Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Political Will at the Heart of Budget Issues, Economic Growth...

I apologize to my readers for being AWOL for so long. I simply am going through a scholastic meltdown and frankly blogging is actually a distraction from homework.

I can't bring myself to talk about anything specifically Springfield today as the news is dominated by the tragic apparent Murder-Suicide yesterday. Instead, I will focus on something a little more (or a little less depending on perspective) upbeat: the budget!

Gov. Deval Patrick has of course submitted his budget to the Legislature will it will be refined and repackaged and made to look as they want it. What "they" want is hard to say. Compiling a multi-billion dollar budget with the input of 200 minds and or at a minimum 102 (assuming a minimum majority in both houses) is an arduous task. It will, despite Patrick's best efforts, be riddled with giveaways, political favors, patronage, and Massachusetts own brand of pork-barrel spending. Make no mistake Springfield does get a seat at the buffet, but seriously, do we really need any more decorative lighting? I'd rather hire another police officer for a year or two.

The legislature needs to carefully plug the hole. However, it should at all costs not be done with new taxes. I was mostly on the fence about Patrick's tax plan until Scott Lehigh of the Boston Globe
cautioned against the plan. He cited higher business costs in general and recent hikes in unemployment insurance adding to businesses' overall burden. In other words, that the Bay State ranks towards the bottom of corporate taxation (40th and not 47th, as Patrick claims) means little if everything else is expensive. Therefore, I am inclined to agree. While I love lashing out at big business, I believe that their under taxed nature exists primarily at the Federal level, especially when one takes into account the giveaways big business gets in contracts, grants, and sweetheart land-use deals. That does happen in Massachusetts, too, but Massachusetts cannot be arrogant and assume that just because we've got Boston we're going to be all right. Another article in the Globe noted the competition from other major cities which are developing potent health care systems. They could seriously challenge Boston. Sad truth is, Harvard may not be able to save us this time.

So extra taxing is out, or at least needs to be curtailed. With that goes the capacity to dole out local taxing powers. I am not interested in railing against Patrick's proposed meals tax again, but simply note that it will hurt cities like Springfield, Lowell, Brockton, etc the most. Boston, despite Menino's insistence to the contrary, will be hurt too, though not as badly. If any such action is taken, we should adopt the New Jersey method and have the same tax across the board, but have it split with the municipality.

The only other option is cuts. We cannot cut local aid if we are going to prohibit local option taxes. We have a new health care plan to pay for, so nothing there. Roads are falling apart, so nothing there. Hmmm. What's left? Patronage. We need to have a culling of state offices and a reduction of duplicate services. I know its tough, but it is also necessary. While I am aware of the realities of politics in Massachusetts, I hope that the power brokers can, as I have hoped before, recognize that the old-world politics of the past cannot work as before. Tough choices need to be made, if only to preserve the power brokers' power. What power is left if the state loses more Congressional representation (we are doomed to lose at least one in 2010, probably from Western Mass despite the fact that we are one of the few areas that hasn't been stagnant, although Boston did successfully fend off an inaccurate estimate)? Without righting this ship we may lose even more in 2020. What money is left for political favors if big business splits and leaves old and graying communities in their wake? It is a matter of sheer political will and less myopic thinking.

Can we do it? I don't know. It has to start with the Legislature and if they can't do it, we need to starting doing it at the polls.

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