Thursday, April 07, 2011

Why We Need a Paul Ryan Figure Here in Massachusetts

If you follow national politics at all you know that there is a budget battle royale brewing down in Washington, D.C. this week. Things are getting so heated that, at times, CNN has started posting a ticker counting down the seconds until a possible government shutdown on Friday.

Finding himself at the center of it all is a congressman named Paul Ryan (R – WI). As the House budget chief, Ryan has proposed a series of long-term spending cuts worth just over six trillion dollars throughout the next decade.

We want to be very clear that we do not necessarily endorse the specific proposals in Congressman Ryan's plan to cut federal spending. However, we greatly admire and respect him for having the courage and forethought to make this proposal in the first place. (Reportedly he has been working on honing the plan for many years). People should take it seriously, and we hope it will encourage a robust dialogue in Washington for years to come. Ryan's proposal may or may not be the right one, but at least he is offering a solution to real problems, even if it turns out to be the wrong solution in some way(s). It is up to his critics to match his plan with their own version if they think it is flawed; it is possible to doubt Ryan's conclusions, but the problems he addresses are real.

As loyal Bay State residents, when we hear about Paul Ryan's proposal, it also makes us think of Massachusetts. Specifically, it makes us wish that there were someone – anyone, from either party – here in Massachusetts who would have the motivation to file a similarly-courageous proposal for cutting state spending and streamlining state services.

Next week, the House of Representatives is due to file its version of a Fiscal Year 2012 spending plan for Massachusetts state government. The problem with this budget is that, like others like it in the past, it likely will not contain meaningful, systemic reform that is needed to address long-term financial problems the Commonwealth faces.

Basically, Massachusetts political leaders gather each year and reach an agreement on their consensus estimate for available revenue next year. Several months later, they pass a budget into law that basically fits last year's budget into this new figure. Sure, they tweak it a little, (usually) adding or (occasionally) subtracting a little bit to make the numbers add up. But, on the whole, the budget that gets passed each year is mostly a dusted-off copy of the previous year's budget.

This process lacks vision, and it harms taxpayers as a result.

Massachusetts has significant fiscal problems it must address, and they are similar to the problems faced in Washington. Credit rating agencies repeatedly flag the disproportionate size of our state debt load as cause for financial concern. The same is true of the unfunded liability within out state pension system. The cost of entitlement programs continues to increase. And state spending continues unabated.

The only way to successfully address these problems is to dismantle the state budget and to reconstruct it piece by piece. The budget process should not be a function of pitting one line item against another based on the power of advocacy groups. It should be a process that adopts a long-term, responsible vision for state capital and operational spending, with appropriate reserves, and which sets priorities for the provision of government services within those limits. This process would allow for proper emphasis on programs we all want to see government provide so that no one in this state falls through the cracks. And, it would provide a leaner, meaner state government that better serves the needs of the people it represents.

Say what you will about Paul Ryan's plan, but his vision and his approach are aimed at doing exactly what we're talking about. And, for that, we salute him.

Will there be a Paul Ryan in Massachusetts this year? We sincerely hope so. But frankly, we doubt it. After all, last week's House Democratic Leadership retreat to the Berkshires does not appear to have produced any meaningful results this week. And, as soon as the House budget is filed and members propose amendments, what is the next order of business in the House? School vacation week.

So much for progress.

1 comment:

  1. Great article and interesting perspective. EVERY legislator should read this and begin a thoughtful evaluation of what it will take to put MA on a better financial footing rather that the usual politics of bringing home local pork or ignoring the realities of a debt burdened economy.


By submitting a comment, you agree to be bound by our policies on comments noted in the sidebar.