, Newburyport, MA


March 22, 2012

Taking the mystery out of state formula

There's nothing difficult about offering cities and towns an estimate of how much they can expect in state aid without a commitment by the House of Representatives to consider new taxes: Simply assume the additional revenue won't be forthcoming.

At this time of year, nearly every year, there's a typical dance that goes on in all our local cities and towns. Mayors, selectmen, councils and school boards try to put together budgets for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1 and runs through the following June 30. They are often blindsided by the tardiness of local aid figures from the state, and it sometimes throws the budget-making process into chaos.

There's real impact on taxpayers from this lack of information. It can result in sudden layoffs, or the elimination or cutback of programs. Or more rarely, it could go the opposite way — a sudden financial boon from unexpected money.

It makes it far more difficult for our local leaders to manage their communities. You will often hear them complain about unpredictable, and declining, local aid coming from the state's coffers.

Fresh from a vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Gov. Deval Patrick groused to reporters Monday that his office was having trouble coming up with aid figures, since his overall budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is predicated on what he called "some modest, actually popular targeted revenue pickups."

Those "targeted revenue pickups" would come from applying the state sales tax to items currently exempt like candy and sweetened beverages, along with yet another hike in the cigarette tax.

We agree with Seth Gitell, spokesman for House Speaker Robert DeLeo, that "for many of Massachusetts' working families and employers," these proposed tax increases "are neither 'modest' nor 'popular' right now."

DeLeo has stated that the budget scheduled for release by the House within the next week or so will not include any new taxes. So, unless the governor is aware of a secret groundswell within the lower chamber for more taxes, he ought not count on any for next year. Nor should our local communities.

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