…For six years, the Weld administration has made a concerted effort to chase every federal dollar in sight, shifting a host of costs from Beacon Hill to Capitol Hill through a variety of creative accounting maneuvers. As a result, federal reimbursements have leapt from 11 percent to 16 percent of state revenue since Weld took office, a $2 billion surge that has helped him balance six budgets without breaking his no-new-taxes pledge.
Now Weld wants to go to Washington, vowing to slow the federal spigot that has helped save his administration from fiscal meltdown. But some analysts warn that Massachusetts, during his State House years, may have developed an unhealthy reliance on federal largesse.
“The money is great,” said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. “But Massachusetts is more dependent on federal funds than ever, as we enter an era of federal cuts. And these fiscal games states play contribute to the awful deficits at the federal level.”
In other words, one reason Washington looks like Massachusetts did in 1990 is that states like Massachusetts have used Uncle Sam as a sugar daddy. The commonwealth has gone after federal accounts for transportation and special education, foster care and health care, mental illness and mental retardation — and budget observers said it has been no more aggressive than other states.
The federal government, saddled with a $5 trillion debt, sent more than $200 billion directly to states last year. But administration officials as well as Democratic legislators said that in an era of tight budgets, no state can afford to sit out the drive for dollars…
Even Weld Administration and Finance Secretary Charles D. Baker, the driving force behind the Weld push for federal money, admitted that he and his 49 compatriots in other states are “bleeding the feds dry.”
“It’s crazy! Absolutely crazy! But I didn’t write the rules; I just play by them,” Baker said with a grin. “Look, if the feds really want to balance the budget, they need to stop this foolishness.”
The administration has searched feverishly for new money, with high-priced consultants helping in the hunt. The results — especially in human services — have been impressive. The taxpayers foundation estimates that without the push, Weld would have had to cut $750 million worth of services — or raise $750 million worth of taxes.
“It’s a lot like drilling for oil,” said Baker, whose last job was as Weld’s health and human services secretary. “It’s hard work, and sometimes it doesn’t pan out. But every now and then, you hit a gusher.”
Every now and then, you do.