CLT Update
Sunday, November 18, 2001

Tax Rollback freeze resurrected?

It's getting to be almost as frustrating as telling a bratty child, "for the 10th time, get your hand out of the cookie jar!"

An Eagle-Tribune editorial
Nov. 17, 2001
Lawmakers just do not understand

Under the broad outline released by Senate President Thomas Birmingham and House Speaker Thomas Finneran last Thursday, the deficit would be made up with $650 million in cuts and roughly $700 million from cash reserves. The package could be contingent on freezing the income-tax rollback voters approved a year ago.

The Boston Globe
Sun., Nov. 18, 2001
Swift backs off on budget cuts...

Both branches hope to finish the budget and ram it through on an up-or-down roll call vote in time for the Wednesday session-ender.

The Boston Herald
Sun., Nov. 18, 2001
Lawmakers quick to reject Swift proposal for budget

"The package could be contingent on freezing the income-tax rollback voters approved a year ago," the Boston Globe today reported.

What does this mean?

Didn't the Boston Globe report only last Wednesday, "The Legislature's budget agreement will probably not include a freeze of the voter-approved income tax rollback, a high-ranking legislative source said last night.... 'It's a long way from two-thirds.'"

Didn't the Boston Herald report on the same day "'It's just not going to happen,' one source said"?

Didn't the Boston Globe report the very next day "Yesterday, during a closed-door caucus, senators discussed raising other taxes, but leaders nixed any tax hikes"?

Yes, but we responded: "we just don't know yet if the reports are true, or simply a tactical feint meant to throw us off-guard" -- and that still rings true.

Were those leaks about a demise of the freeze on our Tax Rollback just the leadership's means of taking the heat off rank-and-file members, so they'd be more likely to support a freeze in the end?

On Friday we advised: "We must keep our eye on the target until this budget is finalized and voted on. Strange things have been known to happen in the Legislature during holiday distractions, and we're now looking at between Thanksgiving and Christmas."

This too still rings true.

Do not let down your guard; keep those calls to and contacts with your legislators going.

Chip Ford

The Eagle-Tribune
Lawrence, Mass.
Saturday, November 17, 2001

Lawmakers just do not understand

Legislators toying with the idea of "delaying" a tax break are playing with fire

It's getting to be almost as frustrating as telling a bratty child, "for the 10th time, get your hand out of the cookie jar!"

Once again, the Massachusetts Legislature has tried to find a way to pry a long-promised income tax cut away from voters. Wisely, it backed off -- but only when it became clear to both House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran and Senate President Thomas J. Birmingham that they couldn't get enough lawmakers to sign onto their misguided plan.

The fight over the income tax cut has a long and bitter history. Lawmakers approved a "temporary" tax increase to 6.25 percent over a decade ago, when the state was out of money and big cuts had to be made to make ends meet. They promised they would bring the rate back down to 5 percent once the economy turned around.

The economy turned around all right, but the Legislature didn't. There was always an excuse for why the promise couldn't be kept, including the ultimate insult to taxpayers -- some lawmakers insisted there never was any promise.

Well, in a couple years the rate will finally return to 5percent, no thanks to the Legislature. In 1998, fed-up taxpayers overwhelmingly approved a ballot question to gradually bring the rate back to 5 percent.

But lawmakers started warning that things had changed since voters approved the tax cut, and dire cuts might have to be made. Some wanted to "delay" the tax cut, presumably until the economy "turned around." That sounds familiar.

But there's nothing lawmakers fear more than a wrathful voting public, and wisely, it appears that most were unwilling to see just how deep that wrath can go. Only two local lawmakers, state Reps. Jose L. Santiago, D-Lawrence, and David M. Nangle, D-Lowell -- think voters don't deserve the tax cut now. State Rep. Paul E. Tirone, D-Amesbury, wanted to delay the tax break too, but changed his mind when he said he discovered it would only be worth $200 million to the state. He supported it when he thought it would keep $500 million for the state -- and out of the hands of taxpayers.

These three lawmakers apparently just don't get it.

They forgot the state hoarded well over $1 billion in taxes into a so-called "rainy day" account to protect us against an economy in trouble. They forgot raising taxes in recession has been shown, time and time again, to be bad economic policy. And they forgot that when it comes to keeping tax-related promises, voters know the Legislature can't be trusted.

The Boston Globe
Sunday, November 18, 2001

Swift backs off on budget cuts
New plan would restore education and health funds

By Anthony Flint
Globe Staff

Acting Governor Jane Swift, continuing to craft her own $22.5 billion budget proposal despite the near certainty it will be ignored by the state Legislature, will eliminate cuts in local aid and education and scale back cuts in health care when she unveils the package tomorrow.

Stephen Crosby, secretary of administration and finance, said yesterday that spending in health and human services will be reduced by roughly $61 million rather than the $99 million originally contemplated.

"In the governor's judgment, the [original] cuts were draconian," Crosby said. As a result, funding was restored in Department of Public Health programs in AIDS prevention, smoking cessation, substance abuse, fighting breast cancer, family health, and in the administration of Medicaid.

And while Swift had contemplated paring local aid by between $100 million and $150 million, she is now dropping that idea as well, Crosby said. Under Swift's proposal, cities and towns will get the approximately $7 billion in local aid they were counting on, he said. More than half of that goes for education.

"The governor was uncomfortable with that [cut] from the beginning," Crosby said, though reductions in local aid are possible in the future.

Swift had been lobbied by both public health advocates and municipal officials after talking about the draft cuts during the last week.

Crosby said the administration was still targeting a total of $700 million in savings to help make up an anticipated $1.35 billion deficit, but he declined to say what other areas had been cut now that local aid and health funding had been restored.

The governor's budget -- her second, since her first was ignored by the state Legislature and was assembled before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in any case -- is seen as mostly a symbolic effort to prod Beacon Hill lawmakers to come up with their own spending plan. Massachusetts is the only state in the nation without a budget.

State Senator Mark Montigny, chairman of the Senate's Ways and Means Committee, said that the Legislature will produce a budget by Wednesday, just before Thanksgiving, and the last day of the session.

That spending package will include $650 million in cuts that will "not be pretty," Montigny said, though lawmakers are following the credo to "manage tightly and lead compassionately."

Referring to the Swift administration's adjustments, he said, "A week ago, we would have taken this information and used it constructively, but now it's irrelevant. The decisions have already been made." But he added: "I'm happy they realize these programs affect real people."

Under the broad outline released by Senate President Thomas Birmingham and House Speaker Thomas Finneran last Thursday, the deficit would be made up with $650 million in cuts and roughly $700 million from cash reserves. The package could be contingent on freezing the income-tax rollback voters approved a year ago.

Swift would make up the gap with $700 million in cuts, roughly $500 million from reserves, and $200 million from the nationwide tobacco settlement. She would not freeze the tax rollback, but would seek additional savings through early retirement of state employees.

The Boston Herald
Sunday, November 18, 2001

Lawmakers quick to reject Swift proposal for budget
by Elisabeth J. Beardsley

House Speaker Thomas Finneran yesterday bluntly blew off acting Gov. Jane Swift's threat to take matters into her own hands over the 141-day state budget stalemate.

"We're not going to give any consideration to a seven-month budget from the governor," Finneran said. "We have our own budget."

After a week of issuing ultimatums, Swift warned she would forge ahead tomorrow with her own budget, after being dissatisfied with a two-page outline lawmakers whisked together late Thursday night.

With a temporary, one-month budget slated to run dry next week, Swift plans to file an interim budget containing huge spending cuts she says are needed to close a $1.4 billion deficit.

The Swift budget would be good for seven months, which would carry the state through the rest of the fiscal year.

But Finneran told the Herald that legislative leaders are making plenty of progress in budget negotiations, and don't need -- or want -- a gubernatorial intervention.

That position is one of the few things on which House and Senate leaders seem to agree these days. Senate Ways and Means Chairman Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford) accused Swift of "press release budgeting" and said that by the time Swift releases her plan, the legislative negotiations will be done.

"It's a desperate media ploy," Montigny said. "It's a completely irrelevant waste of staff time and ink."

The Swift administration scoffed -- a bit incredulously -- at the snub. That sort of behavior is exactly why the administration doesn't believe lawmakers' claims that they're anywhere close to a budget deal, said Swift spokesman James Borghesani.

"If they want to turn up their noses at our budget, then it would be an intellectually dishonest exercise for them to say, 'No, we're not going to do yours, but we can't do ours, either,'" Borghesani said.

With the Legislature's end-of-session deadline bearing down on Wednesday, in tandem with the Thanksgiving holiday, pressure to finish the budget is reaching fever pitch -- despite a ghosttown feeling at the State House yesterday.

The lights were on in the offices of the House and Senate Ways and Means committees, where Montigny and House Ways and Means Chairman John Rogers hunkered down with about 50 staffers, combing through every line item as they worked to slash $650 million off the bottom line.

Both branches hope to finish the budget and ram it through on an up-or-down roll call vote in time for the Wednesday session-ender.

The sudden mad rush, after nearly five months of inertia, is inciting anger among rank-and-file lawmakers. Many have holiday plans with family, and some may already be gone on vacation by Wednesday.

Senate Minority Leader Brian Lees (R-East Longmeadow) glumly reported having to skip a Thanksgiving trip to Florida with his wife, so he could cool his heels on budget-watch. His wife went anyway.

"Backing it right up to Thanksgiving is just despicable," Lees said. "Just to throw it out there and willy-nilly vote on it isn't a good thing."

Meanwhile, the administration confirmed a Wednesday Herald report that it will spare cities and towns a $150 million cut to local aid, in exchange for local officials' vows to tighten their belts next year.

The MetroWest Daily News
Sunday, November 18, 2001

State leaders should pay for budget fiasco

Acting Governor Jane Swift has hinted -- but not promised -- that her $135,000 salary will be cut by 3 percent under a plan to make up a projected $1.4 billion state budget deficit. It's a symbolic move that wouldn't be a huge sacrifice. It would mean $4,050 fewer dollars in Swift's pocket -- but she'd still make $131,950 this fiscal year.

The budget Swift promises to release Monday is a symbolic move as well. The only budget that will be brought up for a vote in the Legislature is the one House Speaker Tom Finneran and Senate President Tom Birmingham have been dawdling over for nearly five months. They announced agreement on the "outline" of a budget late Thursday. The details, they promised, will be worked out over the weekend. Legislators are unlikely to get much chance to see the actual budget, let alone debate it, before they are asked to approve it.

If the Legislature's leaders meet their goal, the budget will be on Swift's desk on Wednesday, the last day of the legislative session. Massachusetts is now the only state in the nation without a budget. This is the longest the Bay State has gone without a budget since 1965.

Based on this performance, Swift isn't the only politician who deserves a pay cut. Finneran and Birmingham ought to return part of their paychecks as well.

Among the "details" that remained to be worked out over the weekend is the line-item covering the Clean Elections Law. This $10 million in new spending (the Legislature must also vote to release $23 million set aside in previous years) is hardly a budget-buster. But given Finneran's determination to kill the voter-approved campaign finance reforms, many assumed this expenditure was a key to the House-Senate impasse.

Finneran's stance on Clean Elections has been clear for years. He hates the proposal, which would provide public money to candidates who agree to spending limits, and has repeatedly tried to stop it. Birmingham's position is more opaque. Not wishing to be portrayed as anti-reform, he included Clean Elections funding in the Senate budget. But he has no intention of using public money in his campaign for governor, and some suspect he welcomed the budget delays that have made life difficult for several opposing candidates who had planned to run under Clean Elections rules.

If Clean Elections doesn't survive the weekend negotiations, it will be a discouraging sign of Birmingham's capitulation to Finneran. It should also inspire another cut, in the stipends awarded to all members of the House and Senate. These stipends, which are supposed to cover office expenses but are neither restricted nor monitored, were doubled last year from $300 to $600 a month. They were doubled on the justification that Clean Elections rules would limit the campaign contributions members used to support constituent services. But if Clean Elections goes, so should the stipends.

This year's state budget process has been a fiasco. That all but a handful of legislators have had nothing to do with it doesn't absolve them of responsibility; after all, they elected Finneran and Birmingham. If pay was based on performance, all of Massachusetts' elected office-holders would deserve a cut in pay.

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