Our Legislature has a Spending Problem

Late Thursday night, while many of the taxpayers in the Commonwealth slept, the Massachusetts Senate pulled a few fast ones. First, and expectedly, it tacked on another $76 million in spending to an already bloated budget. No spending plan is rich enough for the Legislature these days, so 

it’s not surprising that the Senate packed some extra goodies into its budget at the 11th hour. Adding insult to injury, the Senate alsooverwhelmingly denied taxpayers and small businesses even one day without sales tax by shooting down the tax-holiday amendment.

Then, in a brazenly politically motivated move that threw the normal policymaking process out the window, the Senate added an amendment laying the groundwork to make Massachusetts a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants. This amendment—which has no place in budget legislation in the first place—makes us less safe, takes away crucial decision-making authority from local law enforcement and has the potential to cost our state billions in federal aid and additional expense.

Massachusetts government spending has risen 34% over the past 10 years, while real incomes have increased only 6%. As anyone who has ever balanced a budget knows, this spending spree is not sustainable and rational people or businesses would have to make hard decisions and cut spending.  Yet our state’s elected officials keep pursuing more revenues to cover their out of control spending problems. 

For example, the Legislature also has paved the way for a “millionaires’ tax” on the ballot.  This will not only hit high earners – nearly 80% of those making a million or more are reporting income from a business such as a sole proprietorship or partnership.  Accordingly, placing a 4% surtax on these revenues will hurt small businesses.  We also have a current minimum hourly wage that’s 52% higher than national average of $7.25 and another potential ballot referendum that will increase it to $15/hour which would be more than double the current national average.  Make no mistake – this is another tax on business because the state realizes the additional wage tax on these increased revenues. We are delusional if we don’t think that these tax burdens won’t drive resources and jobs out of our state as a whole and Western Mass even moreso.

As spring turns to summer, Governor Charlie Baker will be left, as always, to rein in the Legislature’s out-of-control extravagance and attempt to instill some measure of fiscal responsibility to the FY2019 budget. Our state constitution requires a balanced budget, which our legislature has been ignoring over the past few years.  Last year we were $400 million in the hole. The Governor proposed $320M in cuts (a mere 0.8% of overall, $40B budget), and our Democrat controlled Legislature overrode nearly 90% of those reasonable cuts. 

How much is enough?

One of the primary reasons I’m running for elected office is that I believe that too many of our representatives have simply stopped paying attention to the voters that gave them their jobs. I’ve spoken with a lot of people across the 2nd Hampden in the past three months, and many of them are working hard to make ends meet due to the pressures of healthcare costs and rising expenses for everyday living. Every household and family in Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Hampden and Monson has some version of a budget it must adhere to. It has to reconcile the dollars out with the dollars in—to make reasoned choices about what it can afford and can’t.

I would argue, given that we never know exactly when the next economic downturn or even recession may hit, that our Commonwealth should do the same. The trouble is, our current Legislature simply doesn’t have the discipline or desire to say no to tens of millions of dollars in spending growth every year.

Beyond better fiscal discipline, we also need to do a better job evaluating the effectiveness of the money we’re spending. In a Commonwealth that already has problems of transparency in government, too many of our state budget expenditures take place in the dark. Official audits have found serious problems with responsible use of monies and program management. Yet we continue to steadily increase budgets, year over year, with insufficient consideration of the good our money is doing—or, in many cases, isn’t doing.

If elected, I would develop legislation to require much more rigorous evaluation of the way our money is spent by the State House, and greater transparency around how budgets are developed and implemented. It would be one important step toward heading off further late-night shenanigans like those that took place last week. It’s our money they are spending. We deserve better.

 

Allison Werder is a Longmeadow resident and the former president of MassLive Media.  She is currently a candidate for State Representative in the 2ndHampden District which includes Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Hampden and Monson.

She can be reached via www.WerderForRep.com or email her at Allison@WerderForRep.com.