I found myself voting in the minority — with the Republicans and a small group of Democrats — on three financial integrity issues this week.
The first vote pertained to legislative operations spending. I voted to sustain the Governor’s veto of the rollover of $18.8 million in excess funds from prior years in legislative accounts. The effect of the rollover is to allow a substantial increase in spending in legislative operations above last year’s expenditure. This just didn’t feel right given the cuts that we are making elsewhere across the budget. Actual fiscal 2009 spending in legislative accounts totaled $60.2 million, $10 million above fiscal 2004 spending. Adding the rollover to previously appropriated 2010 funds of $53.7 million, will make $72.5 million available for expenditure in the present fiscal year. Following the controversial vote, the Senate President and the speaker announced unspecified voluntary reductions of $5.5 million, but this still leaves sufficient funds for a substantial increase in spending.
According to the Controller, as of Saturday, November 7, the total headcount in the legislature (House, Senate, and joint operations) , excluding 40 Senators and 160 Representatives, was 841. The headcount of 841 consists of core legislative staff. It does not include people involved in the operation of the statehouse like park rangers and cleaning staff. 841 is well above the 2004 level of 776. To be fair, most of the growth occurred in 2005 and 2006. But in a time of recession — when we are cutting lifeline programs for the homeless and the disabled, not to mention police officers, firefighters and teachers — it seems wrong to continue to hire and maintain a relatively high staffing level.
The second vote pertained to disclosure of the objects of legislative operational spending. Under Chapter 7, Section 22 of the Mass. General Laws and related regulations, all purchasing except for legislative and military purchasing, are subject to regulation and disclosure through the office of the Controller. Since Fiscal 2007, payroll expenses for the legislature are run through the Controller, but legislative purchases of goods and services remain exempt and are not disclosed to the controller and are not public records.
The invisible non-payroll legislative operating expenses total roughly $5 million per year. Especially given the indictment of our most recent past speaker, this lack of transparency is unacceptable. An amendment was offered to require itemization of legislative spending. To neuter that amendment, a further amendment was offered requiring disclosure of any information “transmitted to the controller”. The irony of this further amendment — not fully appreciated by most members at the time of the vote — was that, by law, there is no requirement to so transmit non-payroll expenditures and, in fact, according to Administration and Finance, they not routinely so transmitted. The further amendment was approved by a vote of 116 – 35.
The final major vote in which I voted in the minority was on the budget as a whole. The Governor and most outside observers peg the current year deficit at $600 million or more. The Governor’s executive branch cuts combined with movements of surplus funds amounted to $484 million. The legislature declined to make any additional cuts arguing that revenues seemed to be bouncing back. Conceivably, the legislative bet will turn out to be right, but even so, it would have been more equitable to cut some of our own legislative spending and restore some of the painful human service cuts that the Governor made.