^ The Governor has so much to do, so little money to do it with
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Charlie Baker is the real deal — a reform Governor. Luckily ior Massachusetts.
The more I study the State’s responsibilities, the more I cringe at the immensity of what’s needed. Badly needed. Baker is climbing these uphills one by one and seems to enjoy the sweat. For all this he practically begged the state’s voters to elect him. I hope that he retains his optimism and energy as the tasks deepen and complicate.
Baker has taken on : 1. fixing the MBTA 2. reshaping our schools — elementary, middle, high school, early ed, higher education 3. balancing the state’s $ 38.1 billion annual budget without hurting programs readily bruised 4. figuring out if the 2024 Olympics benefits the State or sidetracks it 5. connecting school graduates to actual jobs 6. addressing the Opioid addiction and recovery challenge 7. reforming public employee pension administration 8. bringing some level of economic dynamism to cities beyond the Boston area 9. assuring the State’s 351 towns and cities every penny of local aid the law requires 10. lowering health care costs.
Any one of these tasks entails political risk. All ten together make Baker a kind of political bungee jumper. Little wonder that he is taking his time gathering information and advice before initiating action.
Eventually the time for jumping will come. Where, then, the money ? The State has badly overestimated its revenue stream. Result : not reform but retreat. Most state budget items have been cut or level-funded. Items being raised are adding money chiefly to pay salary hikes.
Meanwhile, the talk is of outlandish public employee incomes — some police earn over
$ 250,000 — of the hundreds of T employees who called out sick on February’s worst snow days, of expanding education but not having the money to pay for it; of reforming the MBTA’s management substantially, or drastically– or altogether — in hopes that millions of dollars can be saved so that the T’s facilities can be made to work properly.
Everybody has a T reform plan. Pioneer Institute has one : receivership and drastic reorganization. The Globe’s Scot Lehigh today offered his own plan ; a financial control board and privatization of T facillity care-taking. I presented my T reform plan in these pages about three weeks ago. Jim Aloisi, who served as Mass DOT Secretary under Governor Patrick,. offered his superbly comprehensive plan in Commonwealth magazine. State Senator Jamie Eldridge, and others, want new revenue — because just to bring the T’s maintenance backlog up to date will cost billions that no program of reformation can produce. The Boston 2024 Olympics committee has offered radical T modernization as one of its key tasks — and key benefit to the State. Governor Baker’s own MBTA task force will surely have a plan that talks money allocation.
That’s a lot of public policy at work, a lot of well-dressed and well-paid policy consultants thinking long hard thoughts on just one of the State’s way overdue fixes.
What will come of all this discussing, researching, numbers crunching, priority picking ? And the T is only one such cluster-crunch.
Think now of education : the Boston school district is downsizing almost every department, cutting costs in transportation and ood services, closing schools and consolidating. Boston’s school budget is actually increasing by four percent — from some $ 970 million to $ 1,013,500,000 billion — yet it’s not close tyo enough, says Superinhtendent McDonough, because State aid via chapter 70 compensation funding is declining, as is Federal aid. And so the District is laying off 67 central office administrators and 58 full time employees elsewhere.
Meanwhile, says Governor Baker, 40,000 students await placement in charter schools too few in number to take them, and no prospect in sight for changing that, because the teachers’ unions and their parent allies are — or have so far been — too strong in too many legislators’ districts for charter school advocates to overcome. Yet overcome, charter schools somehow must, because given the state’s $ 1,800,000,000 budgtrt shortfall for fiscal 2016, Baker is sure to cut districts’ compensation further, and the legislature is likely to go along — Speaker DeLeo, like Baker, has vowed no new taxes or fees will be enacted in this legislative year.
I have no idea what Baker’s plan will be to get Massachusetts schools from here to where they need be. If the permitted number of charter schools can be raised, chapter 70 requires that money compensation to school districts — for students who would have been educated in district but now will not be — must increase; yet there is no money to do that. How, too, will Baker fund the money to expand early education, a program that most parents very much want ? How will Baker move to cap higher education tuitions, without risking the loss of well paid professors or less attended courses ? Higher eduaction, I should note, employs almost a quarter of all state employees and accounts fotr about the same percentage of State spending. It’s not a minor item, far from it; with a powerful constituency behind it to keep state money pumping its way.
Yet Baker, quite reasonably,l wants the state’s graduations to connect readily to employment after graduation; and that means shifting many curremt curricula toward technology, vocation, and English language learning for students from other cultures. Doing all this means new teacher hires and new administrators. Who will pay for them and where will they come from ?
And what of the opioid addiction and recovery crisis that Baker and Health Secretary Sudders are now working up a response to ? Who will be in charge, where will it operate from, and how will the program be paid for ?
Baker is going to have to missionize a large part of state administration : less current administering, more re-purposing. State agencies attuned — well or not so well — to present duties, and with scant money to think otherwise, will need to think otherwise, money or no money, if they’re to be of service going forward rather than a scandal or an obstacle. Some of Baker’s top cabinet people are eager to do that and capable of it. Others, I’m not so sure.
The time for discussion, research, and numbers calculation is running its course. By Fall 2015 at the latest the processes will need to get tweaked, rebuilt, invented. That means new money — how can it not ? Fiscal year 2017’s budget should be interesting.
—- Mike freedberg / Here and Sphere