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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Revenue before reform

The Massachusetts Senate has offered a loud rejoinder the Gov. Deval Patrick's recent public campaign to put reform before revenue. It's not a phrase usually accepted in polite society.

The Senate vote to raises the sales tax to 6.25 percent means we are looking at a fait accompli. House and Senate negotiators will set down to address differences in their respective budgets -- like the local option 2 percent hotel and meals tax they Senate OK'd. But there will be a 1.25 percent hike in the sales tax.

That is the only certainty so far in a year that began, ironically, with Senate President Therese Murray calling for reform before revenue.

We've come a long way from the original context -- which was Patrick's call for a 19-cent increase in the gasoline tax to pay for a restructuring of the state's transportation system. We certainly won't have a gas tax hike dedicated to fixing the messes at the Turnpike Authority and the MBTA or repairing and rebuilding crumbling roads and bridges.

Instead, we will see an undetermined hunk of the sales tax tossed at the issues at the same time lawmakers continue to iron out differences in their view of what a new transportation administrative structure should look like.

It's a "solution" that will lead to toll hikes on the Turnpike and fare increases and service cuts on the T. And fewer local services as sales tax money goes to plug only a portion of the local aid cuts approved by lawmakers.

Oh and as for reform in pension and ethics (if what the Senate passed can be called reform), lawmakers appear to be saying "we'll get back to you on that."

The one absolutely clear lesson is that lawmakers have stuck their thumbs in both of Patrick's eyes. No gas tax (and he doesn't have the votes to override a sales tax veto.) An ethics bill that has been twisted 180 degrees from his intent. Pension bills that don't address the most egregious abuses.

The quick rebuttal would likely be there is a lot of time left between now and the end of the session in November to get it all done. There is even more than a month (including Memorial Day and Bunker Hill Day) before the brutal budget needs to land on Patrick's desk and conferees can multitask.

But public image counts after a grandstand call for "reform before revenue." We haven't seen it. And when lawmakers thumb their noses at the public in other ways too, it doesn't make you feel good about the eventual outcome.

If Patrick intends to run against the Legislature next year, they're giving him lots of ammunition.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Patrick wanted HIS reforms, a handful of dollar meaningless changes which would help him politically and the State coffers immaterially meanwhile taking benefits away from the Legislature specifically.

He's dumb to have believed they'd go for that. Predictably, they didn't.

May 20, 2009 9:49 AM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

I'd say the reforms in ethics and pension are hardly his alone. The legislative versions in those areas are not going to match the public unhappiness with business as usual.

The reforms aren't designed to bring in bucks, they are designed to restore public confidence in the way lawmakers do business.

And it's interesting you use the phrase "taking benefits away from the Legislature specifically." What are they entitled to that other state employees or Massachusetts residents are not?

May 21, 2009 5:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Legislators have the special provision that allows them to take additional pension as a result of losing an election.

Unpaid elected officials can count their time served toward pension service.

And as for reforms, you say 'the reforms aren't designed to bring in bucks' but rather instill confidence. In that case, they're meaningless reforms.

Example, let's eliminate the '23 and out rule'. The savings to the taxpayer is minimal. Pennies per year. How many of the average Joe even knows what '23 and out' is. Why, even you, in your comment were unaware that Legislators enjoyed added pension privileged.

Rather, reform ought to address, the rigged rules, the multitude of plans across the state, the vast underfunding. Real reform, real $$, not Patrick political soundbites.

May 21, 2009 8:11 AM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Fair point on the fact reform should bring in bucks. But they should also inspire confidence that government doesn't eliminate the "special" provisions that apply to a small subset -- with the one with the power to make them in the case of the "early retirement" provision or the ability to accrue pension time for an unpaid position like library commissioner, in the case of Jack Brennan.

May 22, 2009 5:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Consider those reforms:

1: Unpaid elected positions. Isn't there an argument that we should encourage people to hold positions like Library Trustee, or Moderator. PERAC allows it and the city or town has the option to adopt that particular option as a credit to pensionable service.

2: '23 and out'. The MBTA pension is actually fully funded, unlike the state pension which is deeply underfunded. Perhaps the 23 and out rule is useful: it encourages early retirement of 'dead wood' at little cost to taxpayer (i.e. because the MBTA fund is fully funded).

3: Extra year of service when failing to be re-elected. It's forced retirement! Isn't adding 1 year of service just a minor gold watch to the retiree. It's nothing.

And there's my point. Many of these "abuses" have advocates who would say they aren't abuses at all. And, by focusing on the soundbite abuses, the Governor is completely taking his eye off the ball: Follow the money!

May 22, 2009 9:01 AM  

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