Doing Less with Less: The FY11 Budget

The Senate Ways & Means Committee issued their draft of the FY11 State Budget last week with the matter set to be debated and voted on for several days, starting tomorrow.

The budget proposal cuts more than $750 million from the level required to maintain state services in FY11, with those spending cuts plus the use of federal recovery act funds being used to close a $2.85 billion budget gap. The proposal would cut local aid by $159 million from FY2010, level fund 154 line items and reduce spending in 321 other line items from FY10 levels.

Over the last few days, my staff and I have spent hours analyzing the budget and talking with advocates and constituents about the budget proposal, and what impact the cuts will have on our district and the people of the Commonwealth. As a result of this work, I have filed some amendments to the budget — to increase line item funding in some cases, and to make no-cost changes to the law in other cases. You can learn more about some of those amendments here.

We’ve heard a lot over the past few years — from both elected officials and candidates for office at all levels — about “doing more with less.” Looking at this budget proposal and the numbers before us, the truth is that we’re going to be doing less with less — and no amount of rhetoric will change that.

We will have fewer teachers, police officers, firefighters, social workers working in our communities.

We will have fewer resources available to help those among us who need help the most – including those with disabilities, mental illnesses, substance abuse problems, as well as those who are homeless and in poverty, or just on the verge of losing their homes.

We will have fewer enrichment and mentoring programs for our kids, and fewer supports for our seniors. Our libraries and community and senior centers will be open for fewer hours, if they don’t close altogether.

We will have fewer resources available to protect our public lands, water, and air from pollution and destruction, and longer wait times to access government services big and small, from the judicial system to the RMV.

All of this — and more — is the truth of our fiscal situation this year, and I feel strongly that we shouldn’t try to sugarcoat it for you, our constituents, or to pretend the situation is better than it is.

I have in the past been an advocate for raising more revenue (through more progressive means) as a way of mitigating the impact of these cuts. I know times are tough for everyone, but some of the cuts we are making, particularly to the programs that help the most vulnerable among us – are, to me, untenable, and unjust. I do believe that we, as a society and a government, can do better.

I am, unfortunately, among the minority with that viewpoint in the Legislature right now – and because the House decided against any revenue-raising measures, the Senate is constitutionally barred from adding any broad-based revenue measures to our budget, either.[1]

As a result, we will work with a pie of limited size this year, with no way of increasing that pie. We will do much less — because we have much much less.

[1] There are small exceptions for amendments that would raise fees or direct money to accounts separate from the General Fund.

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