It’s a moral principle: You don’t ask for more money unless you are
providing fair value. It’s a sound budgeting practice: You can’t ask for
more money until you know what you really need. It’s basic political
wisdom: The voters need to have some confidence in how their money is being
spent or else they will resent any new or increased tax or fee. Finally,
it’s a matter of self esteem. Even the most seasoned and thick-skinned
legislators cringe inside when a new excess or scandal hits the airwaves.
And there have been too many recently.
So, over the past few weeks, the House has considered and approved three
significant reform bills, speaking to ethics reform, transportation reform
and pension reform. Now, we are in the process of considering a very
austere budget proposal from the House Ways and Means Committee. Next
month, we will be considering a substantial municipal relief package which
should include significant cost-saving tools. All of these bills will take
their final form in quiet conference committee negotiations with the Senate.
Expect a series of very major changes to be finalized in June as the new
budget year approaches.
Most observers feel that, even after reforms are achieved, new revenues will
be needed to fill the long term gap in transportation funding (greatly
exacerbated by the Big Dig) and the state’s structural budget gap (mostly
caused by rising health care costs). And, of course, although the federal
stimulus funding has helped greatly, many are concerned that the
Commonwealth’s substantial reserve fund will be insufficient to weather the
There is a lack of consensus in the House at this time as to whether we
should move during the budget debate to seriously consider new revenue
proposals or wait until reforms are fully accomplished. Waiting later in
the year will allow the voters to see more substantial progress and each
passing week gives us more economic data for budgeting purposes. But delay
also extends uncertainty for agencies and municipalities and the people that
In the fall, we will return to some of the deeper reform issues that cannot
be addressed in the crunch of budgeting. A blue ribbon commission will be
further studying public employee benefits. And perhaps we will, with help
from Washington, make progress on the long term challenge of health care
Although the start was a little slow as leadership changed, it seems clear
the legislature will have a productive spring season, and, although the pace
will slow again after the budget, there is much progress to come later.
See the also the attached fact sheet from the speaker’s office on this issue: Reform Fact Sheet.