Friday, January 21, 2011

State set to see Patrick’s plans for next year’s budget... will it be more of the same?


All eyes will be on the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Municipal Association today as Governor Patrick addresses members regarding his upcoming budget plans.

Traditionally, this address is one of the first and most telling insights into the governor's budget plan before it is filed at the end of January. It is also a glimpse for city and town leaders into the governor's intentions regarding local aid.

There is no doubt that balancing this year's budget is a difficult endeavor. Current projections are for available revenues to track about $1.5 billion behind desired spending, leaving a sizable gap for state leaders to close before the new fiscal year begins in July. (Exact revenue estimates are $20.525 billion, up from an estimate of $19.784 billion in FY2011, which was itself adjusted upward by $706 million from original benchmarks. You can read an AP article with full details here.)

But we insist that budgeting always needs to be seen as a process of setting priorities, not fulfilling wishes or policy goals. Too often, the state budget process is simply a function of looking at the prior year's appropriations and adjusting them program-by-program to meet available revenue in the coming year. This process lacks vision. It also tends to perpetuate waste and duplication and fails to weigh the merits of programs against each other appropriately.

We advocate instead what is often referred to as "zero-based budgeting," where it is assumed that each program or line item in the budget will not be funded (in other words, the appropriation begins at zero dollars). Then, leaders examine the merits of spending money on each cause, and in the process of funding them, they hopefully find ways to streamline government by eliminating wasteful spending and consolidating less-important programs. This naturally frees up more money for more important priorities and also takes the pressure off tax increases and tapping stabilization funds. It's still a very difficult process, but the outcome should be a more considered and thoughtful approach to budgeting.

We look forward to hearing the Governor's proposals later today. Until then, we ask our readers: how would you propose that Governor Patrick should balance this year's budget? Please post us a comment below with your thoughts.

UPDATED POST - Check out this Boston Globe article for an explanation of what Governor Patrick said at the MMA meeting today: Patrick proposes cuts in non-school aid, changes in municipal worker health care

1 comment:

  1. Wonder if there will be any "hard" cuts on the "State" side? Will they eliminate all the earmarks that are the lifeblood of the reps and senators? The real test will be how he manages across all the budget line items. But then again, DeLeo will be pulling all the strings and I expect gambling (casino et al) to head the list for new revenues to avoid taking hard cuts elsewhere. When the alligators get restless, do they drain the swamp or put more water in? Same will be true here.....don't drain the swamp. Business as usual............


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