By Jim O’Sullivan
State House News Service
STATE HOUSE — In reality, it’s the taxpayers who are out of touch. They have no idea what Beacon Hill is going through, the stresses it’s under, the pressures. The taxpayers have never sat at Beacon Hill’s kitchen table and had to make the tough decisions, between laying off mental health caseworkers and, say, filling a job that state government has managed without since the Weld administration with a longtime political backer to the tune of $175,000 a year.
There were revelations of last-minute raises by former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, first-minute raises by new Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate non-party-line votes against a hiring freeze on state workers and a 1-percent budget cut for the Executive Branch. There was additional discussion of the new $40,000 job as a senior assistant aide to the clerk enjoyed by former Rep. Anthony Verga. Unsurprisingly, talk radio stamped disapproval on Gov. Deval Patrick’s vacation in Jamaica, chiefly because it cost the taxpayers to pay for the State Police detail.
Meantime, tax talk is alive and well on the Hill. Recently it was a fresh penny on the 5-cent sales tax picking up steam, floated and lightly vetted during a House caucus. An income tax boost, political hemlock, did not debut with as much popularity.
The House heard more bad news on the budget, a gap next fiscal year as high as $4.3 billion, exacerbated later when Senate budget chief Steven Panagiotakos, thinking the administration was too optimistic with capital gains projections, said the new current-year deficit could hit $700 million by the end of April. If the figure reaches $1 billion by June’s close, the fiscal 2009 shortfall would total $3.5 billion, meaning the original appropriations bill overspent by roughly 12 percent.
“If we still haven’t hit the number in March or April, and we continue to free fall, all options are on the table,” Panagiotakos said, referring to sweeping cuts and an even bigger draw on the so-called rainy day fund.
That’s not the issue that most legislators have their eye on, though. It’s the separate, 20-year, $20 billion transportation gap that has dominated the capitol this year and will continue to, for another two weeks anyway. There’s the seemingly endless debate over whether reforms should come before revenues, and the coming-to-a-head fight over whether and how much to ask for in taxes or tolls. Senate President Therese Murray re-drew her line in the sand that reforms must come first. Transportation Secretary James Aloisi didn’t back off the administration’s stance that there’s no time to do reforms.
A politically charged tidal wave is making its way to the Statehouse, and city and town halls, the confluence of years of budget shenanigans, overspending, delayed decisions, flat-out wrong decisions, and, now, the tattered global economy. It’ll break on these shores in the form of up-down votes on taxes, and whether incumbent victims are caught in the undertow is unclear.
“You’ve got one bullet in that gun,” Rep. Daniel Bosley said of a tax vote, “and if you shoot it on transportation, what do you do for the budget?”
Bosley, not the powerhouse under DeLeo he was under DiMasi: “How many times can you go to people for taxes, especially when we’re in the worst economic situation we’ve been in for 70 years, 80 years?”
That’s part of why the timing of Sen. Marian Walsh’s appointment to the Mass. Housing and Education Facilities Authority was so hideous for the administration, because it lumps in with the Wilkerson-Marzilli-Vitale-toll-filching axis of misdeeds, alleged or otherwise, and as the fiscal crisis wreaks havoc among real people. Even Patrick’s radio hosts, WTKK’s Margery Eagan and Jim Braude, were slaughtering the governor on a recent Thursday, Eagan charging the administration with “a political tin ear.” The Walsh pick will be used as campaign rhetoric if anyone ever decides to run against Patrick, which Patrick advisers assert Treasurer Timothy Cahill now has.
Similar to the Aloisi appointment, the administration knew it was going to get drilled, but decided it was worth it, though perhaps they were not planning on the decapitative Boston Herald headline following the appointment: “Is this a joke, Gov?”