Reform before Revenue — Scheduling Difficulties

Tension is rising in the state budget process as financial realities force very uncomfortable choices.

Perhaps the main things to underline at this stage are: (a) nothing at all is settled yet about the budget, reform or revenue; (b) all the major players endorse the principle of reform before revenue and are trying to do the right thing.

Last week the House had to vote on its budget. Uncertainty about state budget decisions extends uncertainty for a host of local decisions, not to mention state agency decisions.

Any delay in the vote would have made it likely that we would not have a budget in place by July 1. After the House debates and votes a budget, the Senate has to debate and vote a budget, the two versions have to be conferenced between the branches, the two branches have to accept the results of conference, the Governor has to sign or veto the budget and finally, the House and Senate have to choose which, if any, of the Governor’s vetos to override. This process always takes several months.

Additionally, the House needed to take a revenue vote of some form to put the issue of revenue in play for the conference committee — only the House can initiate a revenue bill under the constitution. The sales tax vote that we took may or may not be the last word on revenue in this session, but, if revenues were to be a potential part of the solution, that vote had to be taken last week.

Many of us, including me, would have preferred, in theory, to delay a revenue vote until our major reform initiatives had become law. We have all made a commitment to reform before revenue, and while ethics reform, pension reform and transportation reform have all been voted in the House, they are still working their way through the legislative pipline. These bills are moving fast for bills of their broad scope, complexity and controversial nature. Usually, the legislature handles only one or two bills of similar difficulty in a two year session. It is likely that all of these bills will be on the Governor’s desk around the same time that the budget arrives there, but until they do, we will all be uncomfortable.

The other problem with moving forward in April was that April is a bell-wether month for revenue forecasts. We have all been aware of the continued drop in state revenues, but there has been no official revision of revenue estimates for Fiscal 2010. Based on the dismal final April results, it is likely that the revenue estimates will be revised downward by over $1 billion (roughly 4% of the state budget).

So, the budget that the House has just debated and passed will likely be substantially revised in conference committee. The House-Senate conferees always have a big job, but this year, they will have extraordinary responsibility to make large decisions about both spending and revenue.

The House, in the uncomfortable but necessary position of moving forward with major related issues unsettled, debated and passed a thoughtful budget that (a) makes a good local aid allocation; (b) reforms our handling of capital gains revenue to better protect against future rainy days; (c) includes deep cuts in programs and public employee compensation elements; (d) is a compassionate document that attempts protect the most vulnerable; (e) makes no draw on reserve funds.

While the final product will end up looking rather different, the House budget makes an important statement about priorities which will influence the choices that the budget conferees make.

For now, those concerned about reform, revenue and the budget will need to continue to watch and wait over the coming weeks as the action passes from the House to the Senate and the conference committees.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

4 replies on “Reform before Revenue — Scheduling Difficulties”

  1. Will,

    A very nice website, but I wonder if your system clock is about half an hour ahead??

    The discussions over the Transportation Bill seem to have been overwhelmed by general budget discussions and decreasing revenues. The House and Senate bill are very different, so a major effect is needed to reconcile them. The Governor’s office also appears to be inflaming tensions at a time when all sides must work together on a budget resolution. This may be the most difficult budget season in decades.

    The idea of “reform before revenue” has failed to yield meaningful reform measures. The Senate proposal to transfer DCR parkways and bridges over to the state highway department is actually destructive and not any sort of reform. I think we need to think up a different set of reforms (without turning government upside down) that will yield meaningful improvements to the public. We must do something with the awful Big Dig debt which is crippling so many state agencies.

    I am sware of two state programs that deserve attention. At DCR their bridge program is probably the best in the state, and is a lengthy creation in excellence extending back to its beginnings around 1980. On the other hand, the DCR forestry program has been damaged by extensive clearcuts and state vandalism against the public forests. One of these programs deserves budget support, the other does not.

    Steve Kaiser


  2. Reform before Revenue – big YES
    No ticky no shirty! No reform no money!
    Regarding Revenue – Boost Businesses with an attractive Environment. No New Taxes! Not increase in Sales Tax.

    A Sales Tax increase is ridiculous! People and businesses are hurting and someone wants us to pay more!

    Reforms: Get rid of those nasty penision systems. How about 401K like I have. Stop giving out free benefits to people who don’t earn them! Get rid of the Turnpike authority.

  3. > Dear Mr. Brownsberger,
    > I saw the new shortages in revenue based on the lower tax collections. I was very annoyed at the comments by Treasurer T. Cahill that we need to stop spending. A front page article in the Globe by Matt Viser even suggested that we may need to stop spending on health care, local aid, and education. I find this idea unacceptable.

    I am also bothered by the suggestion that legalized gambling will be a solution. It will fill the pockets of some companies and individuals, but it will put communities in danger. How many lives and families have been wrecked by gambling and gambling addiction? I strongly oppose gambling as a solution to our financial woes.

    It is time to seriously think about progressive taxation in MA. This is the fair and responsible way of fixing what is wrong and moving the burden to those that can afford it. There are activists and organizers that are thinking about it seriously, even if the speaker of the House is saying that it is off the table.

    Thank you for listening to people’s concerns.

    Alexi Goranov

  4. Dear Representative Brownsberger:

    During the Open Forum on Monday, April 20, 2009 in Cambridge, MA; the MRVP program was mentioned as receiving decreased funding and/or significant cuts.

    I’m aware that the House, the Senate and the Governor’s Office are trying desperately to balance the State budget and reduce a deficit. However, the Human Services programs that are in jeopardy are so crucial for individuals who are in need of these services.

    The MRVP program is intended to provide secure and adequate housing options for low-to-moderate income individuals.

    Decreasing or “under-funding” the MRVP program will have a cascading effect creating greater population homelessness. The Commonwealth needs to reduce homelessness—not contribute to the growing epidemic.

    In my opinion, trying to balance a budget by creating a greater imbalance in society is not the right solution to this equation.

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