Another year is upon us, which means, quite obviously, that another year has ended in the Pioneer Valley. The year 2009 has been quite full of news from the Pioneer Valley. Politically and historically, the City of Springfield has undergone transformation and controversy. From the budget crisis on Beacon Hill, the Longhill Gardens Debacle to the city's historic return to Ward Representation after over forty years, much has change and/or affected the City of Homes in 2009.
Both the economy and shaky state politics dominated the news at the beginning of 2009. The economy was still foundering, jobs were vanishing, and credit remained frozen. The devastation left after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and AIG only worsened in the initial months of the year. The effect left massive holes in Massachusetts’ state budget (especially on capital gains revenue) and by extension the budgets of municipalities.
More positively, and thankfully before that mess, the legislature passed a bill that would grant Springfield 10 years to repay the state loan it received. Governor Patrick signed the bill in January.
The debate fractured the community. Opponents of Winn gained unexpected allies like Cheryl Coakley-Rivera and possibly opportunistic ones like then-mayoral candidate City Councilor Bud Williams.
In the end, Sarno did not choose the school option. In fact he later supported a renovation plan for the middle school on Oakland Street. As had been argued by some, including WMassP&I, Sarno like other politicians in his position, went for the money available now. Had the LongHill been demolished and used as a school site, the city could stand to lose money and time for both housing and schools while the process with the Massachusetts School Building Authority played out. Meanwhile Longhill would sit abandoned. It did not make it the right decision, but it made it understandable.
Construction on the renovated Longhill Gardens began over the summer.
Meanwhile, back in Boston, legislators scrambled to fill a massive budget hole for the new fiscal year. Although some cuts were made, most notably to non-education local aid, the Legislature felt it fit to raise the state’s sales tax by 25% to fill the gap. For the first time, alcohol would be subject to the sales tax and an option would be granted to communities to tax meals, unfairly singling out the restaurant industry. Furthermore, the new budget gave communities the option of adding a meals tax of 0.75%. Low as it is, it gave poorer communities another disadvantage and set the stage for future increases.
Moreover, the increase set Massachusetts further at a disadvantage to New Hampshire and for the first time put it more or less equal to Connecticut in terms of sales tax.
The sales tax increase, although it accomplished some of its goals, failed to account for past drops in sales tax info over the last ten years. For that reason, even if more revenue was necessary, such an increase was bad policy. The legislature may very well be back for more this year. Moreover, as painful as some cuts were, millions of dollars in sacred cows were left untouched.