Building a state budget in these challenging economic times is a thankless task. So much needs to be done, and there is so little cash with which to do it. All things considered, Beacon Hill is — so far — doing a much better job than Washington in adapting to these painful new realities.
With those qualifications front and center, the Phoenix — and arts supporters throughout the state — were disappointed when House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey of Haverhill unexpectedly proposed to cut funding for the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) — currently at $9.1 million — to $7.5 million. Coupled with a similar cut in fiscal year 2011, Dempsey's proposal would mean that the MCC, which funds efforts ranging from individual artists to broad-based educational programs, will have seen its budget slashed by 40 percent since 2009. That is too much pain for a small but vital department to bear.
The MCC cuts, along with equally crippling reductions in the regional tourism council budgets, are short-sighted. Growth in the leisure-and-hospitality sector, which is dependent on a robust arts environment, contributed 2100 of the 3200 new jobs Massachusetts gained last month. Cutting arts and tourism dollars is myopic.
Representative Sarah Peake of Provincetown has moved to maintain level funding for the MCC. That would be the most desirable outcome. If that proves to be politically unfeasible, Governor Deval Patrick's proposed budget of $8.4 million should be the acceptable fallback.
A key player yet to be heard from is House Ways and Means Vice-Chair Marty Walz, whose district includes the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and parts of Cambridge. Walz and eight other Boston representatives should sign up to rescue the MCC.
Whatever the outcome in the House, arts advocates should begin telling their state senators how important the relatively small MCC budget really is.
SAVING HEALTH DOLLARS
Common sense and courage do not often intersect in politics, but they did the other day when the Massachusetts House adopted sorely needed collective-bargaining reforms that will save cities and towns an estimated $100 million in the next budget year. These reforms will preserve municipal jobs and services throughout the commonwealth by curbing out-of-control costs that are making public-employee health-care plans unaffordable.
Organized labor is trying to paint House Speaker Robert DeLeo, the architect of the measure, as a heartless and nefarious union buster. That's a crock. DeLeo is about as good a friend as the unions are likely to find. DeLeo, however, has woken up to the fact that the taxpayers, who, after all, are the paymasters of public employees, cannot be expected to fund health-care plans that they themselves could not afford.
We urge Senate President Therese Murray and Governor Patrick to demonstrate the same foresight and intestinal fortitude exhibited by the House and support DeLeo's measure.
BIKES AND BURRITOS
Only in Boston could City Hall announce a visionary plan for integrating bicycles into the fabric of the city's transportation system, while at the same time sullying the welcome news with a bone-headed bureaucratic snafu.
First, the good news: long frustrated by Boston's reputation as the nation's least bicycle-friendly metropolis, Mayor Tom Menino gave the green light to a bike-share program to be called Hubway.