UA voter drive presents unbalanced view of tax rollback question
Stacy E. McGeever '93's column lacks the perspective necessary to fully educate an out-of-state voter ["Register to vote in Massachusetts elections," Sep. 28]. The column, written under the guise of supporting a nonpartisan voter-registration drive, perpetuates a few misconceptions Boston students generally have about our state's financial situation.
Naturally, I read her article with some concern, since the prospect of 300,000 misinformed people arbitrarily voting "No" on Question 3 (a petition to rollback state taxes to a previous level) in November is something to be taken seriously. It is ironic that she uses the word "insular" to describe the MIT environment, since this is precisely the trouble I have with her column -- it fails to account for the history our legislature has of glibly taxing its constituents without discretion, and without subjecting its expenditures to a more critical analysis.
In a large sense, as the Central Artery construction project demonstrates, laws are formulated to secure the prosperity of Boston, and Boston only. While Boston's need for the Central Artery is not disputed, its good for the commonwealth is questionable. Our commonwealth extends for some distance beyond Boston -- it cannot be good for the commonwealth to create 15,000 jobs for the Artery Project in the affluent part of the state, resulting in a surplus of jobs here, and continued unemployment elsewhere.
As a resident of Massachusetts from outside the sheltered communities clustered around Boston, I feel that additional background on the Citizens for Limited Taxation petition is in order.
McGeever is only partially correct in asserting, "If budget cuts caused by rollbacks force the state to lay off workers and reduce spending, we can see the resulting decline in the speed and quality of public maintenance and services." I should assert at the outset, and I cannot stress this enough: Services have been cut even this year, when spending mushroomed far beyond the excessive budget. In my hometown, the library has closed its only branch, and it keeps shorter hours at its main office. Funding for the honors programs and athletics in public education have been cut completely, and the school committee doesn't have enough money to pay for its heating bill beyond January.
The cause of the local services crunch is wholly attributable to bad policy, formulated by House Speaker George Keverian and Governor Michael S. Dukakis, which bankrupted the state even in a period in which taxes were raised, not once, but twice, and when the budget expanded at an unprecedented rate to reach $13.4 billion.
This year's budget represents an increase over last year's, but has not resulted in any tangible improvement in quality or quantity of services -- quite the opposite is true.
Where, then, are all of our tax dollars going? A substantial portion of the state's rapidly declining funds are compensating for increases in:
Medicaid/Medicare costs. The growth of the allocation is such that every Democratic candidate for governor this year suggested some form of health care rationing system.
03 Consultants. This is basically a slush fund used to rehire people who have been laid off because of budget cuts. A Dukakis invention, it has allowed him, in recent months, to lay off workers in a given department, and retain them as consultants to another department. In a word, patronage.
Redundant state and community colleges. Community colleges abound, and are starting to take on the character of real universities thanks to the irresponsible spending patterns of our legislators; some have complete campuses, with athletic facilities, a physical plant, and campus police force.
State universities. The University of Massachusetts has three campuses, (five, if ULowell and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy are counted) and each one has developed its own independent bureaucracy under the governor's tutelage, complete with echelons of overpaid middle managers and legally distinct higher offices.
Police forces. We have three distinct police forces with three separate jurisdictions -- and three separate commissioners, one controlled by the Metropolitan District Commission, and the others independent. We are unique in this respect among the fifty states. All state police should be consolidated under one aegis.
Industrial Finance Agencies. Massachusetts has two of them, one created by former Governor Ed King, and one later by Dukakis. Both of them finance loans for companies working on public projects, but the jurisdiction is so closely overlapped, the two agencies spent the better part of the 1980s squandering their money in court costs -- suing each other for jurisdiction rights.
Mental Health Department. The MHD underwent an explosive period of growth in the mid 1980s. Its workforce doubled, yet institutions have been closed, and patients either released or removed to correctional facilities.
Public projects. Dukakis' administration chose to site a new "temporary" county jail in Westfield last year to accommodate overflow, which was to be demolished within a few years of construction. The commonwealth awarded the contract to a company which was going to build the structures using concrete and steel, at a cost approximately three times that of the proposed wood ones.
Hynes Convention Center. Built and maintained with public funds, it is currently unprofitable because of the state's mismanagement.
Welfare. It is not necessary to present a Social Security number to receive welfare benefits in Massachusetts. This is a tremendous incentive for residents of other states (even other countries) to vacation in Massachusetts for a few months, receive payments, then return home. The "welfare magnet" fund is a constantly increasing, unregulated expenditure.
Legislative inaction. Most of Western Massachusetts does not have vital 911 Emergency Medical Services. A resolution which Dukakis introduced (one of his finer efforts) some years ago to the General Court to amend a section of state code -- and thus allow New England Telephone to construct such a service -- languishes, while state legislators debate the measure, and collect their salaries.
What is most impressive about this list is not that it is so long, but rather that it is incomplete. Judged in the context of actual recent state expenditures, the tax rollback petition does not seem as harsh as it did before. In fact, like its predecessor, Proposition 21/2, Question 3 is a populist revolt against wasteful spending.
Nobody, not even its sponsor, CLT President Barbara Anderson, is claiming that Question 3 is perfect. It has important deficiencies which need to be addressed. These technical deficiencies in Question 3's wording, however, should not disqualify it from consideration.
It is important to consider the reaction of the governor who will be in office in January -- not the one who is clamoring loudly now. Both candidates for governor have clearly indicated vigorous assent to the CLT petition's spirit, if not its letter; hence, spending cuts will be focused on restructuring efforts, and will not be indiscriminate cuts of needed services.
Dan Green '92->