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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

How could this happen?

The Globe today offers us this headline:

Budget deadlines is flying under citizens' radar
Patrick set to ink document but few may notice

Maybe because it has pretty much flown under the editors' radar too?

A quick search the Globe's own archives finds a dearth of stories about the $28.2 billion plan to spend our tax dollars this year. The ones that you can find usually talk about earmarks like the $200,000 targeted for the Boston Symphony Orchestra to help with repairs at Tanglewood.

What about the other $28,199,800,000?

With that as a backdrop, is it any surprise that the people reporter Megan Woolhouse found echo the common theme you would expect to hear -- it's late again.

I'm one of those apparently rare people who really give a darn about government budgets. (Let's hear it for the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center and yes, Citizens for Limited Taxation).

Budget documents are policy road maps -- and they spell out how we are going to get there -- and how much of our tax dollars are going to what program. Sexy? Not really. Important? You bet!

But that certainly doesn't seem apply to the "newspaper of record."

Do a search of the Globe online and the stories about the state budget process are few and far between. The ones that do appear are formulaic. The governor proposes. The Legislature holds hearings and then crafts a House budget. When that budget is approved, it goes to the Senate, where they do their thing. Then to conference committee. Then a quick enactment vote followed 10 days later by a signing, replete with veto messages.

Nothing to kick that fire or traffic accident or in-depth view of lobstering off Metro front.

Fair's fair -- the Globe does more than the TV stations. And earmarks are certainly worth noting.

But is it any surprise that thousands of Massachusetts residents have banded together to put a question on the November ballot to eliminate the state income tax -- and the $12 billion in brings in?

What does the state spend $12 billion on anyway?

It's not easy to work your way through, but it's all there for you if you want to plow through it. Roughly $4 billion is plowed back to cities and towns for Ch. 70 and 76 school aid; $1.1 billion to higher education funding; $1.66 billion to support health care reform. Examine the various items at your leisure (or as an insomnia cure) and you will find substantial sums allocated to the courts, public safety and homeland security, the environment.

A million, here, a million there and you are talking real money.

Many taxpayers would no doubt quibble about the spending priorities. But they do not have a chance because of the failure of our media outlets to provide the information -- or a forum for debate.

I've lamented before how the Statehouse bureaus have shriveled in size and I've complained about how the Globe has failed to take advantage of its online resources to provide readers with information that can't appear in the ever-shrinking pages of the daily broadsheet.

But they and others have also failed to put all the financial information into context. The Herald makes a nice stab today -- looking at how soaring energy costs are forcing cities and towns into tough choices.

But is there any mention of how the state provides a major piece of municipal budgets through Chapter 70 (limited to education) and other forms of local aid? Money, by the way, that serves as something of a check on the need to RAISE property taxes but doesn't come close to providing the kind of help that would enable Deval Patrick to live up to his promise of relief.

As we head into November, we can only hope the Globe will step up its effort to cover the income tax repeal in a proper -- and objective -- way. That would involve addressing where the money goes, how effectively it is spent and what would happen if $12 billion is taken out of the state budget.

We can hope -- but I don't plan on holding my breath.

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Anonymous kyledeb said...

Excellent post on the budget. It's the best piece on it that I've read so far.

July 13, 2008 11:13 PM  

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