BOSTON -- With budget season underway, The Lowell Sun sets the tone with an editorial backing Governor Baker's fiscally responsible approach, and praising his record of protecting taxpayers. The Sun also warns of the scandal-embroiled Senate Democratic leadership's desire to take more of Massachusetts taxpayers' hard-earned money.
Baker's budget model is safe and sound
THE LOWELL SUN
By The Editorial Board
According to Gov. Charlie Baker's fiscal year 2019 budget submitted to the Legislature last week, the state of Massachusetts is proposing to spend a total of $53.9 billion in 12 government areas, including health, education and public safety.
The spending breaks down like this: $41.3 billion in state expenses and $12.5 billion in federal obligations.
The $41.3 billion budget places Massachusetts among the top 10 spending states in the nation.
Can Massachusetts government "live" on $41.3 billion in 2019?
Yes, it should, considering that at the start of the 21st century, the state budget was $12 billion
While Baker's budget recommendation represents a modest 2.6 increase in spending over 2018, there's already a hue-and-cry from politicians and activists that more money is needed for education and healthcare.
Baker has drawn a line in the sand against raising taxes, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo seems willing to oblige. The Senate, however, is another matter. With its leadership in transition, progressive Democrats might push spending limits forward ahead of November's statewide election when several new tax initiatives -- including a 4 percent millionaires' tax -- are expected to be on the ballot.
It's unlikely that legislators facing contested races will have the stomach to increase existing taxes. That's why a closer version to Baker's budget will probably emerge from the Legislature by the June 30 deadline.
Still, don't expect the fiscal 2019 budget to be etched in stone. Beacon Hill almost always finds the need for supplemental spending during the course of the year.
Since 2015 when the Baker administration took office and inherited a $2 billion budget deficit, it has worked hard to control spending. The prior structural budget gap, built on years of spending more than what the state took in, has been largely eliminated.
In FY 2019, Baker plans to deposit $96 million into the state's "Rainy Day" account, bringing reserves to $1.43 billion -- a 30 percent increase since 2015.
More than 50 percent of the state's $41.3 billion budget is devoted to Health & Human Services -- $22.8 billion -- with the bulk of it going to MassHealth programs.
In addition, the Baker blueprint proposes $1.09 billion in unrestricted local aid to cities and towns -- a 3.5 percent increase; a $118 million increase in local aid education funding; $24.6 million for increases to retirees' healthcare costs; and $93.2 million in new funding at the Department of Mental Health.
To help low-income individuals and working families, Baker's team is also pushing to increase the state's Earned Income Tax Credit from 23 percent of the federal credit to 30 percent.
Overall, Baker's cautious proposal gets the job done. It banks on continued economic prosperity in Massachusetts while staying fiscally prepared to avert damage if a sudden reversal of fortune were to occur.