BY VOTES so lopsided they were practically unanimous, 144-7 in the House and 38-1 in the Senate, the Massachusetts Legislature last week approved a $36.5 billion budget for fiscal 2015, the largest in state history. The puny band of Republicans who voted against the budget - Senator Robert Hedlund and Representatives James Lyons, Leah Cole, Geoff Diehl, Shawn Dooley, Ryan Fattman, Marc Lombardo, and Leonard Mirra - had no hope of changing the outcome. They didn't even represent a majority of the negligible GOP caucus.
They did, however, take their duties as elected legislators seriously enough to not merely cast a protest vote, but also explain it. None did so more notably than Lyons and Lombardo, who wrote a 1,250-word memo detailing "Why We Voted Against the Budget," and posted it online. The two representatives, both in their second terms, laid out seven principal - and principled - objections to the budget. Among them:
"When someone asks me, have I read the 500 pages that came out this morning? - I printed them off, I'm glancing through them," Representative Denise Andrews of Orange said, according to State House News Service. "But I haven't read it, and I won't, because I believe in the process that we're engaged in. I came in three years ago and have witnessed nothing but excellence and fiscal management from the chairman of Ways and Means and his team."
Lyons and Lombardo, who also entered the Legislature three years ago, take a very different view of their responsibilities. "We need a vigorous clash of ideas about how tax dollars should be spent," says Lyons, a former Democrat. "A small group of us are determined to promote a fiscally conservative philosophy, and we think if we promote it openly, the support will build."
You don't have to be a conservative or a Republican to appreciate that attitude - just a citizen who understands that democratic self-rule wasn't made for unquestioning sheep, and wants a state government that understands it too.
It is time to retire Brad Jones from his leadership position. The time for aquiesence is over.
Last night, the Massachusetts Senate concluded two days of deliberation over its version of the FY2015 budget. The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance has selected 19 votes for inclusion in its scorecard, which you can visit here.
All 19 votes are listed below. MassFiscal would have voted YEA on each of the 18 amendments, but NAY on final passage of the budget, which builds on the misguided tax hikes approved last year.
About half the Senate supported the MassFiscal position just 2 out of 19 times. However, there were a few bright spots:
Senators Don Humason, Richard Ross, and Bruce Tarr supported the MassFiscal position 18 out of 19 times;
Senator Robert Hedlund supported the MassFiscal position 17 out of 19 times;
Senator James Timilty supported the MassFiscal position 13 out of 19 times.
In addition, Senators Donoghue, Lovely, M. Moore, R. Moore, O'Connor Ives, Pacheco, and Rush supported 30%-50% of MassFiscal's positions. All senators other than those listed above voted against MassFiscal's stance at least 75% of the time.
At the other end of the spectrum, Senator Benjamin Downing supported the MassFiscal position just once in 19 votes, the lowest rate of any senator.
As the week winds down, we've posted three new votes to our scorecard. All three took place during debates over the supplemental budget currently being discussed on Beacon Hill.
House More Frequent Review of Regulations (Roll Call #372): This amendment, sponsored by Rep. O'Connell of Taunton, would have mandated that all state regulations be reviewed for their impact on small business every 5 years, rather than on the current 12-year cycle. The amendment, which MassFiscal supported failed 30-117 on a mostly party-line vote (D: 1-117; R: 29-0).
Senate Full Waiver from the Affordable Care Act (Roll Call #303): This amendment, sponsored by Sen. Tarr of Gloucester, would have sought permission for Massachusetts to return to its pre-Obamacare health insurance system in order to avoid spending even more money fixing the broken HealthConnector. The amendment, which MassFiscal supported, failed 4-33 on an entirely party-line vote (D: 0-33; R: 4-0).
Last week, the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance added TWELVE new votes to its legislative scorecard. As noted elsewhere on RMG, the updates have caused many members' scores to go change, some significantly. In addition, the House votes were the first taken by the four new representatives elected in the April specials.
A brief summary of the new updates appears below, but head on over to our scorecard to see all the details and find out how your representative and senator scores!
Amendment 67 to the state budget, filed by Rep. Jim Lyons, would have defunded Common Core and PARCC testing in Massachusetts. The language of that amendment is below
Mr. Lyons of Andover moves to amend the bill by inserting at the end thereof the following new section: - "Section XXXX. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), herein known as the department, shall expend no funds to develop or implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), nor shall the department expend any funds to develop or implement the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment."
The final vote was 119-31. The vote was mostly partisan, in spite of the fact that opposition to Common Core and PARCC is widespread across party lines. It was surprising to see legislators like John Velis, Diana DiZoglio, Hank Naughton and Danielle Gregoire vote against this common-sense amendment. Don't they realize how much their constituents are already being hurt by this new intrusion in our educational system?
(the scorecard - promoted by Rob "EaBo Clipper" Eno)
There's not a lot left to mention that hasn't already been said about the debate-stifling rules (H. 3999) adopted by the House of Representatives on Tuesday for debating the FY2015 budget.
Needless to say, MassFiscal is scoring four of the most problematic votes taken during the debate. They are listed below along with brief commentary. As always, we welcome your feedback at email@example.com.
Allowing amendments dealing with local aid (Roll call #324): The amendment offered by minority leadership (Reps. Jones, Peterson, Hill, Poirier, and deMacedo) sought to remove the restriction on proposing changes to local aid levels. MassFiscal strongly SUPPORTED this amendment. House leadership opposed this effort on the grounds that local aid levels have already been set in prior legislation. It failed 31-115 (D: 2-115 [Reps. Garry and Zlotnik]; R: 29-0)
Allowing amendments dealing with EBT and welfare reform (Roll call #325): The amendment offered by the minority leadership sought to remove the restriction on proposing reforms to EBT and other similar programs. MassFiscal strongly SUPPORTED this amendment. House leadership opposed this effort on the grounds that an EBT reform bill is currently in conference committee. It failed 31-115 (D: 2-115 [Reps. Garry and Zlotnik]; R: 29-0)
Allowing extra time to propose amendments (Roll call #326): The amendment offered by the minority leadership sought to change the deadline for filing amendments to the budget from April 11th (48 hours after it was released) to April 16th (1 week later). MassFiscal strongly SUPPORTED this amendment. House leadership opposed this effort on the grounds that it would make the budget process messier. It failed 29-116 (D: 0-116; R: 29-0)
Final passage of rules for debating the budget (Roll call #327): This was the final up-or-down vote on passing the resolution outlining the rules for debating the budget. In large part because of the failure the amendments described above, MassFiscal OPPOSED passage of the resolution. It passed 117-29 (D: 117-0; R: 0-29).
As we reported yesterday, John Boehner is holding a vote on the Murray-Ryan budget compromise bill today in the House of Representatives. There has been a split in the GOP in DC over this bill, and progressive groups have also found fault in the bill. That's why what is happening today is interesting.
Yesterday both the house and senate passed a $500M tax package, supposedly to pay for transportation projects. The taxes include a 3 cent increase in the gas tax that will increase every year with inflation, this way the legislature will never have to vote on the tax again. The house passed the bill by a vote of 106-47 (roll call not yet available). The Senate only had six votes against.
Also included in the legislation is a software services tax. The tax, according to Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman) is poorly defined and will be subject to interpretation by the Department of Revenue, and must be enacted within 4 days of passage, to start July 1, 2013.
In a statement issued by his office Wednesday evening, Patrick said he could not support the bill because it fails to account for a revenue source that will not be available in the future. While the statement did not specify that source, it was an apparent reference to tolls on the western portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike that are scheduled to be taken down in 2017.
Without those tolls, the Patrick administration believes the $805 million in new transportation funding that the bill promises by fiscal year 2018 would not be achievable.
Of course the Governor threw his temper tantrum while out of the state. There is no news if it involved a bottle of chardonnay and a nap.
The amendments coming out of the Republican Leadership office are mighty wordy. We were only able to put 4.5 amendments in the last post before reaching the character limit in our software. So here's another section of GOP Leadership Office Amendments.
Part 2 of the series on Budget Amendments will look at Republican reform amdendments, most of which were filed by Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica), Shaunna O'Connell (R- Taunton), Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman), Kevin Kuros (R-Uxbridge), and Jim Lyons (R-Andover).
The House budget for Fiscal year 2014 is out, and can be read at this link. In addition, amendments to the budget were due yesterday at 5:00 PM. Here at Red Mass Group, over the weekend, we will list all Republican Amendments. They will be listed in amendment number order.
You can see the first set of amendments after the jump.
Paul D. Craney of Mass Fiscal Alliance has a column in today's Taunton Daily Gazette and Fall River Herald and makes the point about the single issue that unites Democrats, Republicans and unenrolled voters, read it here.
LINK TO STORY http://www.tauntongazette.com/...
(Charts and Graphs... - promoted by Rob "EaBo Clipper" Eno)
I'm issuing a "tipping point timeline" of the key fiscal events during the campaign that will highlight Washington gridlock that is putting the Nation’s economic recovery at risk. Washington isn’t working. Too often the Washington insiders talk past each other rather than work together to solve problems. The scope of the problem is clear: at the current rate of spending, the size of the federal debt will soon surpass the size of the national economy. What isn't clear is Washington’s will to fix it.
Mitt Romney re-introduced himself to the nation with a stunning performance that even David Axelrod, with a very thin reed upon which to praise his boss, gave the former MA governor points for style.
But it was Romney's substance that rolled over Obama throughout the 90 minute debate. On taxes, the budget and health care, Romney was well-briefed, intelligent and exceptionally crisp. His strong convention speech was strong but soon forgotten in the noise of the campaign. The debate performance lost none of the August enthusiasm. The resilient Romney has come alive when it matters the most. Game-change is a term that doesn't capture the energy coming from the once-skeptical base from last night's showing.
In contrast, Obama was off his charming game, stumbling, stretching for facts, grasping for flashes of me-too responses. Obama favors cutting taxes. Did you hear that? The debate showed that Obama has spent too much time on the night-time shows and The View, away from the gritty details that spell success. Can we thank Romney stand-in, Senator John Kerry for bad preparation? And can we now praise Sen. Rob Portman for any sagely advice given to Gov. Romney?
Romney was presidential and thoughtful. He put in a performance that not only revived his candidacy but the Republican Party. Romney reminds us that he is a GOP presidential candidate who can string together a coherent sentence freeing use from the despair of candidates who don't get the power of language.The party faithful who early on put their faith in Romney have been vindicated. The cantankerous Tea Party should realize the stakes on November 6. Romney's citation of the 10th amendment and its wrap-around defense of RomneyCare was a shrill call to those worried about the breaching of the constitution by executive order.
The President's performance was so listless and unfocused that the compliant mainstream media refused to spin on his behalf. It too must think of its credibility on occasion.
The President declined for some reason not to sting Romney on the supposed weak links of the GOP recapitulated time and time again by the media: no mention of the Romney 47% gaffe, no talk on budget items favoring women i.e. health care and family planning. There was the usual pandering to college students by President who blamed the fee-gauging bankers, those middle men in the student loan chain. But the President could not connect.
More critically and more specifically the superior Romney performance exposes the pathetic liberal media bias that has dominated the news cycle since the end of the conventions. Romney has called them out. He has the details. He has the style. He has the chops.
For social justice reasons, and simply as one of the tens of thousands of registered voters and citizens of this Commonwealth, I am writing to openly, respectfully and impartially call upon Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, State Senator Dan Wolf, as well as all federal, state, county & municipal public office incumbents and candidates in Massachusetts to sign the Citizens for Limited Taxation, "Taxpayer Protection Pledge."
Bearing in mind the ongoing tough economic times that we all face, the aforementioned pledge provides a measure of good faith by said office holders and candidates to the taxpayers and constituents of their respective geographical areas and to all people within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Furthermore, it clearly indicates that they shall oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes during their tenure in office, if elected.
Cape Codders, along with the other citizens of this state, need to be reassured that their interests are going to be looked after and protected by the individuals they vote into public office. They do not need to have any further economic burdens thrust upon them in the form of increased taxes of whatever type for at least the next several years at a minimum.
Over the past couple of weeks we've heard countless officials talk about the "fixed cost", and "mandatory spending" problem we face as a Commonwealth. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We don't have a problem of that magnitude, because under our constitutional system a crisis of that type cannot exist. What we have is a cowardice on the part of leaders to take on a rapidly spinning out of control model of government.
The Massachusetts constitution is clear. The legislature appropriates, each year, the spending of the Commonwealth and the Governor approves it. No where in the constitution does it say that we must outlay anything of a mandatory nature.
The "fixed costs" that Governor Patrick, and his administration carp about are statutory requirements of law. Laws which can be changed at any time, if our leaders had the courage to do so.
The growing ranks of Republican legislators on Beacon Hill would do well to remind the governor and his Democratic allies in the legislature of this fact as budget season progresses. It would show the public that the GOP is pushing for real change.
Continuing down the path we are on is not "mandatory". It is cowardice on the part of those we elect to actually lead.
Back in February, Bill Gates gave an interesting lecture regarding the effects of unsustainable State Budgets on public education. He brings up a key point, one which lawmakers everywhere, but especially Massachusetts, should take note of - unfunded liabilities will not be remedied by increased revenues, but by increased reform. You can see the video here -
No it wasn't easy. Nor was it done simply by cutting spending.
In fact, in 2002, the Legislature passed a revenue package worth about $1.1 billon - tax increases that took effect on Jan. 1, 2003. That was part of a balanced approach that saw the state reduce spending, raise taxes, and tap rainy day reserves, notes Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. [...]
Instead, spokeswoman Marcie Kinzel called shortly thereafter. She said the senator was talking specifically about action taken under Mitt Romney, who became governor on Jan. 2, 2003. And to be fair, later in the column, Brown does write that "when the Legislature was faced with those daunting deficits in 2003, we didn't panic and increase taxes.''
That's certainly a convenient starting point, ignoring as it does the big tax hike that began to benefit state coffers that very year. But even then, the notion that once Romney took the helm, Beacon Hill simply cut spending is misleading. Under Romney, the state hiked fees for permits and licenses and closed corporate loopholes to raise hundreds of millions in new revenues.
Those fees and loophole closings (closings that businesses certainly viewed as tax hikes) brought in more than $600 million. Include other one-time dollars, and the state used about $800 million in additional revenue to close the budget gap, Widmer says. Add in the fact that the budget problem turned out to be a third smaller than the preliminary projection of $3 billion, and the truth is clear: New revenues were a substantial part of the solution.
Scott Brown's spokeswoman spins the lie by saying that even though the budget gap was closed by a huge tax increase that took effect in 2003, it doesn't count - heck, it doesn't exist! - because it was passed in 2002. That's a "heckuva" way to govern, Scotto. No cooking the books there to attempt to make an utterly weak and mathematically indefensible point.
And then there's still Romney historic pile-on of fees! Desperate to raise anything that could be nominally called a tax, Romney hikes fees and closes loopholes. Which are revenue! And which Brown oh so conveniently ignores to attempt to make an intellectually and factually dishonest point.
Then, Lehigh throws down the most important of gauntlets to test Brown's supposed "courage" and "independence":
If he were interested in that kind of clear-eyed analytical approach, he wouldn't be contending that Massachusetts had solved its budget problems through cuts alone. Instead, he'd acknowledge that new revenues, be they the 2002 tax hike or the Romney-era fees, loophole closings, and one-time measures, were also a big part of the solution.
And if, with that truth acknowledged, Brown was still gutsy enough to hold Massachusetts up as a model? Well, then, he'd be showing real independence of mind by breaking with the GOP's no-new-taxes absolutism and forthrightly advocating the kind of balanced approach most fiscal experts recommend.
Hey, Scotto, got guts? Want to put some oomph behind your heretofore weak claim of being an independent voice? Call for new revenues!
Heck, if Brown made a floor speech in the U.S. Senate with some compromise position on taxes - say "$250,000 is just middle class in some areas, but we can all agree that an annual income of $1 million is well-off enough to contribute more in income taxes, so let's return incomes of $1 million+ to the Clinton era 39% marginal rate, when America's economic grew at its fastest rate in history, which, along with spending cuts, will help close the federal deficit and get our fiscal house in order; and I urge Speaker Boehner and the House GOP to take up this measure, too, in the name of economic integrity" - Brown would instantly be hailed as a bipartisan leader, a true independent, and a real force for compromise and achievement in Congress.
But, then again, Brown isn't really an "independent" voice, is he?
(You mean to tell me that the powers that be on Beacon Hill aren't telling the truth. I'm shocked, shocked I tell ya. - promoted by Rob "EaBo Clipper" Eno)
Today the Legislature will vote on the final state budget.
I wanted to take one last opportunity to highlight the unrealistic assumptions that are being used for the MassHealth (Medicaid) program. If the state is unable to achieve these “savings” and instead follows historic spending trends, it could be looking at a $900 million gap, just for MassHealth.
For years, Medicaid costs have advanced robustly, at roughly 7% per year which is a big number given that it’s building on a base of billions. See Pioneer's work on this here.
The Legislature is hoping for the state to drive down its per Medicaid enrollee costs by 3.5% next year. How have we done at that recently? On average, per enroll costs have gone up by 5% per year and it has never been negative over the past seven years.
First introduced in the Governor’s budget, both chambers followed his lead to include close to $1 billion in “savings” to decrease spending on the program. (The Senate didn't reach the same level, because of additional spending on adult day health and children's behavioral health, among a few others)
The most certain of the cuts–reductions in reimbursements rate to providers– may be in jeopardy given recent comments from the Obama Administration.(See my blog on the issue here) However, reducing reimbursements rates only exacerbates the access problem Medicaid patients face to find a doctor that will take their insurance.
Other sections of the final budget that pertain to MassHealth and should be noted are:
1) The inclusion of a forecasting office, because MassHealth has such a poor record in this area.
2) $1,000,000 for the expansion of auditing activities in MassHealth.
Before the Legislature and the Governor--assuming he signs the budget without amendment-- can claim a balanced budget, they need to address the real issues in the MassHealth program.