State budget woes

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Governor Patrick filed his spending plan for Fiscal Year 2010 on Wednesday, and I’m finding a lot of things to worry about as I comb through its various provisions. I wanted to share some of them with you.

Basically, the governor is trying to tell us that we have a $3.5 billion dollar budget shortfall heading into next year, a gap he proposes to close with budget cuts, one-time solutions and new taxes and fees.

I disagree with the governor’s assessment of where we are at, how we got there and how we can fix it. Let me explain why.

I believe first and foremost that the governor’s conception of a budget shortfall is an unwilling acknowledgment on his part of dramatic excess spending by our state government in recent years. During the economic surge we experienced a few years ago, the governor and the Legislature did not act responsibly by setting money aside for leaner times. Instead, they spent money excessively on programs that might have made sense but that we generally didn’t need. Now that we are experiencing a sharp economic downturn, this spending is finally catching up with us but we are not taking the right steps to address it.

As far as I am concerned, the governor is not going far enough in making some cuts, and he is going too far in making others. Really, he is passing the buck when it comes to making tough fiscal decisions. For example, I believe the governor’s biggest mistake in his budget plan is his decision to cut local aid by $375 million. Cities and towns desperately rely on this money to fund local services, and deep local aid cuts will only put more pressure on local property tax increases and overrides to preserve local government. At the same time, I fault the governor for not making decisions to institute meaningful reforms (like eliminating the Turnpike Authority) and cutting other wasteful spending (like the state’s Washington, D.C. lobbying office and trade offices in China). Basically, the governor is unwilling to place government reform in front of new revenues, and he wants cities and towns to make tough budget decisions for him. We need better leadership from the corner office.

That brings me to the subject of taxes. The one that is getting the most attention right now is the governor’s plan to make alcohol, sweetened beverages and candy subject to the 5 percent Massachusetts sales tax. Aside from the fact that I oppose raising taxes to pay for government waste and irresponsibility, this tax just makes no sense to me – especially during tough economic times. I also oppose the increases in hotel and meals taxes the governor is proposing, especially at the local level. Again, it is wrong to turn to cities and towns to make up the difference in state government’s irresponsible spending, and it’s wrong to ask them to tax their own citizens at the local level to solve statewide problems.

The use of one-time revenues is also a problem. Senate President Therese Murray has even criticized this practice, saying there is too much reliance on one-time revenues and not enough cut backs. The budget is balanced by using hundreds of millions of dollars of money from the federal economic stimulus bill, which has not even been passed into law yet. It also raids almost half-a-billion dollars from the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Relying on these one-time solutions to cover long-term spending problems only sets us up for bigger dilemmas in future years, passing the buck to future leaders and future generations to fix our current-day problems. I can’t support that practice.

Ultimately, many of my colleagues seem to agree with me that the governor’s budget is like a trial balloon, an attempt to see how people will react to some of the more controversial proposals the governor is making. The danger is that if people don’t express real outrage to these proposals and to other big-government ideas (like raising gas taxes and increasing Turnpike tolls), then there might be a tendency for the majority party to “go along” with raising taxes as the only solution to our problems.

The answer is for everyone at the grassroots level to call for reform — making the tough decisions. Otherwise, it could be the taxpayers bailing us out of this problem.

So keep posting. Keep letting us know how you feel. And keep reminding my colleagues that we need reform in this state to get spending and taxes under control.

For more information on the budget, please feel free to visit my Web page: www.karynpolito.com . There’s a special page devoted just to the budget. You can also see a column I wrote about the budget in today’s Worcester Telegram.

Sincerely,

Karyn Polito

State Representative (R – Shrewsbury)

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