Not “the Speaker vs. the Governor”

Attention, sports fans:  After the Super Bowl and Super Tuesday, the game to
watch will not be “the Speaker vs. the Governor.”  Taking nothing away from
the Celtics, the real game to watch will be the economy.

As stock markets around the world plunge in anticipation of a U.S.
recession, the legislature begins to examine an administration budget based
on the best economic projections from mid-December – when most economists
were projecting only a mild slow-down.

If, in fact, the economy slips in to a recession, then all current bets are
off as to where the budget process goes – all will likely agree on the need
to make a combination of last resort spending cuts and last resort revenue
increases to balance the budget.

Even if the present market turmoil is just a bubble of fear — the markets
soon stabilize and economic growth marches on – it is worth recognizing that
the areas where the Speaker and the Governor have audibly differed are small
in the big picture of the state budget.

The Governor proposes to realize $297 million from increased corporate taxes
(“loophole” closing) and another $124 million from casino licensing
fees.  These
two controversial items together represent only 1.5% of the $28.2 billion
state budget and less than one third of the measures proposed to close the
$1.4 billion “structural budget gap”.

Ironically, the lack of a global crisis often allows for disagreements over
marginal issues to become unduly salient.

If the economy goes where most of the world seems to be betting right now, I
have every confidence that the Speaker and the Governor and the Senate
President will work well together to steady us through the storm.

The Governor and the Speaker appear to agree firmly on the commitments to
education, health care, tax limitation and economic development that frame
our current budget dilemma.

   – The legislature, in the FY2007 budget,committed to an ambitious
   five-year program of expanded education funding through Chapter 70.
   For FY2008, the Speaker stuck to this commitment and increased Chapter
   70 funding beyond the level initially proposed by the Governor.
ForFY2009, the Governor has embraced Chapter 70 spending consistent
with the
   legislature’s commitment and has opened discussions about additional
   increases.
   – The Speaker largely authored and the Governor has strongly and
   consistently committed to support the universal health care legislation of
   2006, the rising costs of which contribute substantially to our current
   budget gap.  The administration and the legislature are working hard
   together to make health reform work.
   – The Speaker and the Governor both recognize that broad-based tax
   increases must be a last resort, considered only after the public is
   satisfied that major opportunities for savings are exhausted.  The
   Governor, like the Speaker, has so far been unwilling to consider any
   broad-based tax increase.
   – They share a commitment to economic development and are willing to
   invest state funds to preserve our leadership in critical industries.
   – Finally, they both know that the state provides certain bedrock
   services that are not discretionary – including law enforcement, the courts,
   the prisons, child protection, elder services, bridge maintenance and
   others.

I share these basic financial priorities.  For the record, I remain cool to,
although not dead-set against, the introduction of casino gambling in
Massachusetts.  On the other marginal issues, I do support the Governor’s
tax proposals – the state corporate tax package, and his two local tax
proposals, the elimination of the utility property exemption and a local
option meals tax.

In the coming budget negotiations, my personal highest priority will be the
protection of local aid funding in the budget – achieving the committed
increases in education aid and preserving general municipal aid.  I also
will fight for worthy programs that help vulnerable people in my district
(and elsewhere), including – to mention two among others — public housing
maintenance, and the expansion of home care as a cost-effective and superior
alternative to nursing home care for the elderly.

Please note, this thread is not open for comment at this time.

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Will Brownsberger
State Senator
2d Suffolk and Middlesex District