and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
February 2003 #5

Finally, someone willing
to shake up the status quo

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, February 28, 2003

We can plan a trip to the spring flower show, but the best way to beat the winter doldrums is to add a touch of revolution to our lives.

Just in time for March, the Romney budget comes in like a lion.

As the crocuses think of blooming, state government thinks of shrinking, just a tad; and in shrinking, maybe working better than it has in decades.

Despair is the traditional emotion of winter, hope the emotion of spring. And Gov. Romney's budget is a far cry from "business as usual."

Along with the theme "Common sense for the Commonwealth", and the renewed commitment to avoid new taxes, the thing I like best is the human services reorganization plan.

I found the plan that Citizens for Limited Taxation presented to Governor Ed King in 1981, right after Proposition 2 was passed by the voters and we were looking for more local aid for the cities and towns. It included a "Massachusetts Human Service Delivery System" flow chart -- roughly 200 little boxes scattered among disconnected state agencies; and good luck to any person needing services choosing the right box.

Our proposal was neatly organized into two main branches, and each of those had 40 little boxes. It made so much sense that somehow I thought it had already been implemented. Maybe it was, only to slowly drift back into its current chaos.

I also thought last decade's welfare reform meant that welfare mothers had to be working by now. Guess not, or the requirement wouldn't be part of the governor's new plan.

I assumed that the phase-in was to cover women who had small children at the time the reform was passed. By now those kids should all be in school.

Gov. Romney is right about health care too. It isn't fair for three out of four taxpayers to be paying toward their own health insurance; yet also paying for free care for that fourth person. Everyone should take some responsibility for themselves with at least a minimum co-pay and deductibles.

And state employees should pay the same share of their health insurance as the private-sector average.

In spring, taxpayers' fancy turns to ending those special benefits for the privileged classes that come at our expense.

Romney should also be repealing those taxes on nursing-home self-payers and pharmacies, which are utterly devoid of common sense; instead of talking about taxing health insurance companies and hospitals, which makes no sense at all.

There is concern about the proposal to close facilities for the mentally retarded and moving them into group homes. We'd all hate to see these people sleeping under the expressway with the mentally ill who were also promised group homes when mental hospitals were closed. But I've been told by parents who have special-needs children that some of the big facilities are serving only a few difficult cases and should be sold, and their clients moved to smaller, staffed residences. This makes sense to me.

It's just my opinion, but the executives who run allegedly privatized human service agencies shouldn't be making six-figure salaries while urging more taxpayer funding for the poor. If they want to make money, they should go work in the real private sector, and good luck to them.

Genuine privatization and competition for government contracts is worth a try, so we taxpayers should support repeal of the public-sector union protection law, otherwise known as the Pacheco bill. I think we can keep the Quinn bill for the police, but it should be funded at a level reflecting its original intent, not its present abuses, in order to get the reform bill passed.

Court reform, an end to patronage, civil service, and management unions? Guess the voters hired themselves a real manager!

I've been told that Bain Capital analysts have been running around the state, looking for the waste and inefficiency that, unlike common sense, has been the commonwealth's theme for far too long.

Until reform kicks in, cuts will have to be made in things like local aid. Many cities and towns have been indulging in spending beyond inflation and will have to find their own efficiencies.

Thus this may not be a good time to be looking for school overrides from already harassed taxpayers. Maybe more towns should follow Danvers' example and invite senior citizens to recommend better management and maintenance policies!

The Romney budget's bottom line, despite what opponents imply, is not $3 billion less than the present budget, but close to what is being spent this year. The so-called "budget gap" is the gap between available state revenues and what the state agencies want to spend.

If you talk with advocates who always focus on "unmet needs," the "budget gap" could be a trillion dollars!

Despite the annual built-in "maintenance" increases, common sense tells us that the commonwealth can't spend $3 billion more each year, and raise taxes to do it; while still remaining a viable economic entity. Let's hope the lion-like Romney budget doesn't go out like a lamb when the legislative circus begins.

Long live the revolution!

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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