^ among the Budget vetoes overridden was several million dollars for the Arts. (photoi by Boston Globe)
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Two weekends ago and again this past weekend, in all night sessions, the Senate and House overrode a large number of the hundreds of line-item vetoes Governor baker delivered to the state’s FY 2017 Budget. Everybody went home happy, and the voters affected went to bed happy. So far, so good.
But not me. I have an uneasiness. How do we pay for this happiness ?
The state House News Service summarized the dispute in an article thus : “Baker said he vetoed $256 million because the Legislature’s $39.15 billion spending bill underfunds accounts by about $250 million. The underfunded accounts include public counsel for indigent defendants, emergency assistance to the homeless, and winter road-clearing, Baker said, predicting bills “we think we’re going to have to pay for no matter what between now and the end of the year.” Baker said he “felt bad about” vetoing certain spending. “There’s a lot of very worthwhile stuff that was on that veto list but we have to have a balanced budget,” he said. The governor described a “tremendous amount of scrambling” to deal with a $480 million fiscal 2016 revenue shortfall and said he was “very nervous” about a similar situation occurring in the fiscal year that began on July 1. Defending his veto decisions, he said, “We can’t have another year where we’re just chasing the revenue number all year long. It creates enormous instability for everyone.”
“Highlighting a major difference of opinion with the governor, House Speaker Robert DeLeo last week suggested the Legislature could override all of Baker’s vetoes and the state budget would still be balanced. House leaders are still determining which veto overrides to initiate.
You can find a complete list of the Budget appropriations vetoed by baker at this link : http://www.mass.gov/anf/docs/anf/vetoes/fy17/parchment.docx I warn you that it makes for very dry reading. Still, as the state Budget is paid for with your money — your taxes and state fees — at least some of us may want to read the how much, the why, and the why not’s that went into the Governor’s decisions.
Baker is right : there is in fact a lot of “worthy stuff” that he felt the need to veto, or to cut back. There always is. The needs of Massachusetts residents are many and expensive, and sate government owes residents a duty to resolve these needs as fully as feasible. But the money has to be there; and baker’s claim of a $ 480,000,000 revenue shortfall sounds plausible given the very slow growth of the nation’s economy and that the Budget I grounded in “no new taxes or fees.”
At some point, Budget needs — “worthy stuff” — are going to have to duke it out with the mantra of “no new taxes or fees.” That point has not arrived yet. Baker’s view is that the voters will not grant additional revenue until they see that government is delivering value for the taxes already authorized. I think Baker gauges voter sentiment correctly. Which means that either Speaker DeLeo is right, and there’s enough revenue to pay for the overridden items, or there isn’t, and the appropriated items may well go unfunded. After all, if the state treasurer hasn’t the funds, she can’t pay out the checks.
Julie Cox and Charles Samuels, writing in JD Supra Business Advisor, report that the legislature overrode some $ 97 million of Baker’s $ 162 million in Budget vetoes: “The legislature overrode $97 million of Governor Baker’s $162 million proposed vetoes in the FY16 budget. The legislature restored $5.25 million in cuts to the UMASS system, after high profile lobbying of the legislature by new UMASS system president Marty Meehan. Also on the education front, the legislature unanimously restored $17.6 million for full-day kindergarten programs targeted at underperforming schools.” $ 97 million isn’t $ 480 million — the amount that baker expects state revenue might fall short — but it’s not minor. Can the funds be found without new fees or taxes ?
Perhaps the answer will arrive in Baker’s Supplemental Budget. Every year the Governor files a Supplement. Until that happens this time, we’re left with a lot of very “worthy stuff” re=funded in principle, making a lot of voters justifiably happy, but leaving the actual happy spot in fingers-crossed territory as we wait to find out if the happiness can be paid for — or is just wishful thinking.
—- Mike Freedeberg / Here and Sphere