The Argument: Was Governor Baker right to make his recent midyear budget cuts?
Hannah E. Kane
State representative, Shrewsbury Republican
The governor is empowered to use his authority to reduce spending if the Secretary of Administration and Finance determines that budgeted revenues will not be sufficient to meet budgeted expenditures. Disappointing tax revenues and growing exposure for underfunded accounts such as public defense services for indigent defendants and family homelessness services have prompted Governor Charles Baker to use spending cuts to bring this year’s state budget back into balance.
The reductions are one quarter of one percent of the $39.25 billion state budget. While the scope does not lessen the impacts of these cuts, which affect several of my own priorities, we must be candid in the overall fiscal environment of the Commonwealth.
The Baker-Polito Administration took office in January 2015 inheriting serious fiscal challenges: a $765 million mid-year fiscal 2015 budget deficit and a nearly $1.8 billion shortfall looming for fiscal 2016. The fiscal 2015 budget gap remained despite governor Deval Patrick having already implemented over $198.1 million in cuts himself in the fall of 2014.
The culprit of this persistent gap is expenses that far outpaced yearly tax revenue growth. The fiscal 2015 budget that Governor Patrick signed into law was up 5.6 percent from the preceding year. Compounding the aggressive expense growth was an unhealthy reliance on the state’s stabilization — or “rainy day” — fund and one-time revenue sources to balance the budget for eight years.
The Baker-Polito Administration, working with the House and Senate, has brought fiscal restraint to Beacon Hill. Together, we are seeking to rebuild the Commonwealth’s long-term fiscal health by controlling expenses, rebuilding the rainy day fund reserves, and paying down debt, while achieving balanced budgets that provide increases in local aid and education funding and address such priorities as defeating the opioid epidemic and bringing reforms to the Department of Children and Families — all without tax increases. While debate on the necessity and merits of timing will always accompany the painful decision to authorize cuts, the administration strongly believes that the fiscal indicators necessary to trigger their use are clear.
Karen E. Spilka
State senator, Ashland Democrat, chair of Senate Ways and Means Committee
Each year, the Massachusetts Legislature carefully debates and passes a budget for the state, making targeted investments to support vulnerable people and build stronger, healthier communities. That is the process we followed again this year when we passed our budget in June. Governor Charles Baker’s budget cuts announced earlier this month are unwarranted and will have harmful consequences in MetroWest and across the Commonwealth.
The Legislature sent Governor Baker a fiscally responsible and balanced budget for fiscal 2017, and revenue collections remain nearly on track. Despite weaker revenue performance than expected at the end of the last fiscal year and the beginning of the current year, tax revenue numbers in the past few months have improved, and the Commonwealth’s overall economic position is strong. As chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, I continue to closely monitor the state’s revenue performance, but these budget cuts are premature.
These cuts threaten many important programs for vulnerable people in our communities, including approximately $6 million in reductions to housing support and homelessness prevention services, $1.9 million in cuts to substance abuse prevention programming, $900,000 in cuts to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and $400,000 in cuts to services for terminally ill children.
In MetroWest, many community initiatives aimed at addressing critical local needs, such as substance abuse, education, and economic growth, will see reduced funding. The cuts to local programs include, but are not limited to, community-based youth substance abuse prevention programs in Ashland and Hopkinton, an academic intervention and dropout prevention initiative in Framingham, and an elementary special education initiative in Holliston. Downtown revitalization efforts in Franklin and economic development and tourism programming at the MetroWest Visitors Bureau will also lose indispensable funds.
Every dollar in the state budget has a real impact on the lives of MetroWest children, families, and communities. Especially during times of fiscal uncertainty, we must preserve investments for our most vulnerable residents and do what we can to advance health and prosperity across the Commonwealth. We should not reduce this essential support unless absolutely necessary. That is not the situation today.
Last Week’s Argument: Is the former Baldwin School site the best location for a new Brookline elementary school?
Yes: 2 percent (9 votes)
No: 98 percent (550 votes)