By G. Michael Dobbs
I didn't watch the governor deliver his State of the State Address on Thursday, knowing that I would get a copy of his speech in my e-mail. I commend him for a short, to-the-point address that had some noble sounding rhetoric about pulling together in these difficult times.
We can already see, however, how that spirit fails to exist among some members of the Legislature who accepted their most recent raise in light of our state budget struggles.
Honestly, why should they get a raise when people in state government who are performing front-line duties are losing their jobs? Any explanations, folks?
The following paragraphs of the governor's caught my attention:
"Meanwhile, the national economy is making much of what we need to do harder to do. In October, we identified and closed a $1.4 billion gap in our state budget. With the economy continuing to deteriorate, we foresee the need for another $1.1 billion in cuts and other budget solves this month. At the end of this month, I will file an Emergency Recovery Plan to close this further gap. My request is simple: Give us the tools and we will finish the job.
"I will also file a balanced budget proposal later this month for the coming fiscal year. Given the decline in state revenue, spending must be at levels significantly below what they have been in better times. No one's priorities will be spared. Local services will be cut, and in many cases, police, firefighters and teachers will face layoffs. But as we debate these proposals among ourselves and with the advocates, let us remember that we are doing no more in state government than the people of the Commonwealth are having to do in their own lives to make do with less, to trim down wherever we can to get through to a better time.
"I know the impact is real. I see the people with disabilities whose work opportunities have changed. I see the youth workers whose efforts at violence reduction are more limited. I see the college and university instructors, the home health aides, the childcare providers and so many others who deliver vital services, but who work without a contract or adequate pay.
"Some think that cutting government is always good. But they see only abstractions. Behind every one of those budget line items, I see somebody's best chance or only chance. And I will do my best to make the decisions I have to make with the impact of them clearly in mind.
"We need everyone to contribute. We cut nearly $800 million from the Executive Branch last October, and will make another round of deep cuts as part of our Emergency Recovery Plan. In my office, we cut expenses by 17 percent in this year's budget, and will make additional cuts in the next fiscal year. Given the times, as you consider your own spending, I am asking the Legislature and my fellow constitutional officers to do no less."Governor Patrick's State of the Commonwealth Address
This is what everyone has been waiting for-- the shell is in the gun and we know it will go off.
So, in other words, we are out of luck. "We" meaning the cities and towns in the Commonwealth that have relied on state aid to supplement property taxes. The only thing that could arrest some of this budget erosion is the federal stimulus package that is being dangled in front of this nation like a canteen of water to a person dying of thirst.
Can it succeed? I'd like to think so, but I do know one thing. It's not going to if Massachusetts lawmakers succumb to business as usual. Whatever funds come into the Commonwealth for state control of the distribution have to be allocated by a formula rather than politics. The speed of getting those funds to the local level so public works projects can start, putting people back to work and making a difference is crucial. They cannot be held hostage by the kind of petty politics we see all too often in this state.
And Boston can't monopolize those funds.
Can we overcome our long history of selfishness? Can we for once we do the right thing? For the sake of this state and its residents, I hope so.
My friend Michaelann Bewsee posted the following on her blog (http://michaelannland.blogspot.com): "Here in Springfield, MA, the bitterest cold is yet to come. Forecasters predict that ten of the next fourteen days will have temperatures 15 degrees or lower.
"This is no good for anybody, but for people who don't have a home of their own and must spend a significant portion of each day out of doors, the weather is painful at best and life-threatening at worst.
"The Economic Justice Committee of my organization, Arise for Social Justice, has been collecting info to make sure that no homeless people are barred from shelter in this weather. So far, it looks like the shelters and the city have a system in place, although of course we'll be keeping an eye on the situation.
"As usual, Arise has little money, but my sister Liz and I decided this morning we're going to ask the rest of the committee if we can spend $100 to buy gloves to hand out at the local shelters.
"One hundred dollars won't go very far, however. Is anyone willing to contribute gloves or a little money to help us make this happen?
"The Arise phone number is 734-4948; our address is 467 State St., Springfield, MA 01105."
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