Friday, July 31, 2009

Our Supplemental Budget

This week, the House and Senate voting overwhelmingly, passing an $80 million supplemental budget and placing it on the Governor’s desk. It had a lot of good things in it, such as restoring funding for Regional Libraries, emergency food banks, and the like. However, despite the fact that these were some of my priorities in the FY 2010 budget, I could not vote for this budget. I don’t feel that we should spend this amount of money at a time when we are not sure where revenues will bottom out and when we are being told we are in deficit in this year’s budget.

This is difficult and I don’t blame people for voting to restore these programs. For example, this spending bill restored food bank funding to the level of last year. Last year the food banks ran out of money and this year the demand for food will be even greater. But I felt that it was false for the Legislature to take up and pass additional spending that, I believe is unsustainable as we go forward.

There are several reasons that I voted against this budget. First, instead of taking up each of the Governor’s budget vetoes and deliberating over whether we should override a particular veto, the entire $80 million was placed into one spending bill. Therefore, if one wanted to increase spending on one line item, whether it was as little as $25,000 for beach preservation, you had to vote for $80 million in spending. I didn’t feel that we should do so.

Second, our revenues are still coming in less than even last month’s downsized predictions. We don’t know how much money we will have to spend. In caucus, I spoke about an individual from my district who always contributes to local cultural facilities. He told me he would be contributing again, but not right away. He said, “Dan, I still have money, but I am not sure how much and won’t know until the economy bottoms out. Then I will reassess and contribute.” We are like that guy. We know that we have some 20+ billion dollars, but we are not sure how much money we have and until we do, we should proceed cautiously.

Another factor in my decision was the timing of the supplemental budget. Again, as we have not seen any revenues yet from this fiscal year, we need to get some kind of idea as to how we are performing revenue-wise in the new fiscal year. July is not generally a good month for revenues and the first real benchmark will be the first quarterly payments in September. I believed that we should wait for the first quarter to see if we could afford to spend more money.

The signs are not good. It appears that the mid-month reports indicate that we will not meet the lowered revised benchmarks for July. The Senate President stated, on the day we passed the supplemental budget, that we may have to revise or cut local aid line items. And Michael Widmer, Director of the respected Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, has stated that he feels we are several hundred million dollars out of balance at this time.

Taken together with the timing of the budget on the week before a higher sales tax took effect, I felt the timing was not right to restore these items even though many of them are good programs.

Lastly, if revenues are down as predicted, we are fooling ourselves if we think that we can sustain these line items. The Governor has a constitutional responsibility to balance our budget. If we are out of balance, he will cut these items under his constitutional right to do so. Even if he doesn’t, next year we will be faced with even bigger budget deficits and this additional spending inflates the budget and creates a structural deficit that will be harder to deal with next year. That is not right. Add to that two other factors: federal stimulus money and our stabilization fund. Next year, we will not be able to rely heavily on federal stimulus money as this was a temporary fix. That creates problems for us and gaps in our budget. And our stabilization fund will be depleted. We have been supplementing our spending from these revenue sources, but will no longer be able to do so. This is unsustainable. More spending now means more to cut later unless revenues make a dramatic turnaround. We cannot rely on a dramatic rebound, but must be prudent in our budgeting.

I have written in the past about our budget process. We have had both tax increases and we have cut the budget this past year. We need enact more reform as to how we conduct business in Massachusetts. And we need to prepare our economy so that we grow revenues from increased business activity. This is not easy, but we must start now to plan for next year. That is the prudent business course. Next year is an election year. It will get harder to handle these problems. Again, that means we must start now.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Cambridge Incident

I have a friend who is a police officer. He told me that when they get a call that there is an attempted break-in at a home, or even when an alarm goes off, they have to follow up on the call. They can’t dismiss it because they think they know what’s going on. In one case I have heard of multiple times where the same person has set off the alarm at the family home and the cops would always ask the same person for an ID as that is what they have to do “by the book.” Asking for some identification, however, usually is the end of such incidents. That should have been the end of this incident.

I also know that I have been very irritable after a long flight. Heck, I’ve been pretty cranky after a short flight. If I got home and found that my front door was stuck, I would be in a very foul mood. Having cops show up questioning me after a long period away and a long flight home would send me over the edge.

I know only as much as the news articles I have read, and don’t know either of these gentlemen, but it seems to me that this incident itself was less about race than it was about two people who met at a time when both were at less than their best behavior. Either one could have prevented this escalation by taking a deep breath and walking away. A police officer has his job to do and he was responding to a call. And the professor should expect that some identification ends this event. Both failed to act as responsibly, in my opinion, as they could have in order to prevent this outcome. If one apologizes to the other, then it should be reciprocal and the other should also apologize. They should either meet privately and talk this out or just let it go and move on.

However, the larger story here is that this has become such a huge news story. That indicates that there is still a large gap between the treatment of black and white in this country and an even larger gap as to how we feel about such incidents. We have a long way to go. Perhaps this is the lesson to take away from this. Forget the actions of both men on the front porch of Professor Gates’ house and concentrate on why this touched off such widespread discussion, opinion, and press. If something good comes out of this it is a better understanding of racial attitudes and why they are such as they are. Only through a discussion of these and not the rehashing of the incident itself comes enlightenment and attitudinal changes.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Laura and Stephanie

Top photo is Stephanie on the left with Singer Sara Barelles
Bottom Photo is Laura

Any time one is elected to public office, you expect a lot of scrutiny. You are always on the job and people come up to you all the time to ask questions, to set up appointments, etc. It doesn’t matter if you are at dinner, in a hospital visiting someone, at a ball game, or sitting on your back deck. This is part of public office and it is accepted for the most part. Whenever people see you, they generally have an opinion or a problem and you have to realize that this is the most important thing on people’s minds when they approach you and need to be empathetic. Some of my best conversations have been at the local dump, er, landfill, no wait, transfer station. This is a part of public life.

However, most people don’t realize that when you run for office, the whole family becomes involved. Political life changes the family dynamic dramatically and the whole family is “on the job” in many ways. I never talk about the family as I have always thought that they deserve to stay out of the public spotlight and have a reasonable expectation to some privacy. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t important and aren’t part of the services that constituents receive. So this is a shout out to the families that participate in politics and government even though they didn’t run and aren’t paid for the service they provide.

Laura and I have been married for twenty seven years. I wasn’t in politics when we married, but she knew my interest in all things political. Still, it is quite a jump from interest to running and shortly after we were married, I became a city councilor in North Adams and then became the state representative a few years later. She has been an active participant ever since. The life of a political spouse is interesting, but it affects everything. I can’t tell you the number of times over the past twenty three years that I have come home and said, “Oh I don’t know if I told you, but this weekend we have to go to…”. And every year Laura has to march in the fall Foliage Parade (although I am concerned that she usually gets a bigger hand than I do). There are campaign events and Laura has planned countless cook outs and get togethers. She is the practical voice of advice and has to listen to me when I come home either frustrated or angry about the events of the day. While I am in the State House in Boston, Laura is back in the district. She is the one stopped in the supermarket by people asking for appointments or advice. She is the one who has to handle all the things around the house while I am gone, and she was the one who was always here for Stephanie as our daughter grew up. She handled phone calls and attended events with no complaints. She is far more practical than I am and gives me advice that keeps me focused and grounded as I go off in the many different directions that our jobs send us into. She’s the one who remembers most of the names! The hours of any elected official are varied and I am at events in the evening and on weekends and other times that many think of as family time. This can be tough and she has been a great partner through it all. She has been supportive and I know that she has sacrificed her ambitions so that I can pursue the career I have. I would be far less effective if she weren’t there for me.

My daughter Stephanie was born after I was elected, so this is the only job she has known me to have. Stephanie turned twenty one this year and has grown into a responsible wonderful adult. A senior at UMass Amherst and a member of the incredible Marching Band, she also has grown up differently because of my job. Some of it is funny. She once told then Gov. Jane Swift (who she has known all her life) that she wanted to run for my seat. The Governor told her that she would write the first check to her. She told me one day that she had a slogan for when she ran for my seat. She said it was “It’s time for a change, elect a new Bosley”! My daughter accompanied me to a dinner that I was emceeing one night and Jane Swift asked her how she liked it. Stephanie, about 10 at the time said it was good except when I got up to speak, then it was “blah blah blah”. Everyone’ s a critic. One day after she got her license, Laura sat her down and said that she should be careful on the road and watch out for other drivers. She then went on to say that if she got in an accident or was speeding, it would reflect on her father! So she has lived in that spotlight. One aspect of this is that she has always been very politically aware. She ran for class office in school, was elected to Girl’s State, participated in People to People and has been politically active in several campaigns. Last year we knocked on doors together in New Hampshire during the Presidential election. She has work study at the Donahue Institute at UMass and last year stayed there to help with a foreign exchange program with officials predominantly form Argentina. She had an internship last semester in Washington working for a nonprofit and is looking at an MSW so that she can continue to stay active. And she is a great political advisor to her dad. In many ways, she has become the one I go to on issues. She is sharp and cuts to the point very quickly. She is far more politically aware than many her age and I feel that she will make a name for herself in the future.

I have been thinking about this lately. No one makes someone run for office and no one keeps us there. I think I do a pretty good job, but it does take away from our families. I don’t see my mother, sister or brother anywhere near as often as I would like, and I spend a lot of time away from my district that I care very much for. I do this because I love my job, but the family gets caught up in this without placing their names on the ballot and they are the real unsung heroes in the jobs that the elected officials do. All we can do is thank them and let them know how much we love them for being there for us.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Good Week for North Berkshire

This week we were able to spread a little good news for the First Berkshire District. First, the city of North Adams was awarded over $3 million under federal stimulus money in order to upgrade the roadways in and around the city. Most of the work will happen on the major paths into the city. This is great news and I hope we are able to do more in other towns in the district.. Thanks goes to Peter Niles, the District One chief for his help on this. He does a great job. This coupled with broadband planning and pushing for the new science building at M.C.L.A. dramatically enhances our efforts to rebuild our economy.

The other good news was that the list of Registry of Motor Vehicles, first listed as twelve closings became eleven as we worked with the Patrick administration to keep our North Berkshire Registry open. At the end of the day, we were not only successful, but we will have enhanced the office by adding District One highway engineers as a satellite office at the Registry. I had opportunities to lobby the Governor on this issue and expressed the objection that any measurement that just takes use into account doesn't help us in the Berkshires because of our smaller population. I told him that under that measurement alone, the Berkshires always lose. However, we are part of the state and should get the same services as elsewhere. To his credit the Governor agreed and Transportation Secretary Aloisi came up with this plan. Thanks to them, Lt. Gov. Murray, Registrar Kaprelian, Sen. Ben Downing, and Mayor Barrett for their advocacy and help. This was a collaborative effort and was innovative.

Sunday Morning Musings

Toward the end of the song Stairway to Heaven is the lyric, “And as we wind on down the road, our shadows longer than our souls,”. The singer is making the point that the person he is talking about is more concerned with material wealth than her spiritual health. I have been thinking a lot about this over the past few months as we have been struggling with our budget. How much can we do and how do we do it? Where does government help end and our responsibility begin? How much are we responsible for our fellow man and how much is too much? We struggle with these constantly as we try to strike a balance. It isn’t easy. Do we spend more to help people in need now or do we appropriate in order to seed future projects that will help our budget in the long term? What is truly necessary and who sets those priorities? What is material and what is spiritual?

First, let me say that spiritual is not necessarily religious, but is, to me, a human responsibility to help each other as best we can. And material is not necessarily money, but services that give us comfort. Economic times such as these give us pause and an opportunity to examine every program that we have to decide what is viable and necessary, and what is outdated and dysfunctional. While this is painful, it is necessary for the continuation of an effective government.

This isn’t easy. First, entropy keeps most programs going even if they are outdated. People hate change. I know I do. I am still disgruntled about the designated hitter rule! So we resist change, well, just because. We also resist change because each line item, each program has grown its own constituency that will fight hard to keep a program going even if it is no longer as effective as other newer programs. People are employed in those agencies and they fight hard to keep going. Who wants to lose a job?

But programs can be very much like grass growing in a driveway or on a flagstone walk in the backyard. We can see the grass growing between stone and we can cut that back, but the roots continue to grow until they threaten to split apart the masonry. Much the same, we can enact budget cuts, but the core of or programs continue to grow. And left unchecked, they threaten the stability of the budget.

This is the second time in my legislative career that we have witnessed a deep recession. The first was in the early nineties and the second is this one. There have been others, but not like these two where the effect was deep and lasting over several budgets.

While there are similarities between the two, there is one striking difference this time. People seem more concerned with their shadows that their souls. People are more likely to criticize over one issue than in the past. When I first entered office in 1987, people would disagree on an issue, but would still consider all your work or positions rather than just one. Today, there is far more vitriol that doesn’t add to the debate, but further pulls us apart.

Some of this may be that more people are getting news from the internet or from blogs where there is no fact checking and a nastiness that seems to come with anonymity. It may be the threat of job loss as our economy churns and old jobs are lost and new jobs require new skill sets. Some is admittedly self-inflicted as we have grown far better at the politics of some issues than the actual governing of those issues.

For those of you who read this blog on a regular basis (thanks to both of you!) you know that I have talked about new ways to conduct business in government. We cut programs and increase taxes, but we also need to reform government in order to do things better and more efficiently with new technologies, and we need to expand our tax base by creating opportunities for business expansion. We can’t do this by adhering to old ideologies or based on political philosophy alone, but we need creative thinking and active participation focused on problem solving rather than scoring political points. And we can’t do this alone. No one person or ideology has a corner on the truth. We need a conversation on what we expect and how we achieve that. No political rallies. No vitriolic talk show hosts, just a conversation amongst ourselves. Wouldn’t that be nice?