Monday, January 2, 2017

Representative Jones: Governor Baker's 9C Cuts Were Unfortunate, But Necessary

The following column by House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. appeared in the January 1 issue of the Boston Globe's North Section:

The $98 million in budget cuts announced by Governor Baker on Dec. 6 were unfortunate but necessary.

While there’s never a good time to make cuts of this magnitude, accusing the governor of acting prematurely ignores the fiscal realities the state is facing. It also conveniently overlooks the fact that Governor Baker already had delayed taking action months ago in deference to requests by legislative leaders.

Governor Baker had no hidden agenda in implementing his cuts. He was only trying to achieve one simple but important policy objective: producing a constitutionally required balanced budget.

Faced with a continued softness in revenues persisting through the first five months of the fiscal year, Governor Baker had no choice but to act. In January 2016, the state was projecting $26.9 billion in revenues for fiscal 2017, a 4.3 percent increase over fiscal 2016. When tax collections began falling short of projections in the spring, fiscal 2017 revenue estimates were reduced to $26.2 billion. Then, in October, revenues were again revised downward, to $26 billion, reflecting 3.1 percent growth over fiscal 2016.

In July, the governor vetoed about $265 million from the original fiscal 2017 budget, due to his belief that the Legislature drastically underfunded several areas of the budget based on the historical amount these programs typically received for funding. The Legislature later restored most of the governor’s original cuts, leaving the problems of underfunding, and thus an unbalanced budget, in place.

In addition, revenue projections used by the Legislature for its budget were reduced by $175 million in October. Revenues remained below this lower benchmark by about $21 million through November. This $195 million revenue shortfall, coupled with historical spending exposures, necessitated the administration’s cuts.

Governor Baker has indicated a willingness to consider reversing some of these cuts if the revenue outlook improves, but it is still very much an open question whether the resources will actually be available to do so. The bottom line of how we will pay for these items remains.

I am hopeful that revenues in December and beyond will rebound, that spending exposures will be less than anticipated, and that we can then have a conversation about restoring at least some of the cuts in the months ahead.