( – promoted by Rob “EaBo Clipper” Eno)
The Massachusetts Senate Republican Caucus on Tuesday called for Senate leaders to publicly debate and adopt the more than $1 billion in cost-saving reform measures offered as amendments to the FY 2011 budget, including reforms to the embattled Probation Department that has been the recent subject of controversy.
The Senate began debate this morning on 722 budget amendments – many of which would add to the bottom line. The Caucus is firmly focused on reining in state spending, promoting accountability to the state’s taxpayers, and taking the steps needed to put the Commonwealth on an improved financial footing heading into the next fiscal year.
“The Legislature can’t continue to ignore the fact that we will be starting the new fiscal year on July 1 with a structural deficit of close to $3 billion and could be facing an even bigger shortfall next year,” said Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei. “With revenues remaining uncertain at best and still well below previous years’ levels, now is not the time to increase state spending, but rather to undertake the fundamental reforms that are needed to live within our means and achieve long-term fiscal stability.”
The Caucus’ top five budget priorities include:
• Ending the ‘pay to play’ patronage system in the state’s Probation Department – A series of Boston Globe Spotlight Team articles this week has highlighted serious problems in the state’s Probation Department, where employee hires and promotions appear to be tied more to political connections and campaign contributions than to actual qualifications for the job. The Legislature took away the Trial Court’s control of personnel decisions in 2001 and granted this authority to the Commissioner of Probation. The Caucus has proposed returning the power to “appoint, dismiss, assign and discipline” Probation Department personnel to the chief justice of the Trial Court in order to restore oversight, transparency and credibility to the department.
• Repealing the state’s anti-privatization law – Many states have successfully outsourced and privatized state services, but Massachusetts continues to impose unrealistic restrictions on private vendors that make it virtually impossible to compete for state contracts. In many cases, private vendors could do the job more efficiently, and at reduced costs. Estimates of the savings associated with privatizing state contracts range from 10 to 40 percent, and repealing the current law could save the state $150-$300 million a year.
• Allowing cities and towns to save money with health care reform – Municipal health care costs have jumped by 150 percent over the past decade, and now account for $2 billion in annual spending by cities and towns. Part of the problem is that municipal health care plans are often more generous than what is available in the private sector. Under these reforms, cities and towns would have the flexibility to manage cost increases by charging higher co-pays and deductibles and creating tiered networks without having to go through the collective bargaining process. These changes could reduce local health care costs by as much as $100 million statewide.
• Enrolling Medicaid participants in managed care plans – Health care costs continue to eat up a significant portion of the state budget, but an opportunity for immediate and long-term cost savings exists within the state’s Medicaid program. Unlike fee-for-service and Primary Care Clinician (PCC) plans, managed care plans provide an incentive to manage illnesses before they become acute and more expensive to treat. By moving Medicaid participants into managed care plans, the state can realize $150 million in savings this year and additional savings moving forward.
• Requiring public benefits applicants to provide proof of residency status – The state does not require individuals to furnish proof of citizenship or legal residency to access public benefits tied to housing, education and health and human services. This has contributed to lengthy waiting lists for services, particularly in the area of public housing. To help the state deliver these services more effectively, the Caucus has filed language requiring applicants to disclose their residency status as a condition for receiving benefits. Individuals who are in this country illegally should not receive state benefits when natural-born citizens and legal immigrants are being denied these same benefits.
In addition to these much-needed reforms, the Caucus has put forward dozens of other proposals designed to reduce state operating costs and root out government waste and inefficiencies, including amendments to:
• dedicate surplus state funding to local aid protection;
• repeal the combined reporting law to make the state more competitive for local businesses;
• make it easier for communities to join the Group Insurance Commission for health care cost savings;
• lease the management of DCR pools, skating rinks and golf courses to private entities through a competitive bidding process;
• encourage private sponsorship of state facilities and assets, where appropriate;
• sell off surplus state properties;
• eliminate the Secretary of Education and restore the Board of Education’s independence;
• limit in-state tuition rates to legal residents of the Commonwealth;
• impose a moratorium on commuter rail expansion;
• implement a wage cap at the state’s quasi-public authorities;
• prohibit the use of lobbyists by the state’s quasi-public authorities;
• conduct a study of the state’s spending of federal stimulus funding; and
• ban Project Labor Agreements
“The Caucus has put together a combination of money-saving measures and common-sense reforms that will allow state government to run more efficiently and effectively,” said Senator Tisei. “The Legislature needs to understand that it can’t continue to operate with a ‘business as usual’ approach if we are to successfully navigate the fiscal challenges that lie ahead. The Senate has an opportunity this week to start moving the Commonwealth in the right direction, and we are calling on our Democratic colleagues to join us in our efforts to improve state government by passing these fundamental reforms.”