Proposed budget cuts amount to pizza without the pepperoni
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, March 3, 2011

I expected civilization to be ending about now.

As I started writing this column, there was a chance the federal government might shut down on Friday. Here in Massachusetts, public employee unions were rallying against something, not sure what, but if our Democratic legislators flee to Connecticut to avoid addressing our state budget deficit, as Wisconsin Democrats fled to Illinois, Beacon Hill may shut down too.

This would have left us with only the mayors, city councils, and selectmen to see that basic federal, state and local services are provided. I was glad for fee-based water bills; the Marblehead Water & Sewer Commission would at least keep us hydrated, flushed and showered.

It's reminded me of the 1980 Proposition 2˝ campaign, when voters were told that water would cease to flow from the spigots of Cambridge if the ballot question passed. Cambridge had a fee-based water supply system, so it wouldn't be affected by a property tax cut, but Cambridge voters rejected Prop. 2˝ anyhow.

However, despite dire warnings from local officials and intense opposition from public employee unions, voters statewide passed the initiative by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent. I honestly don't know if they didn't believe the warnings that civilization was about to end, or if they did believe it and just didn't care anymore. There had been too many years of overspending, broken promises about reform, pleas to raise taxes "for the children" and arrogance from uncontrolled school committees.

Voters said "enough!" The public employee unions marched and no one cared. They filed bills against the new law and but no politicians dared interfere. They went to court and lost. Eventually everything settled down and now, 30 years later, Prop. 2˝ still stands as a monument to citizen activism and determination.

But the "law of unintended consequences" wasn't repealed, either. Because of the political pressure from the property tax limit, the state shared more of its revenues with the cities and towns; this seemed like a good idea at the time. However, over the years, many local officials, unable to stand up to their unions, allowed much of the new money to go to pay for the extraordinary employee benefits that are now unsustainable.

Oddly, union leaderships just kept demanding more, without seeming to worry about the growing unfunded liabilities in their pension and health insurance "accounts."

These same union leaders often urged voters to allow higher taxes because they'd been "working without a contract" for months. When I first heard that expression, I felt bad for them; I thought this meant they weren't getting paid!

Eventually someone explained to me that it meant they were getting paid the same amount they were making under the old contract, without the pay raise and/or new benefits that the government managers were resisting in the new contract.

This is kind of like the federal government "working without a budget," which it's been doing since the beginning of its fiscal year last October because the president and the Democrat-controlled Congress didn't get around to passing one.

So, as with "no new contract" employees, the federal government has been operating under the previous year's budget, spending roughly the same amount, a portion at a time.

Now it's March, and the newly-dominant Republicans are saying "enough" to the current levels of overspending, as they were elected to do; they want to cut the current budget by roughly $62 billion.

They made an offer to cut $4 billion immediately and go on from there for another two weeks while negotiations continue. If Democrats balked, there wouldn't be another "continuing resolution" and the federal government would have shut down this Friday.

Meanwhile, President Obama has filed his budget for the next fiscal year which begins in October 2011. He's suggesting $3.7 trillion, including a deficit of $1.6 trillion, and we're told he's cutting $90 billion (over 10 years, but that's ridiculous, so for the purpose of this analysis let's pretend it's $90 billion a year).

The Republicans are analyzing this budget and will offer much larger cuts, as demanded by voters in November, when the House responds with its own version of the budget this spring.

But let's try to make all this understandable by relating it to something we can all grasp — our own budgets. I'll start.

I don't actually budget, but I just filed my taxes so I know what I earned last year: Consider that $24,000 as my "spending plan." If I cut the same percentage as President Obama (at $90 billion a year), I estimate I'd have to get by with roughly $1.60 less a day.

Over the years, when the state government and its unions wanted a tax increase and taxpayers objected, we were told it would only cost us the equivalent of a slice of pizza a day.

The $4 billion congressional Republicans were looking for this week just cuts the pepperoni from the federal government pizza!

Would the Democrats shut down the government because they couldn't have pepperoni on their pizza?

But Tuesday the House voted 335-91 in favor of a budget extension, supported by Obama, that included the $4 billion in cuts, and Wednesday the Senate followed suit.

Has the earth really tilted on its axis? It seems there are enough Democrats in Congress willing to settle for a slice of basic cheese, without the pepperoni, in order to save civilization for another two weeks.


STOPGAP 2011 BUDGET: Voting 335 for and 91 against, the House on March 1 passed a stopgap measure (HJ Res 44) to keep the government in full operation between March 5 and March 18 while cutting spending by $4 billion over that period. The House and Senate will use the two weeks to negotiate a budget path for the last half of fiscal 2011, which ends Sept. 30. Among this bill’s cuts are $650 million in highway spending and a $2.8 billion rescission of once-popular earmarks that have been abandoned by their congressional sponsors.

Rodney Freylinghuysen, R-N.J., called the bill “a thoughtful path forward to avoid a potential government shutdown.”

Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said Congress needs to invest in “education programs ... in infrastructure ... and (in) mass transit, so that ... we can grow the economy.”

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Voting yes:  Tsongas, Keating

Voting no:  Olver, Neal, McGovern, Frank, Tierney, Markey, Capuano, Lynch

Not voting:  None

Both Brown and Kerry voted Yes in the Senate.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette.

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