CLT Update
Thursday, November 15, 2001

"Fiscal crisis" a Tax Rollback freeze "advantage"

In the News Today:

Budget crisis is a looking-glass war

Will they kill the tax cut?

Lawmakers rule out tax hike
More cuts eyed to close deficit

Health groups criticize Swift
Say budget cuts will undo gains

Health budget can take cuts too

Gov may cut pay and KO interns

Budget irks ex-pols

The price of Legislature's late budget

$71 million for smoking cessation programs? $720,000 for additional legislative "office expenses," justified as quid pro quo for funding the Clean Elections Law, which the Legislature then gutted? Take the money and run!

And they wring their hands pleading "Where can we cut"?

Good for Gov. Swift! Now we know why they call her "acting" governor: She's the only one on Beacon Hill who's acting, trying to do something constructive about the "fiscal crisis"!

But ... what "fiscal crisis"?

It's reassuring to have an economist back up what I said in our Nov. 11 update ["Stop! Think! Do the math! 'Fiscal crisis' only a halt of spending growth"].

Yesterday morning, Barbara and I attended the MassINC forum in the Boston offices of Palmer & Dodge, co-hosted by the so-called Mass. Taxpayers Foundation [see Boston Herald report, "Budget irks ex-pols," below].

The forum consisted of four of the major players in state government during the last fiscal crisis, the meltdown of Dukakis' "Massachusetts Miracle": the former House and Senate chairmen of their respective Ways and Means committees, the state revenue commissioner, and Dukakis' Secretary of Administration & Finance.

Former House Ways and Means Committee chief Richard Voke noted: "It's beyond my wildest comprehension how you can be in the fifth or sixth month of the fiscal year without a budget."

Michael Widmer, president of the so-called Mass. Taxpayers Foundation, opened the forum with a retrospect of the last fiscal crisis and his view of today's ... and he again suggested a freeze of our rollback should be considered. The MTF budget analysis handed out to the audience stated:

"[T]he Commonwealth may have to reconsider the pace of implementation of the Question 4 income tax cut approved by the voters last year. The rate reductions still to be phased in could be deferred for a limited period or reduced more slowly than currently scheduled."

This is the same business-funded organization whose budget projections and analyses have been more often wrong than right over the years, which never supported our rollback. MTF is still pushing its own plan that was adopted in Finneran's House last year as an alternative to our rollback, but was defeated in the Senate.

I wonder how many of the dozens of corporate tax cuts and breaks adopted over the last decade that benefit MTF's patrons Mr. Widmer is prepared to revisit and "defer" ... for the greater public good?

Funny, but I didn't hear him offer up any.

Chip Ford

The Boston Herald
Thursday, November 15, 2001

Budget crisis is a looking-glass war
by David G. Tuerck

Massachusetts is in the throes of what is generally but wrongly perceived to be a fiscal crisis. The symptoms of a crisis are all around us. After months of dithering, the state is only now pulling together a budget for fiscal year 2002. Dire warnings about multiyear, multibillion-dollar deficits abound. Citizens, conditioned to expect deep budget cuts, call their legislators and plead for cherished programs.

The problem stems from the weakening economy and the resulting slowdown in tax revenues. For the last several years the state has increased spending at an annual rate of about 5 percent. This trend, continued into fiscal 2002, would put the state budget at $23.25 billion, approximately equal to preliminary budgets already forged by the Legislature. Because the state is already well into the fiscal year -- which began July 1 -- any budget finally adopted by the Legislature that falls short of this amount will be perceived as requiring a cut in spending.

Aside from the need to adjust perceptions to reality, however, there is no fiscal crisis. Given current revenue expectations, the state will run a deficit of about $1.36 billion if it sticks with this budget. Thanks to the huge surpluses the state ran up over the past several years, it has about $2.3 billion in its rainy-day fund and other reserves. Given these reserves and expected revenue collections, it can easily accommodate a $23.25 billion budget for the current year. If it is then willing to freeze spending at this level for fiscal 2003 and 2004, it can get through the current slowdown without depleting its reserves or risking insolvency.

So what is the problem? The answer, as suggested, lies in the public's perceptions, as shaped by political leaders and the media. In the curious lexicon of these opinion makers, a fiscal 2002 budget that comes in at, say, $22.5 billion would be said to require a cut -- even though that amount would be $400 million more than last year.

This Alice-in-Wonderland language, according to which a failure to increase spending becomes a cut in spending breeds confusion and hysteria.

Once we abandon fiscal Jabberwocky and return to standard English, however, the hysteria quickly disappears. If the state were to freeze spending at $23.25 billion this year and for the next two, it would weather the "crisis" fiscally intact. With the economy recovering by sometime in fiscal 2003, the state would be able, under this plan, to increase spending by 4 percent annually beginning in fiscal 2005.

Only the Mad Hatter could see a crisis in these numbers. There are, however, political advantages to creating the perception of a crisis. Last year Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure under which state income tax rates are scheduled to fall from 5.6 percent to 5.3 percent next year and then to 5 percent in 2003. Those who opposed the tax cut from the start would use the perceived crisis as an excuse to postpone its implementation.

Besides leaving the democratic process in shambles, postponing the tax cut would come at the worst possible time. At the Beacon Hill Institute, we figure that it would cost about 33,000 jobs. That's a heavy cost, considering the extra tax revenue would come to less than 2 percent of expenditures. Happily, despite their best efforts to panic the Legislature into canceling the tax cut, proponents of this ill-conceived measure seem to be in retreat.

In fact there is no need to postpone the tax cut, no need to impose new taxes, no need to use up tobacco settlement money and no need to back off spending plans. One-third of this fiscal year is already history. The realistic and responsible action is to accept the current budget and start planning to live the next couple of years without the customary increases in spending.

Unfortunately for the commonwealth and for her political future, acting Governor Jane Swift has allowed herself to engage in the very Jabberwocky that her opponent can be expected to use against her next year. Her response to the budget impasse has been to threaten huge budget and job cuts. Her reward in the next election will be the accusation that she had to cut the budget as a result of a tax cut championed by her against the better judgment of her political opponents.

Memo to the governor: Tell the Legislature you're ready to sign their budget without any cuts. And tell them that you're preparing a budget for next year that level-funds existing programs. Finally, give yourself credit for cutting taxes while avoiding budget cuts, right through the state's first economic slump in 10 years. Take heed, lest you send your campaign down the rabbit hole even before it gets under way.

David G. Tuerck is executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute and chairman of the Department of Economics at Suffolk University.

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The Boston Globe
Thursday, November 15, 2001

Will they kill the tax cut?
By Jeff Jacoby

Globe Staff

ONE OF THE PUB regulars launches into a joke. "Say," he says to the fellow on the next stool, "did you hear the one about the dumb state legislator who tried to kill a tax cut?"

"Before you say another word," the man tells him coldly, "I think you ought to know: I'm a state legislator."

"That's OK," the barfly assures him. "I'll tell it very slo-o-o-wly."

Slowly, then.

In 1989 and 1990, as Mike Dukakis's "Massachusetts miracle" dissolved in a sea of red ink, Bay State lawmakers jacked up the state income tax. From 5 percent they hiked it to 5.75 percent, then hiked it again to 6.25 percent. It was the worst possible thing they could have done - raising marginal income tax rates suppresses economic growth -- but they did get one thing right: They promised to keep the tax increase temporary.

In legislative debate and news accounts, the point was repeatedly driven home. When Dukakis wanted a permanent increase, Richard Voke, the House Ways and Means chairman, refused to go along. "Governor," he said bluntly, "you are not getting permanent new taxes out of the House. Do you get it?"

Dozens of Democratic legislators stressed that the tax hike would not last long. Senator Walter Boverini of Lynn, for example, pronounced it "a very distasteful thing" to raise taxes. "We all have to share the blame and vote in some temporary taxes," he said. "But we have to make sure it is temporary." One day after the tax hike became law, The Boston Globe described it on Page 1 as "the 15 percent temporary income tax increase signed by Governor Dukakis yesterday."

What the Legislature should have done, of course, was cut the budget. Yet spending kept climbing, even as Massachusetts turned into a fiscal Beirut. Total outlays in Dukakis's last three years rose from $12.8 billion to $13.6 billion. Not until a new governor took office was the budget finally subdued. When Bill Weld's first full fiscal year cycle came to an end, total spending had decreased from the year before. It was down only by 1.7 percent (about $200 million), but it was enough. The crisis ended.

The temporary tax increases, unfortunately, didn't. The Democrats who dominated the Legislature conveniently forgot and later denied their promise to roll the income tax back to 5 percent. As the early-'90s recession gave way to the mid- and late-'90s boom, tax revenues soared. So much money came gushing into the state treasury that the politicians couldn't spend it fast enough.

Not that they didn't try. Budgets grew at warp speed, expanding by as much as $1 billion a year. Legislators spent with drunken abandon. There was money for everything, from white-elephant convention centers to the bottomless pit of education "reform," from fat raises for themselves to mammoth severance packages for ousted bureaucrats, from subsidies for millionaire sports-team owners to an endless parade of pork.

Even at their most gluttonous, though, they couldn't consume all the revenue being extracted from taxpayers, who were still paying the "temporary" tax hike. As excess dollars pooled in huge surpluses, they were stashed away in assorted reserve accounts and "rainy day" caches and "transitional escrow funds." Anything, it seemed, was preferable to giving the money -- any money -- back to the taxpayers.

On Election Day 2000, the taxpayers finally took matters into their own hands and voted overwhelmingly for the tax rollback they had been promised 11 years earlier. Not being greedy, they stretched the reduction to 5 percent over three years. The first cut, to 5.6 percent, kicked in last January. The second cut, to 5.3 percent, is to take effect in January 2002.

But if the Democrats -- which is to say, Senate President Tom Birmingham and House Speaker Tom Finneran -- have their way, there will be no second cut. Their campaign to "freeze" (read: kill) the tax rollback is in full swing. Members are being lobbied to support a freeze; special interest groups, the ones usually found with their snouts in the state trough, are endorsing the idea. "This is something we are doing with the greatest reluctance," Birmingham said in his smarmy way a few days ago. "But there are times in public life when we have to make difficult decisions."

Birmingham and Finneran can't agree on a state budget, which is now five months overdue. To close the current revenue shortfall, they need only resurrect the $21.5 billion budget that was passed in 2000, but they can't even manage that. Needless to say, it hasn't occurred to them to give back the 8 percent pay raise every legislator received in January. Some "difficult decisions" are too difficult even for these legislative titans.

But prevent you and me from keeping an additional three-10ths of 1 percent of our own money next year? Tear up a law that the voters approved in a landslide? Reinforce every stereotype about the greed, arrogance, and contemptibility of state legislators?

Hey, just leave it to them.

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The Boston Globe
Thursday, November 15, 2001

Lawmakers rule out tax hike
More cuts eyed to close deficit

By Rick Klein
Globe Staff

Anguishing over how to close a $1.4 billion budget gap, legislative leaders yesterday called off any efforts to raise taxes, deciding that the potential political backlash outweighed the benefit of saving programs.

The decision will put more pressure on state leaders to cut spending. Lawmakers will now need to make cuts on the order of $650 million from an earlier budget plan -- which could affect aid to cities and towns, human services, and health care.

"Things that had been off the table will now be on the table," said Senate Ways and Means Chairman Mark C. Montigny.

Top House and Senate leaders met into the evening yesterday to try to agree on a spending plan, which is now 138 days late. Besides cutting about $650 million in programs, lawmakers are likely to tap $700 million in reserve funds for use in this year's budget and spend about $50 million more than planned from the state's settlement with tobacco companies, legislative sources said.

Legislative leaders still haven't agreed on most of the specific cuts, but House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran and Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham could announce the outline of their budget agreement as soon as today.

Aides would then work through the weekend to finalize the budget by Tuesday so the full House and Senate could vote on the spending plan Wednesday - the last day of the legislative session. The Legislature would also schedule a day in December to take up what are expected to be numerous vetoes of line items in the legislative plan by Acting Governor Jane Swift.

Some lawmakers earlier proposed freezing a voter-approved income tax cut to put $200 million extra in state coffers this fiscal year. But Swift had vowed to veto any such move, and Finneran yesterday sent word to Birmingham that the House does not have the votes needed to override her veto.

Yesterday, during a closed-door caucus, senators discussed raising other taxes, but leaders nixed any tax hikes.

And so, more cuts will be necessary. Legislative leaders say about $200 million can be trimmed without deep pain, mostly with across-the-board decreases of 5 percent from virtually all accounts. The Legislature is also expected to come up with about $90 million in savings by limiting contributions to the public employees' pension fund, and by forcing state workers to pay a greater share of their health insurance.

Beyond that, current state programs -- covering everything from public health to services for the elderly -- will be affected, and some could be eliminated.

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The Boston Globe
Thursday, November 15, 2001

Health groups criticize Swift
Say budget cuts will undo gains

By Ralph Ranalli
Globe Staff

The American Cancer Society, the AIDS Action Committee, Planned Parenthood, and 26 other groups plan to hold a rally on Beacon Hill today to protest proposed Swift administration budget cuts, which they say will undo decades of progress against AIDS, cancer, smoking, and teen pregnancy.

AIDS deaths, for example, dropped 71 percent in Massachusetts between 1996 and 1999, thanks in large part to state-funded education, screening, and treatment programs, said Dr. Stephen Boswell, executive director of the Fenway Community Health Center.

Now, a whole range of nursing, counseling, and testing services, which help the center's HIV-positive clients maintain their complex regimen of anti-AIDS drugs, face elimination as part of $66 million in proposed cuts in the 2002 state Department of Public Health Budget, Boswell said.

"We can't do this in the name of fiscal prudence, it's insanity," Boswell said. "Some of these people are going to end up in the hospital getting much more expensive care."

Boswell said the cuts threaten more than the health of the center's 1,200 HIV-positive clients. Because patients who fail to properly take their medications can develop drug-resistant strains of HIV, the cutbacks could speed the introduction of those strains into a larger population.

"If we cut out this infrastructure, there is no doubt in my mind that we will see more resistent strains of HIV," he said.

American Cancer Society officials, meanwhile, say similar progress against various forms of cancer are also threatened.

Mark Boutin, the society's director of government relations, said that between 1994 and 1998, after the introduction of state-funded early detection and treatment programs, deaths from breast cancer in Massachusetts fell 20 percent, while prostate cancer deaths fell 17 percent here.

Virtually all of the funding for those programs would be cut under the Swift proposal, which Boutin said caught officials off guard.

"Overall, the total state budget cuts are about 2 percent, but these proposals would cover almost 100 percent of cancer control," Boutin said. "It came as a total shock that these programs would be cut at this level."

The Swift administration has proposed cutting the Department of Public Health's budget by $66 million as part of a plan to close an estimated $1.4 billion 2002 budget deficit.

Administration officials could not be reached for comment yesterday, but have said that Department of Public Health's $500 million annual budget is too big not to absorb some cuts, given the state's dire fiscal situation.

Legislative leaders are meeting to come up with their own plan.

Organizers are hoping to attract hundreds of supporters to a noon rally in front of the State House, after which they will meet with legislators to lobby against the proposed cuts. The groups involved include the Massachusetts Breast Cancer coalition, the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

"The aim is to pull together as many organizations and associations to send a unified message to the Legislature that we need a budget that supports public health," said Laurie Stillman, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association.

Stillman and Boutin both said the state should be considering other measures for closing the budget deficit, such as spending more money from the state's rainy day fund.

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The Boston Herald
Thursday, November 15, 2001

A Boston Herald editorial
Health budget can take cuts too

The state of Massachusetts has a substantial Public Health Department, supported by many outspoken advocates. Outspoken, but afflicted by tunnel vision.

The state faces a financial crunch. But that doesn't seem to matter. The advocates want to protect their programs down to the last penny. And never mind whether the program is essential, useful or something that we can do without in a pinch.

Say the words "public health" and these days there springs to mind a moon-suited worker taking what may be anthrax-laced powder from a post office somewhere. Yes, that's essential.

But "public health" in Massachusetts, according to the governor's budget request 10 months ago, includes a mind-boggling expenditure of about $680 million in 147 different programs.

"Public health" includes $790,453 to go with a federal grant for a "Demonstration program to conduct toxic waste site health impact assessments." Never mind that nobody in the country has been able to find any proof of such impacts despite 20 years of looking.

"Public health" includes $12.7 million for "Expansion of smoking prevention and cessation programs." That's in addition to $50.4 million for "Smoking prevention and cessation programs." That's in addition to $1.7 million to go with a federal grant for "Tobacco use prevention and control." That's in addition to $6.2 million for "Community health center services, including smoking cessation programs." Just how many smoking cessation programs do we need, anyway?

Acting Gov. Jane Swift has advanced possible cuts totalling $66 million, less than 10 percent of the department's budget. Her ideas are subject to change, but what is so terrible about dropping $2.8 million for prostate cancer research? The state has no particular expertise in running medical research.

And yes, breast cancer is a terrible thing, but the outreach from private foundations and organizations is already enormous. The $5 million state allocation for screening and awareness programs is surely expendable.

When the state is forced to cut spending this year by $1.35 billion, money that just goes to reinforce the "Get healthy, darn it!" messages that flood in on every side with each day's newspaper and news program seems to us money eminently suitable for more important uses. Public health advocates should realize that.

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The Boston Herald
Thursday, November 15, 2001

Gov may cut pay and KO interns
by Elisabeth J. Beardsley

Acting Gov. Jane Swift, moving to pressure lawmakers and her Democratic foes to make tough budget cuts, wants to slash $30 million in spending - ranging from State House interns to possibly her own $135,000 salary.

Daring other constitutional officers to follow her lead, Swift is levying a 3 percent cut on her $6 million office account, which funds, among other things, the salaries for Swift's 78 direct employees.

The governor's salary is fixed in statute, but Swift spokesman James Borghesani didn't rule out the possibility that Swift would voluntarily take one for the team as a good-faith gesture.

"Everything is on the table," Borghesani said. "We will make our 3 percent reduction.'

A three percent pay cut would shave $4,050 off Swift's $135,000 salary, which was jacked up by $45,000 less than two years ago as part of a package of giant pay raises for all six constitutional officers.

If all five sitting constitutional officers and the state's 11 district attorneys agreed to a similar cut, the administration estimates the state could save as much as $4 million at a time of economic free-fall when every penny counts.

Treasurer Shannon O'Brien has, in fact, already taken the 3 percent plunge. Last week, O'Brien announced she could squeeze $240,000 out of her office's $8 million administrative account by leaving vacant positions unfilled and eliminating merit-based pay raises.

Swift is also dropping a hot potato into lawmakers' laps, "encouraging" them to shave 3 percent out of their "non-member" accounts, which would save $1 million without touching their salaries.

And lest they take comfort in salary immunity, Swift is planning to whack legislative office expense accounts in half, paddling them over their attempts to derail the clean elections law.

Last year, legislative leaders sold the campaign finance law to members by sweetening the monthly allowance for district office expenses from $300 to $600.

By returning that stipend to its original $300, the administration figures it can save $360,000 over the rest of this fiscal year, and $720,000 a year after that.

The moves are likely to inflame lawmakers, who have been on the defensive as Swift -- fighting off public relations disasters of her own -- hammers them for extreme tardiness in passing a state budget.

Swift has also ordered the elimination of paid interns, and will file an outside section with next year's budget asking lawmakers to ban them, too.

This year, the administration budgeted $4.2 million for interns, but officials were unable to say exactly how many are on the payroll. Paid interns make between $7 and $13 per hour, depending on their education. By cutting off their paychecks immediately, the state can save $1.5 million over the rest of the fiscal year, the source said.

In a bizarre bit of bipartisanship, Republican Swift is pointing to liberal Democratic Sen. Cheryl Jacques (D-Needham) as a role model. Jacques runs the biggest volunteer intern program in all of state government, with 32 on board over the summer, and nine on duty now.

"Cheryl Jacques is a good example of how aware we are that we can attract unpaid interns to government," said the administration source.

The administration plans to slice out another $6.6 million by canceling all its newspaper and magazine subscriptions -- some offices receive as many as six -- and dropping memberships in organizations like the National Governors Association, the source said.

Swift will also ask lawmakers -- like her predecessors have -- to get rid of State House physician Raymond Gibbs, dubbed "Dr. Do-Little" after a Herald story revealed he performed mostly minor procedures -- like handing out Band-Aids and giving flu shots.

Gibbs earns more than $90,000 a year and his office budget -- including nurses -- totals $260,000.

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The Boston Herald
Thursday, November 15, 2001

Budget irks ex-pols
by Eric Convey

Beacon Hill leaders who've left Massachusetts the only state in the country without a budget for the current fiscal year drew sweeping, if polite, criticism from predecessors yesterday.

Too much deal-making behind closed doors and tough spending decisions too-long delayed are hurting, former leaders said of the budget stalemate.

"It's beyond my wildest comprehension how you can be in the fifth or sixth month of the fiscal year without a budget," said former House Ways and Means Committee chief Richard Voke.

"When you're slipping into a recession, often it goes a lot quicker and a lot deeper than your estimates called for," warned former revenue commissioner Stephen Kidder.

Also on the panel were former Senate Ways and Means head Patricia McGovern and Frank Keefe, formerly Dukakis' administration and finance chief.

The four, who presided when the state plunged into a budget crisis in the late 1980s, came together yesterday for a Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth forum. Earlier this month, they met to advise current legislative leaders.

McGovern warned that lawmakers need to avoid "gimmicks." "Don't play games. Games don't work," she said.

If the state maintains current spending rates, it will face a $1.1 billion to $1.4 billion budget gap in a $23 billion spending plan, analysts have said.

Keefe said Swift needs to get tough with budget-savvy agency heads: "Swift really ought to be able to discipline them and get them to play ball."

Coming up with a final spending plan is the job of acting Gov. Jane Swift, Senate President Thomas Birmingham (D-Chelsea) and House Speaker Thomas Finneran (D-Mattapan).

Panelists pinned part of the problem on the clashing political ambitions of Swift, who is running for election to a full term, and Birmingham, who is widely expected to seek the governor's office next year.

Swift aides said yesterday that the governor will advance her own budget at 5 p.m. tomorrow if legislative leaders haven't reached an agreement.

Birmingham's spokeswoman, Alison Franklin, said, that budget-writers had waited to see if recent revenue drops were more than temporary.

The group of former leaders also agreed that a two-year budget cycle would be more efficient than the traditional process of writing a new spending plan ever year. About 20 states produce biennial budgets.

Finneran said it's an idea worth exploring. He also indicated that budget negotiators drew nearer to a deal this week.

"My sense is that over the past 72 hours we've come much, much closer to closing this (process)," he said.

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The MetroWest Daily News
Wednesday, November 14, 2001

The price of Legislature's late budget

For years, the two men who run the Massachusetts Legislature have scoffed at deadlines.

As the fiscal year ended July 1, House Speaker Tom Finneran and Senate President Tom Birmingham would mouth platitudes about working hard to resolve serious differences over state spending policies, then they'd send their members off to the Cape.

Two years ago, Finneran and Birmingham let the state go well into October without a budget. The two sat for weeks on Birmingham's balcony at an obvious impasse they refused to explain. They took a scolding on the editorial pages for their mismanagement of the legislative process, but took no heat from their sheep-like members. The surpluses that continued to pile up while the budget was overdue just made it easier to satisfy everyone in the end.

Finneran and Birmingham promised to be more prompt in carrying out the Legislature's most important duty, and they did better the next year. But that was an election year, and the Legislature is bound by its rules to adjourn earlier. This year, it was back to the stall. With the budget overdue, the lawmakers hit the beaches. Birmingham spent much of August bicycling across the state to promote his campaign for governor. Now, halfway through November, there's still no budget in sight.

This year, the budget's tardiness holds consequences that weren't present two years ago. A series of continuing resolutions has allowed the state government to keep functioning, but those resolutions are based on last year's spending levels. State revenue has plummeted, especially since Sept. 11. The state is spending at levels it cannot afford, and with every month that passes without a budget, Massachusetts goes deeper in the red. Cuts later in the fiscal year will have to be that much deeper to make up for overspending now.

The damage from the late budget goes far beyond state government. Every city and town had a budget in place July 1, as required by law. Without a state budget to guide them, municipal leaders based their spending plans on assumptions about state aid that seemed reasonable last spring. They have hired teachers, initiated programs and launched projects with the expectation that eventually Beacon Hill would get around to sending them the money.

Now, they hear that some of that money may never arrive. Acting Gov. Jane Swift has called for a $100 million cut in local aid. Finneran and Birmingham won't tell us what they have in mind -- the secrecy of their budget process is as maddening as its slowness -- but town administrators and school superintendents are nervous, and with good reason. The Legislature has a long history of cutting local aid in order to protect state programs.

The flagging economy makes this the most difficult budget in many years, but that's no excuse for mismanaging the legislative decision-making process. Until we hear otherwise, both Toms must be held responsible for this failure. The House should hold Finneran accountable when the House selects its next speaker. Voters should hold Birmingham accountable when he runs for governor.

Out of 50 states, only Massachusetts is still functioning without a budget. That's an embarrassment to the Commonwealth, and it's one for which Tom Finneran and Tom Birmingham should be made to pay.

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