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Best of Boston 2009

Time to wake up

The State Legislature and Boston's big municipal unions are hurting the public
By EDITORIAL  |  April 15, 2009


The news that Massachusetts's finances are in even worse shape than previously thought was not exactly a surprise. Still, the numbers are sobering. Tax receipts are falling. The budget deficit — already projected at $156 million — is expected to grow by another $400 million in the next few months. The whopping $556 million shortfall means that another 750 state jobs will be cut and 5000 unpaid furloughs will be required. This is the third time Patrick has announced emergency budget cuts in seven months. And it will not be the last. State finances are only going to get worse.

All of this makes the legislature's failure to act on tax proposals advanced by Governor Deval Patrick four months ago shameful — almost criminally so, when you consider that Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo had to know this was coming. If they didn't, they are unfit for office. It's time for the ego games that impede action to stop. Vote on Patrick's proposed 19-cent gas-tax increase. Reject it, amend it, or pass it. But do something, so that the state can move forward.

Patrick's political ineptitude continues to draw more fire than the lack of action in the state's House and Senate. He has turned out to be a pitifully easy target. And his flatfooted response to the Easter Sunday traffic jams on the Mass Pike only reinforce that perception.

Shooting spitballs at the governor may take the public's mind off the unfolding crisis in state government. But it won't alter the fact that Massachusetts does not have enough money to pay its bills.

The recession triggered by the crash in the housing market, the implosion on Wall Street, and the meltdown of the banking system is, of course, at the root of Massachusetts's fiscal crisis. But this was a disaster waiting to happen.

If the economic policies of the Bush-Cheney junta were, in effect, socialism for the affluent, then Beacon Hill's management practices for the past 15 or so years have been nothing less than welfare for a relatively small, politically connected middle class. Unsustainable salaries and sweetheart pension deals have had roughly the same negative effect on state finances that the Bush tax cuts had on a national level. The shameful lack of performance goals for government agencies and outside contractors, and the failure to reasonably oversee such transportation systems as the turnpike and the MBTA, plus projects such as the Big Dig, are the intellectual equivalent of Washington's failure to regulate the nation's financial systems.

DeLeo and Murray have been on Beacon Hill far longer than Patrick. It's time for the public to hold them and their legislative colleagues accountable.

Let Boston teachers vote on pay freeze
The deteriorating condition of state finances is bad news for most Massachusetts cities and towns, dependent as they are on state aid to plug their own budget gaps. But it is especially difficult for Boston, since the crunch here is likely to be even worse than expected.

That makes the failure of Boston's three biggest municipal unions, representing firefighters, police, and teachers, to agree to Mayor Thomas Menino's modest proposal for a one-year pay freeze all the more unconscionable.

In a recent interview with Greater Boston host Emily Rooney on WGBH, Menino, by implication, singled out the teachers union as the worst of the lot.

Menino cut the firefighters some slack by pointing out that they have been working without a contract for three years and their situation is in arbitration. He credited the police union with helping to lobby Washington for federal funds that will save 45 police jobs. But he was noticeably silent about the teachers union.

Clearly, Menino's intension was to put the teachers on the spot, as well he should. Even by the high-handed and tone-deaf standards of so many public-employee unions, teachers union leader president Richard Stutman's response smacks of arrogance and irresponsibility.

Here is a suggestion that might resolve this standoff: Stutman should let the teachers vote by secret ballot to determine if his membership is willing to sacrifice in order to save the positions of young, new teachers who will lose their jobs if City Hall has to impose further budget cuts.

That way Stutman can stop worrying about covering his own backside with his membership. The Phoenix suspects that the teachers — as opposed to their union leadership — will turn out to be more public spirited than some might think.

Obama's latest update
There was little new in President Barack Obama's speech at Georgetown University earlier this week, even if he did exhibit an extraordinarily high degree of eloquence, concision, and analytic rigor.

While he warned that there are still more foreclosures, job losses, and economic reversals to come, Obama was able to report that the rate at which the bad news flows seems to be slowing. Keep your fingers crossed.

Even if Obama is right — and only the Rush Limbaughs and Jay Severins of the world hope that he isn't — next year is sure to be even more challenging for the state of Massachusetts and the city of Boston than 2009 has been so far. Officials and workers who don't adjust to these painful circumstances do the public a grave disservice.

Related: That’s what he said, Can Sam Yoon win?, Power hungry?, More more >
  Topics: The Editorial Page , Barack Obama, Business, Deval Patrick,  More more >
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