Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lawrence Bill: Not Strong Enough

The Massachusetts House of Representatives was slated to take up a bill tomorrow that would allow the cash-strapped city of Lawrence to borrow $35 million. While it seems now that the bill won’t come up until next week, the Republican Caucus remains frustrated that tougher guidelines are not included in the redraft recently released by the House Ways and Means Committee.

The original version of House Bill 4421 allowed Lawrence to borrow $35 million through municipal bonds. A fiscal overseer will be appointed by the Secretary of Administration and Finance and will serve as an advisor on all budgetary matters in the city. The overseer will also be charged with developing a 3 year operating and capital financial plan.

If the city is unable to set a FY11 tax rate by January 31, 2011, a finance control board will be established. That control board would consist of the mayor of the city, the president of the city council and 3 members chosen by the Secretary of A&F.
As you know, our main concern was the fact that a control board was not going to be put into place immediately. We strongly believe that the city’s financial situation is so dire that it requires the assistance of an independent finance control board and have said repeatedly we will not support this legislation without this particular parameter.

After a lengthy and controversial hearing two weeks ago, we were cautiously optimistic that the Ways and Means Committee would redraft the bill with the provision mentioned above. However, after reading the redraft, it is obvious that the redrafting process was nothing more than a box-shuffling exercise. While the committee changed a few words here, deleted a couple there – the content is the same and there were no substantive improvements.

If and when this bill ever comes to the House floor for debate, the Republican caucus will do everything in its power to strengthen the text of this bill. The people of the City of Lawrence want the politics taken out of this process. They have unfortunately become pawns in Governor Patrick’s re-election campaign. Let’s not forget that it was the Patrick-Murray Administration who two years ago said if this problem persisted they’d be inclined to be stricter next time. Well, it is “next time” and it’s time for Governor Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Murray to follow through on that promise. Too bad their track record of fulfilling campaign promises isn’t exactly promising!