Budget debate will test Legislature's mettle
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Wednesday, April 27, 2011

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars.
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions ...

"Age of Aquarius," from the musical "Hair," made popular in 1969 by The 5th Dimension

Thought you might like to know that, according to LLewellyn's 2011 Daily Planetary Guide, this weekend is the long-awaited dawning of the Age of Aquarius; well, long-awaited since the last time Jupiter aligned with Mars on my birthday in 2009. And the moon won't actually be in the 7th House until next week, on Friday the 13th.

My being an Aquarian myself, and 13 being my lucky number ever since California's Proposition 13 started the property tax revolt in 1978, I'm overlooking the fact that the lyricist chose this particular alignment because Mars rhymes with stars and has one syllable, unlike say Neptune which rhymes with nothing. So I'm going to take a chance on "trust abiding" and support the Massachusetts House leadership on its Fiscal Year 2012 budget.

By the time the state budget is finalized this summer, I will either be celebrating "trust" or apologizing for nave "visions of harmony," again.

Over 20 years ago, key Democrats teamed up with Republican fiscal conservatives to save the commonwealth from fiscal meltdown.

The time was 1989, when the Dukakis '88 presidential campaign's invented "Massachusetts Miracle" had become the Massachusetts Mess.

The House Ways and Means Committee, led by liberal Chairman Richard Voke, D-Chelsea, and backed by then-Speaker George Keverian, other committee chairmen and House Republicans, released a "no new taxes" budget with savings and reforms, to make up for years of overspending.

House Ways and Means cut Dukakis' proposed billion-dollar increase in half, and House members supported this. The battle against Dukakis/tax-hiking liberals/public employee unions began.

Citizens for Limited Taxation went way out on a "harmony and understanding" limb to support House Ways and Means against the "derision" of the public employee unions, which instead supported Dukakis' proposed $735 million tax increase.

The House put up a valiant fight, but the governor and Senate won. While some Dukakis-proposed new spending was halted, the Legislature passed a "temporary" income tax increase, which became permanent. With fiscally responsible momentum lost, another record tax increase passed in 1990.

Some of this new money, used for local aid, was the cause of the unsustainable benefit packages gained by the local public employee unions and eventually led to the present state of fiscal affairs in Massachusetts.

So once again, I "harmonize" with a House Ways and Means Committee effort to get spending under control, which this time has been led by Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, for his first budget as committee chairman. Speaker Robert DeLeo declared there will be no new taxes. Most of the House leadership backed their plan to scale back the cost of health insurance plans for city and town employees, a reform that mayors and selectmen have been urging.

The April 26 House vote for the reform was 111-42.

Public employee unions were outraged by the plan and filed their own, which among other differences, would give the unions at least 25 percent of the savings.

The House is giving them 20 percent the first year, which seems ridiculous since the point of the change is to help with local budgets that, because of state fiscal problems, will be losing some local aid. But "understanding" that it's hard for Democrats to stand up to unions, maybe the temporary 20 percent kickback was necessary to get the votes.

Even so, the unions are still furious and threatening not to support the re-elections of Democrats who "turned their backs" on them, so the kickback remains silly.

All but two House Republicans supported the health insurance savings. Republicans also attempted other savings with budget amendments for further reform, especially in the area of public employee pensions. There is also a Republican amendment to stop welfare benefits for illegal immigrants. Both the Republicans and the House leadership have plans to prevent nonresidents from getting MassHealth benefits.

With local aid cut, taxpayers must count on Proposition 2 to control local taxes. This works unless they vote for an override. However, as with other new taxes at the state and federal levels, overrides often get substituted for necessary reforms, making the overall situation worse.

A group of liberals and some union leaders are advocating a state income tax rate increase to 5.95 percent. House Republican legislators countered with amendments cutting it to 5 percent, reducing the recent sales tax rate increase and a sales tax deduction.

They got just three Democrat votes for the income tax rate that voters approved in 2000 - the final repeal of the "temporary" hike that happened the last time I trusted the Massachusetts House to hold firm on a "no new taxes" pledge.

Not giving up though, yet, on my "visions" of government that can occasionally be trusted to get spending under control for the long-term benefit of not only taxpayers, but everyone who depends on it to function responsibly. We'll see what happens next, as the budget debate moves to 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.

More of Barbara's Columns

Citizens for Limited Taxation    PO Box 1147    Marblehead, MA 01945    508-915-3665