feet anchored to the earth because the state won't pay for their dance classes.

College professors won't get a pay raise.

Cities and towns won't be able to easily get overrides because senior citizens won't be bribed to support them. Communities will no longer get paid for the students they don't have, the ones who escaped to charter schools.

Because of a decline in state revenues, and even with a billion dollar tax hike, Massachusetts will not be able to spend a billion dollars more this year than last. And look, the rainy day fund was raided!

Yes, after Governor Swift vetoed $355 million from the Legislature's budget, this is more or less what we heard from heartbroken spending advocates; their pleas did make the legislature restore $71 million. Well, why not use the rainy day fund?; it's raining.

Mostly it's pouring a lack of common sense.

Without state anti-smoking programs, helpless victims of the tobacco companies will go to New Hampshire or the Internet to avoid new state tobacco taxes, then they'll smoke til they croak.

Or, they can take responsibility for their own health with the nicotine patch or a plastic cigarette, as my elderly mother did.

Parents can take responsibility for their children, teach them to read, encourage them to dance and appreciate art, recognize that they, not class size, generally determine how well the kids do in life. The state should focus on the children who don't have responsible parents.

The rest of us can make or find affordable art ourselves.

Many of us won't get a pay raise. Instead, since a tax hike is a pay cut, we will get a big pay cut this year.

Governor Swift vetoed the Legislature's attempt to exempt senior citizens from Prop 2 overrides. I hope you seniors reading this column understand that the exemption was simply an attempt to keep you from voting in override elections. I never thought you would vote for tax hikes for your younger neighbors who are paying mortgages, saving for their kids' college and the retirement they might not get themselves from Social Security, but you might not go out of your way to vote No either, and we overtaxed homeowners need you.

If the Legislature cared about senior citizens, it would take education off the property tax and use education vouchers instead of turning local aid over to the existing teachers' union-controlled systems.

Most of the Governor's vetoes were sensible, under the circumstances of being handed the Legislature's whole mess to clean up in ten days. And she did veto a local meals tax hike and potential Internet tax.

But some of the Legislature's mistakes were encouraged by the Swift Administration. Many people on Medicaid will be prescription drug-free, as pharmacies refuse their prescriptions because the state cut reimbursements below cost. Incredibly, legislators who didn't even hold a public hearing on this are begging the pharmacies to "be good corporate citizens" even if it means taking a loss that they might not survive. More incredibly, Governor Swift is talking about going to court to make them cooperate. What is this, Massachusetts economic fascism?

I use a small local drugstore for my prescriptions, and my druggist clearly understood the state's plan: get pharmacists to put pressure on giant drug companies to lower their prices. He was sure they will take his call from the Village Pharmacy.

Hang in there, CVS, Brooks, Walgreens, and all you independents; someone has to stand up to the insanity on Beacon Hill before it spreads. If you must provide drugs below cost, Stop & Ship and the Community Store should be good corporate citizens and at least provide free food to state clients.

To make it worse, the pharmacies may have to "eat" the new prescription fees, for which they are getting what extra service? A fee provides service that non-payers do not get; think about it. And think about that nursing home "fee" for self-paying residents too.

In the end, this year's budget is increasing over last year's, according to the governor's numbers, by less than one percent. Not as much fun as spending a billion dollars more a year, but not the end of the world either.

The traditional final step in the budget cycle is for legislators to whine that they didn't know what they were voting on, as they scramble to fix a few of the mistakes they made in their usual last-minute budget haste. The rest of the mistakes will stand as the baseline budget for next year; if the same people are elected, the SNAFU cycle will begin again.

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

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