Brad Marston: Budget realities – The $6 billion solution.

Brad Marston

One of the great things about having so many candidates contesting seats in the legislature this year is that we are finally having an open, honest conversation about the direction of our state government. I believe one of the most important questions we face is the direction of government directed spending of taxpayer’s money. Our current course is simply unsustainable.

We don’t have a revenue crisis. State government has a spending crisis. The legislature created this crisis over a number of years and we won’t be able to solve it overnight. Both the House and Senate GOP Caucus have offered plans for at least the last two sessions which would have reduced state spending by at least $1 billion a year. Unfortunately even that isn’t enough. Last year the legislature raised taxes by nearly $2 billion but we are still facing a $2.5 billion deficit next year.

As a fiscal conservative and one of the original 10 signers of the the citizen’s petition to roll back the sales tax to 3%, I am often challenged by defenders of the status quo with the question, “What would you cut?” The question is disingenuous. It is nearly impossible to say exactly what I would cut as our state government doesn’t tell us exactly what they spend our money on. However, I can tell you precisely the process I would use to determine what spending should be cut.

Go back to a base year. I personally like 2000 as the state were still spending less on core programs than we were taking in in taxes. Then project forward adjusting for inflation (so there are no cuts in real dollars), adjusting for population growth (so there are no cuts in per capita spending) add the $700 million a year we are spending on healthcare reform and then add $100 million a year in new programs. In 2010 that would have yielded spending on core programs of about $20 billion instead of the roughly $26 billion we spent. Anything in that extra $6 billion would be prime targets for elimination.

You can get a clearer picture in this brief video from my campaign.

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Part of the equation is going to involve looking at government employment. There has been virtually no increase in population in the last 10 years yet the number of state employees has increased by 15%. Assuming we don’t cut any of the roughly 1100 additional state employees associated with increased safety net programs, that leaves roughly 9,900 state jobs (roughly 13%) that can be cut without affecting state services.

Make no mistake. Cuts are coming. Taxpayers have already voted to reduce the income tax to 5%. I believe they will vote to rollback the sales tax back to 3%. Even if the legislature continues to ignore the will of the people and not enact those cuts, they still face a $2.5 billion deficit from their overspending.

In November, voters in the Commonwealth can send enough Republicans to Beacon Hill to work with the 30 to 40 fiscally conservative Democrats. Together they can put our state government on a sustainable course to a better future.

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