A recent Boston Globe article stated that the Commonwealth could face a $1 billion budget gap in fiscal year 2017. New taxes, or tax hikes, should not be considered viable options for handling additional budgetary concerns. The Commonwealth must learn to work within its means, relying on funding that is already established and will not disappear.
The so-called structural or long-term revenue gap is a familiar and mislabeled problem. Almost annually we hear about the gap in revenue. It wrongly assumes that revenue rather than base-line spending is the problem. Raising taxes would help offset current deficits, but it would not solve the underlying problem of spending assumptions outpacing moderate revenue growth long-term. While tax increases would avoid some hard spending choices, they would not solve the real problem or offer long-term economic stability.
An over-reliance on one-time funding has led Massachusetts to dip into its rainy day fund. Pulling from the fund again would further deplete state resources and potentially harm our ability to borrow federal money at a low interest rate. That’s why Standard & Poor’s credit rating services changed Massachusetts’ outlook from stable to poor, noting a “decline in financial reserves over the past several years despite a prolonged period of economic expansion and generally positive revenue trends.”
Framing the problem as a revenue shortfall is a political label for marketing a tax increase. An equally insidious marketing technique is assuming program reforms automatically mean cuts in base-line services. True reforms should lead to better-run programs with stronger resources behind them. As a legislator with a strong health care background, I know that indiscriminate service cuts are not a way to solve budget problems. As a businessman I also know that efficiency and clear priorities tend to best serve those in need in a sustainable manner.
Each of our families must face tough decisions every day to live within our means. Why is the state spending money that it does not have? Increasing taxes only pushes the problem onto another fiscal year. In order to have stronger short- and long-term plans for the Commonwealth, now is the time to face our budget issues.