Time to wake up

The State Legislature and Boston's big municipal unions are hurting the public
By EDITORIAL  |  April 15, 2009

090417_edit-mian

The news that Massachusetts's finances are in even worse shape than previously thought was not exactly a surprise. Still, the numbers are sobering. Tax receipts are falling. The budget deficit — already projected at $156 million — is expected to grow by another $400 million in the next few months. The whopping $556 million shortfall means that another 750 state jobs will be cut and 5000 unpaid furloughs will be required. This is the third time Patrick has announced emergency budget cuts in seven months. And it will not be the last. State finances are only going to get worse.

All of this makes the legislature's failure to act on tax proposals advanced by Governor Deval Patrick four months ago shameful — almost criminally so, when you consider that Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo had to know this was coming. If they didn't, they are unfit for office. It's time for the ego games that impede action to stop. Vote on Patrick's proposed 19-cent gas-tax increase. Reject it, amend it, or pass it. But do something, so that the state can move forward.

Patrick's political ineptitude continues to draw more fire than the lack of action in the state's House and Senate. He has turned out to be a pitifully easy target. And his flatfooted response to the Easter Sunday traffic jams on the Mass Pike only reinforce that perception.

Shooting spitballs at the governor may take the public's mind off the unfolding crisis in state government. But it won't alter the fact that Massachusetts does not have enough money to pay its bills.

The recession triggered by the crash in the housing market, the implosion on Wall Street, and the meltdown of the banking system is, of course, at the root of Massachusetts's fiscal crisis. But this was a disaster waiting to happen.

If the economic policies of the Bush-Cheney junta were, in effect, socialism for the affluent, then Beacon Hill's management practices for the past 15 or so years have been nothing less than welfare for a relatively small, politically connected middle class. Unsustainable salaries and sweetheart pension deals have had roughly the same negative effect on state finances that the Bush tax cuts had on a national level. The shameful lack of performance goals for government agencies and outside contractors, and the failure to reasonably oversee such transportation systems as the turnpike and the MBTA, plus projects such as the Big Dig, are the intellectual equivalent of Washington's failure to regulate the nation's financial systems.

DeLeo and Murray have been on Beacon Hill far longer than Patrick. It's time for the public to hold them and their legislative colleagues accountable.

Let Boston teachers vote on pay freeze
The deteriorating condition of state finances is bad news for most Massachusetts cities and towns, dependent as they are on state aid to plug their own budget gaps. But it is especially difficult for Boston, since the crunch here is likely to be even worse than expected.

That makes the failure of Boston's three biggest municipal unions, representing firefighters, police, and teachers, to agree to Mayor Thomas Menino's modest proposal for a one-year pay freeze all the more unconscionable.

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