The final 2008 state budget came out of committee and was signed by Governor Patrick a little over a week ago. Below is our partial response, composed by another of the extraordinary Pioneer interns, Lincoln Rathnam. (Again, though I would like to take credit, I can’t.):
“The Massachusetts state budget for 2008 is praiseworthy in several respects but also gives us cause for serious concern. In May Pioneer called on the legislature to reject the governor’s proposed addition of $500 million in taxes and fees and to work towards a solution to the state’s public employee pension and retiree health care liabilities. The new budget begins to fund those liabilities. Citizens of Massachusetts can also be thankful that the legislature rejected the new fees and taxes proposed by Governor Patrick.
Not all of the budget is as commendable as the components discussed above. Pioneer has advocated rolling the various higher education line items in the state’s budget into a single line item. Doing so would diminish the risk of wasteful patronage spending. For the same reason Pioneer has argued that the line items for trial courts should be consolidated. The legislature failed to consolidate either the higher education line items or the trial court line items. The new budget also includes a transfer of $240,000,000 to the general fund from the stabilization fund. Pioneer believes that the state should not depend on the stabilization fund, which is finite and intended for emergency use, as a substitute for fiscal restraint. The legislature’s rejection of Governor Patrick’s attempt to move 150 transportation employees off of the capital budget is also regrettable. The governor had proposed that twelve government owned skating rinks should be leased out. The house, contrary to the recommendations of Pioneer, rejected this proposal.
Massachusetts’ taxpayers should also continue to monitor the status of the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability as well as its possible successor organization. The budget allocates money for “completing ongoing audits and those scheduled with school districts as of May 1, 2007,” but after those audits are completed the EQA will no longer exist. The funds allocated to the EQA in the budget will then “be made available to any successor entity.” State legislators and the governor should work to ensure that the successor organization will have the degree of independence necessary to effectively hold school districts accountable for their performance.”