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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ditherin' and dawdlin'

I don't get a good feeling watching what's happening on Beacon Hill these days.

The water is starting to pour in through every tiny crack, threatening to swamp the boat and send it plummeting to the bottom of the sea. And the first mate is saying that using a thimble to bail is good enough for now.

I sympathize with the fact that House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Murphy has been on the job for only about a month, thanks to the reshuffle that followed former House Speaker Sal DiMasi poorly timed exit into the private sector.

But time is a luxury, -- as his Senate counterpart Steven Panagiotakis points out -- while the state's fiscal 2009 deficit, already plugged with a $1.4 billion patch and awaiting action on a Patrick administration plan to plug another $1 billion hole, continues to balloon.
"It's a free fall," said Michael Widmer, the president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. "The world economy is tanking faster than we can comprehend."
And that's just the current budget.

Gov. Deval Patrick, who has not been known for hare-like speed in crafting legislation, submitted another round of "9c" cuts in late January, the same time that he produced his FY10 budget proposal.

While the hard-working behind-the-scenes analysts at both ways and means committees are no doubt burning the midnight oil crunching numbers, the public face is inaction while the problem keeps getting worse.

We are now close to three-quarters of the way through the year. Patrick's first round of proposals came in the first quarter and were painful based on what had already been legally spent. This round will be worse, with each passing day making it harder still.

Murphy, who "won" the plum assignment when his predecessor, Robert DeLeo moved up to speaker, tries to talk a good game and says he wants to wait for March and April revenue projections.
"It is all about trying to predict the future, and no one can at this point," said Murphy, a Burlington Democrat. "I can't say if it is understated or overstated. We just at this point differ on projections."
That would be May -- with two months or less left in the fiscal year. My 401k may not be as accurate predictor as the models budget analysts use but even I can see a trend line. And if I need reinforcement, all I need to do is look at the Dow-Jones. Or the staggering increases in the unemployment numbers.

Capital gains taxes, which amount to too much of the state's revenue base, are and will continue to be in the tank. Income and sales tax revenues will head down as people lose jobs and pull back on spending. The state's share of the stimulus is not going to make this nightmare go away.

Lawmakers face the ultimate nightmare scenario. They are going to need to slash programs AND raise taxes. In a deep recession there is no political mileage in proposing serious solutions. Just ask Patrick.

But ditherin' and dawdlin' won't make it easier. In fact it will only make it worse. It is long past time for the House to move on the 9C cuts and change from a thimble to major pumps to bail out the sinking ship.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quoting Michael Widmer, who makes
in excess of $400K/year and is
provided a car while calling for
a $.25/gallon gas tax, hardly
lends credibility to your post.

March 12, 2009 9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait... I was under the impression that 9C cuts don't need or get legislative approval. The Governor does them and they just happen.

The leg. gave the Gov expanded 9c authority in January to cut the budget for some non-executive agencies. What else is pending that's budget-specific?

March 12, 2009 10:12 AM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Anon 9:11 -- I covered Widmer when I was a reporter and I can attest to his credibility -- even if you think one Herald story detracts from it.

Anon 10:12 -- You raise an interesting question and may well be correct. The 9C cuts are indeed within his discretion, yet I do believe there is something that requires legislative oversight pending. Can someone else help?

March 12, 2009 7:11 PM  

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