With the whopping $765 million dollar budget gap, former Governor Deval Patrick left his successor and Bay State taxpayers on the hook for a state government that has a spending problem.
Like a proverbial runaway train, state government continues to function and move along no matter who is governor or when they are sworn in. In some ways, this is a good thing, but much of what happens is poorly prioritized. The first task for new governor Charlie Baker and his team, then, is try to slow the train down, because continued spending will widen the gap further and risk damage to the state’s economy.
After his team revealed the budget gap, Governor Baker’s budget chief, Secretary of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance Kristen Lepore told reporters that “this is our problem to solve right now.” With an emphasis on “our,” Governor Baker and team made it known that they are taking responsibility for problems that occurred before them and fixing them now. Inheriting problems from past administrations is commonplace in politics, as is finger pointing, so it’s refreshing to hear Baker and Lepore resist the temptation to blame their predecessors for current state budget problems.
As a candidate, now-Governor Baker promised not to raise taxes or fees, cut local aid to cities and towns, or tap into the rainy day fund, and so far, he has not wavered from that pledge. Baker reiterated his pledge to respect cities and town by not cutting local aid at a gathering of local municipal leaders on January 23rd, where he stood before an estimated 900 local leaders and recounted his own experience in municipal government. Earlier in the month, as one of his very first acts as Governor, Baker directed the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to follow through on his promise to release $100 million in Chapter 90 bond authorizations that had been withheld by Governor Patrick.
In the past, we’ve all heard promises to respect the funding of cities and towns. All too often, however, we haven’t witnessed the follow-through.
Now, within three weeks of taking office, Baker and his team faced another test, this time from Mother Nature. For many elected officials, severe storms can be disastrous to a political career. Not being prepared, being overly cautious, whatever it may be, many elected officials have faced blunders when dealing with Mother Nature. Winter Storm Juno, hit the state hard, particularly in Worcester County, on Nantucket, and several coastal towns, and some towns saw snowfall records broken. Baker and his team communicated throughout the storm, providing the public a steady stream of press conferences. Additionally, Baker and his team got the major roads cleared and people were free to go back to work, helping push along the state’s economy. While many of us are tired and exhausted from clearing snow, now is not the time rest if want to see our state’s economy continue to recover.
So far – and yes, it’s only the first of forty-eight months -- Baker’s words have been matched by his actions. Even better has been the Governor’s transparency in the process of executing what he says.
Paul D. Craney is the executive director of Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.
Follow him on Twitter @PaulDiegoCraney.