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Governor Ascendant

Brass Tacks

By Steven R. Rivkin

Time was when a change in political administrations meant bad news for the status quo, as new people and new policies descended on the seats of government. But in these calm days of courtesy and bi-partisanship, the old Jacksonian gusto seems to have been eclipsed by the politics of gentility. Nevertheless, the show must go on, if only to amuse the faithful. And this showmanship has been no-where more apparent recently than on Beacon Hill during the last two months, as the young Democratic Hercules, Foster Furcolo, waves his imaginary broom through the marble corridors of Boston's stygian State House.

Enthusiasm such as Furcolo is showing is perhaps a distinct characteristic of a Massachusetts Democrat. Aristocratic and arthritic Christian A. Herter '15 could never have damned the villains with the same lusty invective that the new Governor has used to popularize his legislative recommendations. Bobbing and weaving and using his slashing hands like an aggressive North End fighter, Furcolo has swept through the state since January with motorcades, a multiple inauguration ceremony, and a month-long speaking and hand-shaking tour.

Wherever he has appeared, Furcolo's words have been carefully chosen and oft-times repeated. His initial task, as he states it, is to awaken Massachusetts to its precarious financial situation. He blames the Republicans for leaving the "largest budget, the greatest debt, the biggest deficit and the worst state credit rating" in the Common-wealth's history, but at the same time he is seeking increased state spending for social services and access to new sources of revenue. "Our financial situation," he concluded in one of his three inaugural messages, "is the worst it has been in the history of the Commonwealth."

There can be no denying this conclusion in the face of increasing monetary outlays and a virtually dry tax base. Added revenue, the Governor maintains, must be found to counter anticipated inflation and to pay for planned and promised expansions in state social services, raises in the pay of government employees, spiraling pension costs, and the liquidation of state bonds with delayed maturation dates. Meanwhile, expanded state aid to cities and towns is urgently needed, he insists, to counter seriously inadequate municipal services and to reduce the tax on real property--currently standing at a per capita level higher than any other state in the nation. In all, his January budget message called for a $423-million outlay for next year (compared to ex-Governor Herter's last budget of $387 million). Furcolo's recommendations would require $130 million in new revenue, of which $75 million would be returned to cities and towns for the express purpose of reducing the real property tax.

Yet Furcolo's biggest bombshell did not fall among the economy-minded Republicans, who narrowly control the upper house of the General Court. Although he was elected with heavy support from organized labor, the new Governor has proposed to raise added tax revenue by a state-wide three percent limited sales tax, traditionally the breadwinner's anathema. His party, meanwhile--under Senate leader John E. Powers and buttressed by a detailed survey prepared by Arnold M. Soloway, assistant professor of Economics--has stood strongly behind temporary relief through eliminating loopholes in the existing structure. To the terror of the Associated Industries, Soloway proposes as a long term solution a graduated income tax, requiring a constitutional amendment for enactment.

Furcolo, however, claims that an income tax revision could never produce enough revenue, despite his earlier assertion that "of all the taxes there are, I think the sales tax is the last that should be enacted." His Democratic opponents, on the other hand, claim that the sales tax, in any form, would unjustly affect the lower income classes and inaugurate "the greatest orgy of spending in Massachusetts history," according to Professor Soloway.

Furcolo has responded by "going to the people" in an effort to win needed bi-partisan legislative support for his proposals, speaking to local audiences in more than 20 cities. His opponents have similarly turned to the public, but without the benefit of being allowed to debate with the Governor. While Labor groups have by and large rallied to the support of the "properly revised graduated income tax," city leaders and business interests--viewing any income tax as a threat to their competitive position--are backing the Governor.

But whoever wins the headline battles, the issues of new revenue and the other parts of the Governor's program (ranging from penal reforms to the establishment of performance budgets for state departments) will doubtless drag on long into hectic summer sessions, since Massachusetts legislators usually spend the first few months each year preoccupied with their insurance businesses, law practices, or local what-have-you's.

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