^ The Governor wearing his Budget Battle face. It’s 2016 time on that front…
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Charlie Baker promised, in his campaign, to be the State’s Mr, Fix-It, and for state budget matters he has delivered big. Handed a surprise, $ 768 million dollar shortfall in last year’s budget, he devised remedies and won swift approval of them from an almost unanimous legislature. now comes the 2016 budget, Baker’s first, and it looks as smart as bold.
Bold it has to be, because the state’s leading budget watchdog, the Msssachusetts Taxpyers, forecasts that the previously planned 2016 budget would, via an eight percent spending increase, suffer a $ 1.8 billion shortfall. Baker’s version erases the shortfall, as it has to, even while epanding certain visionary initiatives. How has he done it ?
Before reading my take on it, you might want to read the Baker budget proposal for yourself via this link : http://www.mass.gov/bb/h1/fy16h1/
And you might want to see how the Baker 2016 budget differs from the previous administration’s 2016 plan :
Of the new budget’s many noteworthy features, I single out these :
1.eliminates the state’s tax credit for film makers, which according to a tweet this morning by Department of Economic Opportunity policy director (and former journalist) Paul McMorrow, “costs far more than it generates in overall economic activity. $ 169M losses to date.”
2.level-funded most departments of the State’s vast courts and criminal justice system; decreased a few parts of it; increased (by small amounts) the Suffolk, Worcester, Middlesex, Essex, and Bristol District attorneys offices
3.cut the Officve of the Governor’s budget by about 30 percent and eliminated several one-time FY 2015 expenses
4.cut administrative costs at the Secretary’s ofice by about 25 percent; cut some $ 150,000 from the Treasurer’s budget
5.increased costs of state debt servicing by about $ 100 million, an unavoidable expnse because obligations are obligations
6.increased information technology (IT) cost sby about $ 500,000, much of it for reapirs to the Health Connector
7.increased aid to Veterans, including to homeless veterans, hy about five percent
8.decreased Medical assistance Triust Fund expenses by about $ 165,000,000 — but increased its “Delivery System Transformation Initiatives Trust Fund” allocation by about 67 million
9.established an End Homelessness Reserve und totaling $ 20 million
10.$34 million increase, or 3.6%, in unrestricted local aid to $980 million
11.$105.3 million increase in Chapter 70 funding, which increases funding for all 321 school districts
12. a phase in of the Earned Income Tax Credit to 30% of the Federal limit while phasing out the Film Tax Credit
13.Funding local aid by 75% of revenue growth, a 3.6% increase
14.Increasing transportation spending by 20%, including $187 million, or a 53% increase, in direct aid to the MBTA
15.An early retirement incentive program to responsibly reduce the state’s administrative spending by purchasing the vested pay of up to 4,500 state employees
16. $ 7,290,000 for “social innovation financing”
17. increase of $ 11,000,000 or ‘supportive child care”
18. a large appropriation, of about $ 60,000,000, for technology upgrades to just about every division of state government.
Several state programs were eliminated entirely. None of those eliminated had i heard of before. Still, they surely have their supporters. We will likely hear from them as the Governor’s budget message gets debated by the legislature.
It’s still a very large budget, some $ 38.1 billion, and provides a large palette of services to just about every resident of the state. The appropriation isn’t assured; almost every change ite, in it talks of “projected need” or “projected revenue.” Projections can change and probably will.
Will the legislature adopt it as is? Probably the legislature won’t. The interests whose appropriations are being cut, and even some being level-funded, have already expressed unhappiness : the court system; Medicaid applicants on the borderline of eligibility; the Film industry and the unions who benefit by it; various laboratories; the eduaction establishment — to name a few. Some of these exert significant clout among legislators. Yet the budget already meets one of Speaker Robert DeLeo’s own criteria : it seeks no new fees or revenues.
Meanwhile, the legislature will also be assailed in a positive direction by those interests who the budget graces : the MBTA, Homelessnes advocates, municipalities (local aid), advocates for families needing its greatly expanded EITC; child care advocates; and bankers who care about the State’s credit rating.
Some have complained that the 2016 budget lacks vision, that all it does to keep the State from falling behind, that the state needs to be far more pro-active in finacing educational reform, bridge and road repair, and transit expansion. I do not disagree iwth any of these ambitions. Yet 2016 is not the last year on earth. Soon there will come the 2017 budget. In that budget the state, now restored to fiscal reality, can ask voters to trust it again to spend new money wisely, to embrace the huge expenses of renewing education,l transport, anmd social services.
Right now, that voter trust isn’t there. If the Baker budget works, it might return. Restoring it is the inescapable overture to the symphony of reforms advocates rightly trumpet. Let the overture begin.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere