ICYMI: "Baker is right on need for fiscal discipline"

BOSTON -- An editorial in today's Lawrence Eagle-Tribune praises Governor Charlie Baker's focus on fiscal discipline and criticizes the Democrat-led Legislature for its consistent eagerness to raise taxes over the years.  

Editorial: Baker is right on need for fiscal discipline
By The Editorial Board

There's some moderately good news for Massachusetts taxpayers: Both Gov. Charlie Baker and the House leadership are talking about bringing some fiscal discipline to the state.

But it's far too early in the budget process for complacency. The best of intentions get left by the wayside when pressure to deliver for political allies and interest groups begins to grow.

Baker told our Statehouse reporter, Christian M. Wade, the state needs to get its spending under control. In the interview, Baker said he expects resistance to the cuts he plans in his preliminary budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in July. Baker must file the spending plan by Jan. 27.

"We need to get to a point where the state's current revenues actually support current spending," Baker told Wade. "We need to tighten our belts and learn to live within our means, just like families and towns across the commonwealth."

Baker is right on the money. For too long, legislators have treated taxpayers like a bottomless well, ready to be drawn upon to fund any plans and projects they wish.

But taxpayers have been hard-pressed by an economy that has been anemic at best since plunging into recession in 2007-2008. The expected post-recession boom never materialized. Instead, taxpayers have faced a stagnant job market and wages that have been slow to recover.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Legislature took signs the recession was relenting to turn the spending taps back on full.

Baker has had to battle a recalcitrant Legislature to maintain any sort of fiscal discipline in the state.
Baker said he also expects to make unilateral cuts to the current spending plan in coming weeks -- a result of last year's veto overrides and tax collections that are short of expectations.
But experience tells us the Legislature has ways to extract more money from taxpayers' wallet than merely raising taxes. Fees can be raised and assessed on government services once included in what we got for our tax money. There's always a way to get a little more. There's always another "vital" new program that needs to be funded.

Covering that projected $1 billion shortfall while maintaining essential services won't be easy. Baker is on the right track. And he's absolutely correct that the state's spending must be covered by existing revenues.

Expect the weeping and wailing to increase at the Statehouse as the budget deadline approaches and Baker's cuts get closer to becoming reality. Expect the Legislature to fold like a cheap tent under the pressure and undo whatever discipline Baker has imposed.

That's the time for taxpayers to be just as vocal as the advocates for spending and demand the state operate under the same budgetary constraints they do.

(Click here to read the full editorial)