BOSTON (AP) — A taxpayers watchdog groups says Massachusetts’ budget shortfall could be as high as $1.5 billion, nearly twice what the administration is estimating.
The president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation told organizations that rely on state funding to “Brace yourselves for a new reality.”
The foundation’s projected shortfall assumes funding for programs considered discretionary, from public safety to aid to municipalities, stays level.
Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration has projected a $768 million shortfall. Earlier this month he outlined more than $500 million in spending cuts to help close the gap. Has said he will not raise taxes.
Kristen Lepore, Baker’s budget chief, tells The Boston Globe that state spending is growing at almost twice the rate of tax revenue, which she calls “unsustainable.”
State Rep. John Velis of the 4th Hampden District said that while he can’t confirm the accuracy of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundations projections right now, he agrees that they are “100 percent correct” in their assessment that organizations that are reliant on state funding need to brace themselves for a new reality.
“From a fiscal standpoint it is absolutely foolhardy to think we can balance our state budget when state spending is growing at almost twice the rate of tax revenue,” he said, adding that Lepore is ‘absolutely right’ in describing the Commonwealth’s spending practices as ‘unsustainable.’
“If you are spending almost double what your taking in for revenue, nobody should be surprised that we’re dealing with a very significant budget shortfall,” said Velis before calling on his legislative colleagues to take a very hard look at spending this budget cycle in an effort to avoid massive budget shortfalls in the future.
“There is a huge misconception out there that if you don’t spend money on a government program, that program will cease to exist. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Velis said. “What government needs to do is demand that taxpayers’ money is spent more efficiently and effectively. The solution to every government problem should not and cannot be to throw more money at the problem.”
Following a hearing regarding the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority yesterday, state Sen. Don Humason, Jr. of the 2nd Hampden-Hampshire District said that he is waiting to see what Baker’s budget will entail when it is unveiled next Wednesday.
“I’ve been a legislator for 12, 13 years and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a fiscal year when they haven’t predicted a shortfall or some sort of budgetary problem,” said Humason, describing the state budget as a ‘moving target’. “Whether it is the MBTA, our healthcare or state entitlement systems, they are parts of government and we’ve got to deal with what we’ve got before us, as a legislature and with the Baker/Polito administration.”
Humason also stated that Baker’s intimate understanding of Massachusetts politics will help him navigate the state’s massive and complex budget.
“(Deval) Patrick and (Mitt) Romney were both ‘outsiders’, so when they came into government, they didn’t come in with the breadth of political experience that Charlie Baker possesses as a former secretary and that Karyn Polito has a former legislator,” said Humason, who added that both the Governor and Lieutenant Governor told him and the rest of the Republican caucus recently that the situation is growing more and more dire.
“They said that the more they uncover, the more that they realize that there is to fix,” said Humason. “I don’t think the previous administration did the legislature or the new governor any favors. We really have a lot of problems to deal with and not a lot of time to deal with it.”
The Westfield Republican believes that a lot of cuts may come from the state healthcare, pension, and entitlement systems.
“Any of the areas where there was any discretion at all will have to be looked at,” said Humason, adding that he hopes Baker lives up to his promises not to touch Chapter 90 and 70 funding.
“(Baker) said during the campaign that he wouldn’t balance the budget on the backs of cities and towns and that local aid will be held harmless,” he said. “But when I think of local aid, I think of libraries, regional school transportation, homeless student transportation. So it remains to be seen whether the Governor holds those things harmless, too, or just the major accounts.”