Time for action on Beacon Hill: Pick your cause, and keep at it
Mar. 5, 2015 By Judy Meredith, Special to the Reporter
Gov. Charlie Baker presented his first budget yesterday, and now it is prime time for action.
Dozens of special interest groups are already asking people to lobby our legislators and ask them to pay attention to a specific line item that funds a specific program that strengthens our neighbors’ and friends’ access to public health, public education, public safety, public sanitation, public housing, public transportation – all the programs that make our neighborhoods healthy and strong.
Often dismissed as advocating for “crumbs” from our limited local, state, and federal revenues, hundreds of special interest groups have been advocating for a wide range of innovative public programs serving the poor, the disabled, the elderly for years, all year round.
And not for “crumbs,” but to support and strengthen a public program that was created last year or 10, 20, 30 years ago. Remember Gov. Dukakis announcing a new program to address homelessness in 1984?
The House Ways and Means Committee has already filed the governor’s budget alongside budgets produced by the last couple of governors and is getting down to the business of building its own version. The same thing is happening in the Senate.
Both the House and the Senate build their budgets by listening to their own members. Since early February, the chairs of Ways and Means in the both chambers have been meeting one-on-one with each of their members to collect personal budget priorities Of course, they keep track of everybody’s wishes, probably on a 20-foot-wide Excel spread sheet.
Meanwhile, the legislators themselves have been meeting with individual constituents, and delegations from special interest advocacy organizations who often bring in disabled kids or senior citizens or small businesses owners to help makes their cases. The goal of these meetings is, of course, to get their programs on the legislator’s priority list.
It’s not a complicated formula: Document a sympathetic and compelling problem in the district, offer a reasonable first-step solution, and organize as many neighbors and friends as you can to call or email or use snail mail or have a face-to-face conversation with their own legislators to give the same message: Save our program!
The plea will be scripted like this: “We’re not predicting a flood of broken minds or bodies, but we want to suggest a plan that will hold this program together until we can find the revenue somehow, somewhere, to build an ark big enough to hold this and other public programs that keep us healthy, safe and strong.”
Of course, we will hear that an ark that big is going to take a lot of work, and a lot of (cough, cough) revenue – maybe even new (choke choke) taxes. And we will hear that the fiscal impact of Snowmaggedon and the broken MBTA, exacerbated by the political impact of the Speaker-for-life drama and the blame game around the exploding budget deficit have diminished the public’s confidence in government so badly that there is no public support at all for new taxes.
Nothing new here: different emergencies, different dramas. We’ve been hearing that song for years and years.
And we will hear, too, that the governor’s and the speaker’s pledges of no new taxes, no going into the rainy day fund, and the reform-before-revenues approach guarantees that the final budget is going to make the recent 9-C cuts [reductions made by governors to bring a budget into balance] look reasonable.
Meanwhile there will be a lot of difficult decisions to make – and some bodies and minds will be left unrepaired. Nothing new here, either.
So what are we supposed to do? Keep on keeping on is what. Educate yourself about the problems of a public program or two or three that you and your family depend on and ask yourself how you think they should or could be repaired or reformed. Ask your legislator for advice, ask your city councillor, ask your congressman – they have staff with access to experts, research, and informed opinions.
Now there are only a few problems that can be solved by throwing money at them, by hiring more people (lawyers), and by buying better equipment (snow plows), but one of the root causes of all of the problems we face in our public programs is, simply, a lack of resources.
And we have our own difficult decision to consider: Support new taxes and build an ark that will accommodate the programs we need; or leave the public programs unable to repair bodies and minds.
Published first at the Dorchester Reporter