and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
June 2004 #4

Taxpayers beware:
Time for midsummer madness at the Statehouse
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, June 24, 2004

The state fiscal year is coming to an end June 30. The new fiscal year's budget, now on Governor Romney's desk, is officially $22.5 billion unless you count the things that have recently been taken "off budget" like MBTA spending, Medicaid and some MassHealth funding and pension costs, in which case it is $24.8 billion.

If you add the things that have been "off budget" for years, like the state's "independent agencies," the state budget is a lot more than $24.8 billion. On the other hand, if you take everything "off budget" except, say, the state Ethics Commission, the budget would be only $1.3 million. Can we "unfreeze" the tax rollback now?

Whatever the budget is, the governor will veto some of it, and the Legislature has until the end of the year to override him, though it is leaving Beacon Hill for the fall campaign season at the end of July.

Maybe it will leave sooner, since the last week in July will have the look of a prime-time disaster movie in Boston. House Republicans want the session to end a week early so that the Democratic leadership can't use the confusion of the convention to pass overrides and other ill-considered legislation with no media attention.

Considering what the Democrats pass when the media ARE watching, this is a valid concern. The budget contains language that requires blind people to carry papers proving that their dog is a guide dog, provides money for regional grief counselors, requires the education department to create a pilot program to prevent bullying and gives state college tuition breaks to illegal aliens.

Do we have a problem with beagles impersonating guide dogs? Before we had grief counselors to give normally resilient kids a chance to skip class, we had programs to prevent bullying -- they were held in the principal's office with parents present.

My friend, Nancy, was bullied once on our grade-school playground. She grabbed the boy by his scapular (a religious artifact that we Catholic kids wore around our necks) and swung him around three times, then dropped him on the concrete. I don't think he bothered her again.

But that was then, and these are different, scarier times. I guess we need "bullying counselors" -- we can hire them from the Peace Movement -- who will talk kids into being more loving.

The tuition breaks are for students who have attended three years of Massachusetts public schools and who are in the process of establishing permanent residence. So never mind the reduced tuition; these noncitizens have been getting at least three years of completely tax-funded education. I don't get it: What part of "illegal" doesn't the government understand?

Personally, I would like to let all the children from all the third-world countries come here to get educated. The problem is there are too many of them to fit in our existing public schools, and the Legislature won't allow more charter schools.

Yes, seriously, this year's state budget puts a moratorium on charter schools even for children of citizens. Parents want these alternative public schools. Children do well in them; there are long waiting lists to get into them. Naturally, we must prevent more of them from helping kids escape from the teachers unions' monopoly.

Can't we have a law to prevent the teachers unions from impersonating something that cares about kids? Will grief counselors be employed to comfort the children whose charter school can't open in the fall because of the cowardly legislators who have been bullied by the teachers' unions and are now bullying charter parents?

Still on the subject of midsummer madness, someone asked if we could file a class action suit to get the courts to declare the convention a public nuisance. A lawyer friend responded that of course the convention is a public nuisance, like hurricanes and snowstorms, "but it's not like the neighbor's yard becoming a junkyard, it is a limited-time event and given the implications of the First Amendment rights of the Democrats to assemble, the FleetCenter to lease the space, and the city of Boston's desire to hold it there, relief from the courts is extremely unlikely."

So fine, let chaos reign. It will give us all an understanding of why government in general doesn't work: Someone has a bright idea, ignores or ridicules intelligent questions, and lowballs the costs and difficulties until the point of no return. Then it continues down the road to bright new disaster while continuing to ignore the ongoing Massachusetts government failures -- a high tax and regulatory burden, bad roads, coming medical crises, auto insurance fraud and lack of preparedness for terrorism while the police are forced to spend time chasing smokers and choose to spend time on special details watching construction that, if the government is doing it, costs more than it has to because of outdated, pro-union legislation.

Eventually government muddles through, taxing us to pay for the new mistakes while hoping everyone will forget all of the mistakes by the next election. What most people do forget is the real madness we're witnessing here at midsummer and all the rest of the political year.

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