The folks on Beacon Hill deserve credit for crafting a budget in this extraordinarily challenging fiscal climate that will hopefully sustain services at a level just short of disastrous.
That budget is, however, held together with the equivalent of staples, duct tape, and baling wire: a sales-tax increase, an alcohol tax, a reliance on one-time federal-stimulus funds, and a whole lot of cuts to programs and grants.
And while this patchwork job may get us through the fiscal year that began Wednesday, then what? Even if the economy pulls out of recession in the coming months — of which there is still some reason to doubt — nobody should expect the state's revenue streams to start flowing immediately.
Meanwhile, the big, unavoidable costs of running the government keep growing. What can be cut has already been cut to the bone. As for further increasing taxes — if you think that was politically difficult this year, you can forget about it in a state-election year.
What most worries us is that many of the expenditures that have been cut are exactly the ones needed to help us emerge from the economic crisis.
Here at the Phoenix, we strongly believe what has been factually proven by many studies of the state's major economic engines: arts and culture are among the essential drivers of Massachusetts growth. That's why we were relieved to see the final budget partially restore funding for the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which was previously slated for a 57 percent reduction. Still, the final 23 percent cut is bad enough.
Other investments in our future economic health have been similarly sacrificed. Business-development grants and subsidies have virtually vanished from this year's budget. Spending on labor and workforce development in the new budget is down nearly 40 percent from fiscal year 2008. Funding has also been slashed for higher education, including community colleges.
With the state's unemployment rate at 8.2 percent and rising, and the national figure topping nine, now is exactly the time to invest in these programs, not grind them to a halt.
The legislators and Governor Deval Patrick indeed deserve credit for their workable and humane budget. But we fear that the staples and tape will not hold the state together for long.
DNA evidence now
Earlier this month, the troglodytes on the US Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that convicted felons have no right to test DNA evidence from their own cases, even when such tests might prove their innocence.
The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, argues that the judiciary need not guarantee the right, because so many states have already legislated it.
That does little good for those stuck in one of the three states without such legislation — of which, unbelievably, our seemingly progressive state is one.
Alabama just became the 47th to adopt such a law, making it universal even in the Deep South. We now stand with just Oklahoma and Alaska. It is imperative that Massachusetts now guarantee access to DNA evidence.
As David S. Bernstein reports, Boston just paid a $3.8 million settlement to Anthony Powell, who spent 12 years in prison for a 1991 rape and kidnapping until he proved, through DNA testing, that he was innocent. This only happened because Suffolk County's district attorney at the time, Ralph Martin — to his credit, and demonstrating one of his rare enlightened moments — agreed to turn over the DNA evidence for testing. Similarly, current DA Daniel Conley agreed to the testing that exonerated Stephan Cowans in 2004.
But without a state law, Powell and Cowans had to rely on the largesse of the district attorney — and many prosecutors have typically refused such requests, or fought against them for years. A potentially innocent person's hopes for justice should not lie solely in the hands or at the whim of individual DAs, who are most often biased toward preserving convictions, not reconsidering them.
Bills to change the status quo have been filed by State Senator Cynthia Creem and State Representative Eugene O'Flaherty, the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. Similar bills have been filed in previous years and gone nowhere. Let's not wait until we are the very last state denying the right to prove one's innocence.