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Opinion: Spending Priorities — A Five-Year Review

Rep. Tom Conroy (D-Wayland) provided this piece.

Five years ago I scrutinized Governor Deval Patrick’s first budget proposal (FY08) to determine if it was prudent, responsible and reflected the right priorities. I did so in order to make recommendations on improving it. Given my own analysis and what I heard from constituents like you, the budget the governor proposed and the legislative alternative that ultimately became law later that year met those standards.

Let’s fast forward to five years later. What does the budget look like now?  What has changed? Are we still funding the right programs? Are the governor and legislature being good stewards of taxpayer dollars?

To answer these questions, we should ask whether the governor’s proposed budget — and any alternative we put forward in the House of Representatives — meets the following criteria and principles:

1. Reflects taxpayer priorities? Generally, yes, given the 6,000 emails, phone calls and conversations I have had with interested and engaged citizens over the past few years. A list of budget categories as proposed by the governor for FY08 and FY13 reflects the citizenry’s broad consensus of spending over the past five years. 

Budget Category

FY08

 FY13

5 Year


($ billions)

($ billions)

Change

 

 

 

 

Health care and basic services to the needy :

13.2

17.1

30%

Aid to towns and cities to hold down property taxes:

5.2

5.5

6%

Debt servicing:

1.7

2.2

29%

Public safety:

1.5

1.7

13%

Judicial system to promote and enforce justice:

1.1

1.1

0%

Higher education to maintain our competitiveness: 

1.0

0.9

-10%

Housing, transportation, and workforce training:

1.0

0.8

-20%

Management and administration:

1.0

1.1

10%

Health benefit premiums for state employees:

1.2

1.7

42%

Environmental preservation:

0.2

0.2

0%





Totals:

27.1

32.3

19%

2. Creates job opportunities? Somewhat, and mostly indirectly. Higher education and workforce training are not growing, although over $50 million in life science and clean energy funding is targeted to public private partnerships that create new jobs. Transportation funding contributes to a positive business environment and enhances productivity, but more jobs could be created by improving and investing in our infrastructure. 

3. Provides a safety net for the vulnerable and the disadvantaged: Yes.  The biggest line items in the budget encompass half of the total budget, in part because 20 percent of the people in our state — more than 1.3 million people — are impoverished. 

4. Saves money in the long term via prevention: Yes, but not enough.  Public safety, health care, education and housing programs prevent crime, illness and unemployment. But we could be doing much more in public health (e.g. nutrition, wellness, anti-smoking) that could reduce long-term costs. 

5. Helps our cities and towns: State aid to Lincoln, Sudbury and Wayland in the form of education and road funding should be growing again, given the improvement in the economy, the resultant increase in state revenues, and continued advocacy for it by many of my colleagues and me. But we need to provide more aid to our towns, particularly in for special education.

6. Enhances the public’s trust in government by being prudent and responsible?  We will pass a balanced budget, but there are reasons for concern. The growth in health and human services reflects what many of us all know:  health care costs have been rising significantly and need to be constrained. Also, debt service is rising; we need to balance this growing indebtedness with the need for spending now to maintain jobs and help grow the economy. And we haven’t come up with a long-term funding source to maintain our transportation and water infrastructure needs, which together amount to $2 billion annually.

As I discuss the budget with colleagues, leadership and the governor’s team over the increases will be state aid to our towns. This has been my top priority each year I have served. I will also advocate for the Massachusetts Life Science Center, which helps creates new jobs by funding R&D, entrepreneurs and promising scientists in the industry. In addition, I will support funding for the vulnerable, particularly those with developmental disabilities; I hear from parents continually about how important these services are for their children.

Of course, one of the challenges we face annually entails funding these programs and services to meet people’s needs and state obligations, while also ensuring that we don’t overspend. These and many other balancing acts will be the source of considerable discussion at the State House over the next several months. Feel free to share with me your perspectives, expertise and facts. 

Tom Conroy is state representative for the 13th Middlesex District (Lincoln, Sudbury and Wayland) and can be reached at Thomas.Conroy@MAHouse.gov or 617-722-2430.

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