Fiscal Madness

A state with budget shortfalls shouldn’t eliminate revenue

Work Force is a nationally lauded high school dropout prevention program based in Cambridge that offers low-income teens mentoring, college preparation, and scholarships. In 2008, it served 130 students, leading to a high school graduation rate of 100 percent and a college matriculation rate of 92 percent.

But that wasn’t enough to save it from the chopping block. The program just had its state earmark of $150,000 cut in half, and this is only one of a series of cuts to vital social services in the Cambridge community. Budget decreases for Work Force have been mirrored by cuts for the Community Computer Center and programs that offer support for affordable housing. The worst may not be over yet: City officials are worried that the current round of budget-slashing will pale in comparison to future cuts undermining basic services like fire and police departments.

Cambridge isn’t the only place in Massachusetts to feel the pinch of a statewide budget shortfall. Recently, in response to spiraling state revenues, Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78 was forced to announce more than $1 billion in budget cuts, affecting towns and cities across the Commonwealth. As Patrick recently said, “This is not about cutting so-called fat. This is going to cut muscle, because the scale of the issue requires that.”

The rash of budget cuts facing successful programs is unfortunate, but understandable. In hard times, sacrifices must be made, and there is no painless way to eliminate funding for vital state services.

But what is completely incomprehensible is that, in this climate of rising deficits and depleted social services, some misguided voters still support Ballot Question One—a Massachusetts referendum that promises to destroy one of the most significant sources of state revenue. Today, the ballot initiative will ask voters whether to eliminate the state income tax. We hope that they respond with a resounding “no.”

The state income tax accounts for 40 percent of Massachusetts’s revenue. If it is discarded, the billion dollars of budget cuts so far will look like pocket change compared to the $12.5 billion that the state will be forced to eliminate to make up for the tax.

Needless to say, the effects of such a purge would be disastrous—firing every single state employee would still leave Massachusetts $7.2 billion in the red. Innovative programs like Massachusetts’ universal health care system would fall by the wayside, and even basic services would struggle for survival.

In Cambridge, Steven Swanger, who directs the umbrella organization of Work Force, has vowed to “fight tooth and nail to keep it going.” But he can only do so much alone. The Cambridge community is already feeling the pinch of a slowing economy. Adding on the weight of Ballot Initiative One would likely prove a deadly blow.