Last tasks for the Legislature
UNFORESEEEN BUDGET SHORTFALLS are a reality of fiscal life. And with the Legislature due to be off campaigning this fall, Governor Patrick has asked for special, broader powers to make emergency trims, if necessary, to budgets across the state bureaucracy; otherwise, the governor would be obliged to make all the cuts to budgets he directly controls. If the Legislature grants Patrick the authority he seeks, he could then spread the reductions among his own executive offices and the operations of the secretary of state, attorney general, auditor, treasurer, and comptroller, as well as to public universities and colleges, the county sheriffs, and an array of commissions. Having a broader base for budget reductions would allow for lighter cuts in executive branch agencies like, say, the Department of Children and Families.
Patrick wants to bequeath his successor a budget that’s in balance. There’s likely a legacy-preservation motive there; no governor keeping his political options open wants to leave a deficit behind. But it’s also sound fiscal management. The Legislature should either grant Patrick’s request or be prepared to return to session to make cuts on its own.
CHANGING ZONING LAWS could unleash more construction of just the kind of housing that Massachusetts needs most: reasonably priced homes that are close to transit stations and city centers. As the Legislature races to finish its session, lawmakers have several important items of business left to approve, and a pending overhaul of the state’s stifling zoning rules should be one of them.
The Commonwealth’s current zoning laws only make housing prices worse, because they make it easy to build expensive suburban McMansions while throwing up obstacles to transit-oriented development in cities. The proposed revision would give cities and towns new tools and incentives to permit housing in neighborhoods that are most capable of absorbing it, while also giving them tools to reduce the amount of unwanted sprawl.
The cost of housing in Massachusetts is a nothing less than an economic albatross holding the state back. Passing the zoning reform would be a first step to changing that.
INCREASING SOLAR ENERGYis a top priority, and a bill that would provide incentives to more businesses and industrial properties to put up solar panels is still awaiting approval on Beacon Hill. The bill would endorse the Patrick administration’s goal, set last year, of generating 1600 megawatts of power from solar by 2020, and would help it along by increasing the number of large customers who can cut their bills by erecting panels and then selling excess power back to the gird. In return, utilities would be able to charge a minimum distribution fee to customers who otherwise would pay nothing. It’s an artful compromise between green energy boosters and the utility companies that also protects ratepayers; anyone whose monthly bill comes to more than the legislatively established minimum — which negotiators say will be between $5 and $10 — won’t see any increase at all.