The legislature vacations while crisis looms
Good-government advocates often breathe a sigh of relief when the legislature quits Beacon Hill. If petty feuds, vanity projects, and institutional rivalries do not obstruct the people's business, then lawmakers' perpetual indebtedness to special interests, such as public-employee unions and corporate lobbyists who contribute to election campaigns, conspires to stick it to the public. With so much important work left undone, however, this has proven to be an especially bad year for the so-called Great and General Court to have taken an early holiday powder.
Perhaps the legislature's most irresponsible example of inaction has been its failure to grant Governor Deval Patrick expanded budget-cutting authority. Patrick has been out in front, dealing with the ongoing fiscal crisis and seeking ways to cut costs — a nasty and thankless task, but one from which he has not shrunk. At the risk of being unfair to adolescents, the legislature's decision to take a long vacation rather than do the homework necessary to balance the state's books is a sure sign that both the House and the Senate suffer from a junior-high mindset.
Delay on this issue will only make things more painful. The more the state spends in the remaining days of 2009, the more it will have to cut in 2010.
Further delay could also allow House and Senate leaders to shield patronage cronies, such as the ones in the court system, since the no-nonsense budget cutting that Patrick is advocating threatens the legislature-sanctioned gravy train. They want to continue to protect police officers — an extraordinarily insulated class of employee — from Patrick's call to end the special educational subsidies that police receive under the Quinn Bill.
A pox on the House
The Senate may be guilty of trying to preserve shoddy prerogatives the state can no longer afford, but at least it gives the impression of knowing what it is doing. Not so the House. The fact that three consecutive Speakers were forced out by charges of wrongdoing has weakened the institution. Its members seem to have thrown in the towel.
Take the House's failure to move on Patrick's sweeping education-reform proposal, which would dramatically increase the number of charter schools in the state. Even a moderately dimwitted observer might think that the time is ripe for Massachusetts to align itself with President Barack Obama's call for more charter schools. Federal funds will be available for this as of January 19. And solons say the state will have a plan in place by that date. Why not now?
Could it be that House leaders are scheming to find a way to maximize the federal charter-school money, while complying as minimally as possible with Obama's guidelines, so as not to upset the teachers' unions? (Corporal punishment may not be allowed in schools, but the teachers' unions have been known to threaten legislators with spankings if lawmakers do not do as they are told.)
Then there is the issue of reforming the Criminal Offender Records Information system (CORI) and revising mandatory-minimum sentencing requirements. Again, the Senate has acted and the House has not.
: The Editorial Page
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