Our state is at a crossroads. We can either seize this opportunity to fundamentally restructure government, or we will have to accept yearly tax increases to pay for the inefficient, wasteful structure now in place.
My 2004 budget recommendation offers common sense reforms. In many respects, it contains more sweeping change than state government has seen in the previous 50 years. I call this program Common Sense for the Commonwealth, and it draws upon some of the best practices of other states as well as those of large enterprises in the private sector.
Why are we proposing these changes? Because our fiscal crisis demands it. But also because we need to protect our economy and jobs from ever-increasing taxes. We owe the six million citizens of Massachusetts a government that works without constantly asking them for more.
My turnaround plan for state government will not affect our highest priorities - education and economic growth.
The education of our children is the measure of our generation’s success or failure. Testing and accountability must continue. We insist that our children are taught and are fluent in English. Foundation level spending on K-12 classrooms will be preserved for every city and town in the Commonwealth.
My budget will allow us to build our economy and create more good jobs with a new focus on economic development and smart growth. Our state government spends billions of dollars each year. Properly channeled, these dollars can be a powerful tool. Our new Executive Offices of Commonwealth Development and Economic Affairs combine six departments and agencies that will work together to rev up the economic engine.
We can no longer continue to pass off our financial difficulties on the hardworking people of Massachusetts.
I get hundreds of letters, emails and phone calls from working people who are fed up with the high cost of government. Not long ago, I received a letter from Mary Coughlin, who says she has trouble making ends meet with phone bills, medicine and heating costs.
Mary says, "When I go over my budget, I can‘t go to my neighbors and ask for their money to pay my bills, but the government thinks nothing of raising taxes all the time."
She’s right. That’s why throughout this budget planning exercise, I have been guided by three principles.
First, we eliminate every speck of waste and inefficiency. My budget consolidates management of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority with the rest of our transportation department. The Metropolitan District Commission and Department of Environmental Management will be abolished and their functions combined into the new Division of Conservation and Recreation.
Patronage hires in the judiciary are targeted, and we close down underutilized courts. The patchwork quilt of higher education campuses is transformed into a more powerful regionalized system. The confusing maze of health and human services agencies will be replaced by a system with a single portal for all needs. And restrictions placed on the state workforce are removed to make public sector employment more like jobs in the private sector.
Second, we focus on delivering the core missions of government. Over the past decade, our state has drifted far away from its core mission. The Commonwealth has granted free, subsidized services far beyond any definition of real need and in excess of our ability to pay for it.
To give just one example, for every three taxpayers, there is one person getting free health care. This is not fair, and it's not right. Without a new vision of shared responsibility, where every family contributes something to its own well being, surging costs will overwhelm us all.
And finally, we insist that our cities and towns - which have benefited from generous increases in state aid - share in the belt tightening. Over the past decade, state aid to municipalities has grown at an average annual rate of 7.5 percent. Now, state tax revenues have collapsed - even as real estate taxes continue to rise in support of local budgets. By sharing the burden in the bad times, our local communities can more legitimately make a case to share in the prosperity when the good times inevitably return.
There are many areas unaffected by our efforts to close the budget gap. Veterans’ benefits, welfare payments to the poor, childcare funding and homeless assistance are all fully preserved. In fact, our total state spending for health and human services will grow next year under my budget.
As we work to close the budget gap, government spending in Massachusetts will remain among the highest in the nation on a per capita basis. We will always be a generous state, but we cannot afford to be more generous than our ability to pay.
In my budget, you will also see long-overdue reforms that improve the way we train and motivate our workforce. There will also be new and higher fees as we attempt to rationalize the system for providing direct and specific services to the public.
Of course, there will be resistance to these changes. The defenders of the status quo will want to go back to the old way of doing things, with year after year of tax increases. For us to succeed, you will need to let your voice be heard.
I encourage you to call or write your legislator. Join me in this great undertaking.
The key choice is change or perpetual tax increases. New taxes kill jobs and make us less competitive. They drive away employers and discourage growth and productivity. To avoid this peril, we must show the resolve necessary to embark on a new road that will put us on the path to economic prosperity.
Our future is bright. With your help, we will make Massachusetts a great place to live and work.
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