(A dispatch from Beacon Hill on this year’s budget process. One in an occasional series.)
The state budget has a gap again this year, the result of the Great Recession and revenues lost through tax cuts that were (improvidently) enacted in the late 1990’s. The House Ways and Means Committee has proposed filling that gap, which is $1.3 billion this year, through budget cuts and one-time revenue sources (Rainy Day funds would solve 1/3 of the problem). This solution buys a year’s time but does nothing to remedy the structural problem.
House GOP Leader Brad Jones has sounded a positive note on the House Ways and Means plan. He was particularly pleased that “local aid,” which helps cities and towns provide basic services like fire and police protection, was funded relatively generously. Cities and towns across the state are “facing challenges providing basic services to their residents,” he commented. Well, yeah. Over the past four years, local aid has been cut by about a third — so Rep. Jones will get no argument there.
Of course, Rep. Jones also promised that the GOP will have suggestions to make through the budget amendment process. The GOP, he said, will propose “targeted changes” in order to deliver a “responsible budget.”
The GOP’s number one suggestion for a targeted change for a responsible budget? Reducing the sales tax from 6.25 percent to five percent over two years. All 33 of the GOP representatives (even those who are proposing new spending this year) are sponsors of this amendment, which would aggravate the state’s budget problems by about $500 million next year and about $1 billion in 2014. The challenges facing cities and towns that Rep. Jones just said he was concerned about would balloon under this proposal.
If you’re wondering where the “responsible” part of the GOP’s promise went, well, silly you. Please recall that nearly all of the GOP Representatives have pledged to Grover Norquist that they will never, ever raise taxes and that they will always work hard to shrink government. Something about a bathtub.
It shouldn’t be surprising to see the demented feedback loop — no revenues? must cut taxes — at work again this year. But it might be less dispiriting if the GOP acknowledged that reducing revenues by $1 billion a year would lead to some painful cuts (in the near term, surely) and offered some suggestions about what those should be. Somebody at RedMassGroup said that the GOP should offer its own budget – that might be a good idea.