The Budget Crisis

Our state government has started the yearly process of creating the annual budget, and this year is looking like it will be one of the most difficult in recent memory. With our economy in recession, Massachusetts is facing the same problem as states all across the country: revenue is decreasing, costs are going up, and people are in need of more and more help from their state government. The result is a serious structural gap in our state budget.

In plain English, what does that mean?

First off, you should know that state governments (unlike our federal government) are constitutionally required to balance our budget every single year. This means that if we don’t have enough money coming in, we have to either increase revenue (through the form of increased taxes or fees), or cut spending.

Cutting spending, however, is not as easy as some people might think – because every budget dollar has an effect on many people’s lives. The majority of the calls I am getting to my office these days are from constituents, asking that the Legislature spare a program that affects them or a loved one. These are heartbreaking calls – from mothers with autistic children, or families on the verge of homelessness. There are calls from teachers and parents, asking that we protect funding for public education, and from town administrators, looking for local aid funding to prevent layoffs to police or firefighters.

And yet, unless we find a way of raising revenue this year, we are going to have to make cuts to all of these programs – no matter how worthy they are.

A complaint that’s often made about our state government is that it is “bloated,” with lots of waste. There’s no doubt that waste in government exists, and that reforms are necessary. This session, I predict you’ll see money-saving reforms in our transportation and pension systems, as well as a hard look at corporate welfare policies.

But in fact, over the past ten years, state government spending – as a share of our state economy – has actually gone down, according to the independent research organization Mass Budget and Policy Center. We’ve seen large cuts to spending on higher education, infrastructure, and social services, among others.

This is why I believe it’s important we look for new ways of raising revenue, rather than reducing local aid any further or cutting vital state services more than we already have.

For that reason, I support Governor Patrick’s proposal to raise revenue through closing the telecommunications tax loopholes, giving local communities the option to levy a modest meal and hotel tax, and expanding the Bottle Bill to cover non-carbonated beverages – and I’m asking you to do the same.

No elected official likes to talk about increasing taxes.  But as legislators, we are faced with choices every day – and we owe it to you, our constituents, to be honest about the choices facing us.  In this situation, the choice to me is clear: we need to do whatever we have to do to protect funding for our highest priorities, such as education, health care, infrastructure, and public safety.

As the Legislature moves through the budget process, I encourage you to contact my office any time with your thoughts and questions, or to talk to me about the programs that are most important to you and your family.