We're pleased to see that the budget being considered by the Massachusetts House of Representatives last week forgoes the $250 million in new taxes proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick.
The governor is out of touch with the people he was elected to serve if he imagines there is any appetite for massive new taxes in this state.
Credit for the fiscal restraint goes to House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who is perceptive enough to recognize the antitax sentiment among the commonwealth's citizens, and to Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, the principal author of the House budget proposal.
"This plan rejects all the governor's tax increase proposals," DeLeo said. "The economy is still fragile, and this budget recognizes that."
While it is difficult to call a $32.3 billion spending plan a model of fiscal prudence — it comes in just $14 million less than Patrick's budget submitted in January — the proposal rejects new cigarette, candy and soda taxes and other revenues backed by the governor.
An analysis by the independent Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center said the House plan balances the budget with cuts and savings, including reduced funding for early education and care and public health programs, and one-time revenues drawn mostly from the state's "rainy day" stabilization fund.
The House plan guarantees $898 million in unrestricted aid to cities and towns, including $64 million that Patrick said he would spend on local aid only if a surplus existed at the end of the current fiscal year. It increases local education aid by $164 million over current levels to $4.1 billion — $18.5 million more than the governor's proposal.
The House Ways and Means plan now heads to the full House for consideration and changes. The Senate Ways and Means Committee will then consider both the governor's and the House's proposals as it creates its own budget, subject to review by the full Senate. The two chambers will then develop a single bill to be sent to the governor for his review and eventually his signature. Debate on the House plan is expected to begin later this month.
The House plan also takes on welfare fraud by attempting to curb abuse of electronic benefits transfer, or EBT, cards. The proposals come in the wake of scandals involving the EBT cards, which welfare recipients can use much like debit cards to make purchases.
In one instance late last year, several Lynn residents used the cards to receive cash back before buying cocaine, investigators said. In another, police said they arrested a drug dealer in Worcester who was able to obtain 15 EBT cards, likely in exchange for drugs.
The House plan would impose new criminal penalties for EBT card trafficking and misuse. Businesses allowing abuse of cards by users could lose their alcohol and lottery licenses.
The plan would prohibit the use of EBT cards for firearms, cosmetics, sexually explicit material or performances, tattoos, jewelry, health clubs, travel services and gambling. It is preposterous that such uses of state welfare benefits were ever permitted.
The House Ways and Means plan is a good starting point for this year's budget negotiations.