BOSTON -- Ahead of Tax Day, Governor Charlie Baker penned an op-ed in the Lowell Sun challenging the Beacon Hill Democrats' status quo of measuring government by how much taxpayer money it spends. "Instead of simply adding up how much money state government spends, let's measure how well government delivers on its stated objectives for the dollars it collects from taxpayers," Governor Baker writes. "That would be far more aspirational than simply spending a whole lot more of someone else's money to reward and perpetuate the same old same old."
Op-Ed: Let's judge government not by how much it spends, but how it's spent
By Governor Charlie Baker
This week, millions of Massachusetts taxpayers will be sending state government a significant chunk of their hard earned money. As they write that annual tax check, most will wonder where all of this money is going, and whether they will be asked for even more next year.
It's a topic of eternal debate about government at all levels. Are we spending enough? Are we spending it on the right priorities? Are we taxing enough to pay for it? While these are important questions, our administration has been focused on answering another one. Is state government doing the best we can with the dollars we collect from our hardworking taxpayers?
Best case - the answer to that one is, "it depends." And in many cases, the answer is "no." And yet many folks in public life think the best answer to this perpetual question is to continue raising taxes.
They argue that every opportunity to pursue a smarter, better, less expensive way to deliver services, regulate industries and support our cities and towns has already been done. Hardly. There is also a strong case to be made that raising taxes when times get tight actually makes it harder to find the will to pursue smarter and better ways to deliver state services.
A perfect example is the MBTA. Last winter's collapse made clear that our public transit system is failing to meet the demand of our fast-growing economy.
In the aftermath of the historic snows, we enacted a series of reforms, including the creation of a Fiscal and Management Control Board. This board has been working tirelessly to analyze the operation of the system to find strengths and weaknesses, and to plot an actionable plan to deliver reliable and sustainable service. In just a short time, we've learned that one of the most heavily subsidized transit systems in the nation has countless opportunities to save money, generate revenue, become more efficient, and apply available resources in a manner that is more closely focused on customer service and reliability.
Another would be the Health Connector. The two-year collapse of this health insurance exchange cost hundreds of millions of dollars in transitional health insurance coverage and technology fixes, and threw hundreds of thousands of our citizens into health care limbo. We made fixing this a priority, and today the system works, serving those who need it, and respecting the contributions of all of us who pay for it.
Finally, we've worked with our colleagues in the Legislature to whittle away at an enormous structural deficit over the past two years by reforming programs, reducing the state's workforce, and reworking the way the state operates, saving hundreds of millions of dollars. Raising taxes and/or cutting services would have been the simple way out. Instead, we examined the agencies and functions of state government to see where we could do the same or more, with less.
We should never stop making strategic investments that can advance our goals in education, transportation, economic growth and elsewhere - but real progress will not happen without a push. Most of the time that push is financial. Financial pressure, more than anything else, forces people to rethink the way they do things. Raising taxes does just the opposite. Raising taxes perpetuates the status quo. Change is hard. But in this day and age, when so much outside government changes so quickly, holding onto the old way of doing things often makes things worse.
Let's consider a new way of measuring success. Instead of simply adding up how much money state government spends, let's measure how well government delivers on its stated objectives for the dollars it collects from taxpayers. That would be far more aspirational than simply spending a whole lot more of someone else's money to reward and perpetuate the same old same old.