State budget: Late and not so great

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With the next fiscal year now the current fiscal year, it’s good of the Legislature finally to have approved a state budget – unless Gov. Deval Patrick, who has 10 days to review it, refuses to sign it.

It is another reminder that those who make the rules don’t abide by the rules. If we miss a deadline to pay our taxes, we get penalized with interest charges. If we don’t get our car inspected on time, we can get fined and towed. If they’re late approving a budget, they spend the next several days congratulating themselves on all the hard work and tough decisions they made.

The congratulations, besides being unseemly, are also premature – as Joshua Archambault notes in his excellent post below, the budget is balanced on “unrealistic assumptions,” which are the expectation of unprecedented savings in Medicaid. Archambault correctly calls that a “mirage.” Or, in the grand tradition of politics, I’d call it “smoke and mirrors.”

A few other things are worth noting.

According to the Boston Globe, the governor and legislators,

have described the entire state budget as among the most difficult in decades, because the state has been forced to close a $1.9 billion deficit that is mostly the result of the loss of $1.5 billion in federal stimulus money.

The loss of stimulus money? This was not a loss – it was a $1.5 billion gain that the state shouldn’t have had in the first place, since supposedly those funds were meant to stimulate the private, not the public, sector. Remember the promise that it would keep unemployment under 8 percent?

They knew, from the start, that the stimulus was a one-time injection of money to give them time to get their act together. But instead of doing that, they just used it as an excuse to continue business as usual, to delay dealing with budget problems they should have confronted last year.

Then there is the watered-down version of the House plan that would finally have given municipal officials a real tool to control local health care costs.

This tap dance has been going on for years: Gov. Patrick claimed in 2007 that he’d given cities and towns the ability to control their health costs by moving their employees into the less-expensive state Group Insurance Commission, which still offers a better health plan at a better price for the workers than just about any in the private sector.

But, as a favor to his “partners” in labor, he included a poison pill that allowed the unions to veto any such attempt. With that hurdle in place, only about two dozen of 351 municipalities were able to join the GIC.

This budget makes it a bit tougher – unions have lost their automatic veto. Municipal officials can raise deductibles and copayments outside of collective bargaining.

Still, if that produces an impasse, the matter will go before a review panel with one member from labor, one from management and one appointed by the governor’s budget chief.

The lack of a clear time table and resolution process from that panel could lead to something that looks a lot like binding arbitration.

Finally, it is worth noting that even this was too draconian for Sens. Kenneth Donnelly, Marc Pacheco, and Steven Tolman, who claimed this would unfairly diminish the voice of labor unions.

Pacheco, who has been wholly owned by the unions for his entire legislative career, hilariously claimed that this was “a direct attack on the middle class.”

Obviously, the only middle class he knows or cares about is the one on the government payroll. It is Pacheco who has, for decades, been attacking the struggling private-sector middle and lower-middle class workers who get stuck with the bill for benefits for government union workers that are vastly better than their own.

It is sad that the voters in his district keep returning him to office, when he has made it clear he has no interest in representing them if they are on a private payroll.