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As the Massachusetts state budget continues to crumble under its most disastrous revenue shortfall since the 1980s, all eyes are now focused on whether the new governor, equipped with his Harvard MBA, will be able to weather the shoals of the current fiscal crisis.
In his televised statement last night, Romney more clearly outlined his plan to address the $650 million shortfall this fiscal year. And while a number of his long-term reforms make sense in reducing government waste, his short term solution—which consists of slashing state funding by $343 million by the end of the fiscal year—is a product of a misguided refusal to even consider increasing the commonwealth’s taxes. The Massachusetts income tax, in the process of being further rolled back because of a ballot referendum adopted during more flush economic times, is an obvious target for generating needed revenue.
Romney plans to cut $133 million of the state’s health and human services programs. And while he pledged to keep education safe from cuts, he insists on slashing $114 million from local aid. This cut will have a huge impact on schools, which get a substantial amount of their support from local aid pools. These cuts represent a significant departure from the state’s previous efforts to create smaller class sizes and remedial support programs for students who are facing the state’s high-stakes MCAS exam.
While it is only fair that the municipalities share some of the burden of these trying economic times, Romney’s lack of consultation with local elected officials on how to best structure these cuts is distressing. While he has clearly built trust with other Massachusetts officials—both the Senate and House of Representatives voted to grant him extended budget-cutting powers during the crunch—the governor will need to work more closely with both federal and local leaders.
Romney’s all-business style served him well in the first few weeks of his administration. His decision to forgo his salary as governor was admirable. He was able to make appointments based on merit instead of patronage. For example, he appointed the widely respected African American former District Attorney Ralph C. Martin, III to head the state Judicial Nominating Council, a group that has had little success in diversifying the state bench in the past.
But now, as he tackles the budget, it’s unclear whether his style can accommodate a compassionate approach to the funding shortfall. With the details of his proposal issued today, we hope that Romney’s core values are the ones shared by the people of the commonwealth, and that his business background will give him the tools he needs to find creative solutions—not just more of the slash-and-burn cuts we have seen so far.
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