GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY knows how to help those in need — as long as it’s a one-time thing. He and two of his sons, Josh and Craig, received a lot of attention this week when they rescued — with the help of the Romney family’s environmentally unfriendly three-seat jet skis — a family whose boat had sunk in Lake Winnipesaukee on Saturday evening.
But what about the Commonwealth’s residents whose needs are as great — if not as immediately acute — as that of the Morrisseys, the owners of the boat that sprang a leak? What about those in need of legal-aid services to divorce an abusive spouse or to fight an illegal eviction — services that will no longer be available thanks to Romney’s decision to zero out the $7.6 million line item for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation? What about those in need of legal representation in criminal cases — services that will be severely compromised thanks to the $13 million cut sustained by the Committee for Public Counsel Services, which provides legal representation, guaranteed by the Constitution, to indigent criminal defendants? What about the infants and young children at risk of abuse and neglect who benefited from the Healthy Families Home Visiting Program of the Office of Child Care Services — children who will no longer be protected thanks to a $6.7 million cut from the program’s $12 million line item?
Many of the Commonwealth’s neediest were put at risk by the governor’s thoughtless vetoes of $201 million in spending that the legislature had approved for fiscal year 2004. Despite his pedigree (his father was a much-respected governor of Michigan, presidential candidate, and secretary of Housing and Urban Development), Romney seems to embrace a radical vision of what government is supposed to do for its citizens. That is to say, he believes it is supposed to do nothing. Especially not raise taxes.
It’s impossible to forget that Romney won election to the state’s highest post by telling voters there was no budget crisis that couldn’t be fixed by "reforming" state government. Government’s essential services, he told us, could remain in place without additional revenues.
So what are we to make of Romney’s notions of essential services? Apparently, they don’t include the functions of the Executive Offices of Health and Human Services and Elder Affairs, which do the bulk of social-service work in this state. In the last two fiscal years, these two agencies have absorbed $1 billion in spending cuts. Romney didn’t see any problems with vetoing an additional $100 million from their budgets.
Romney does not seem to believe state-funded efforts to educate lower-income people — who, generally speaking, do not have access to quality health care — about reducing risks of breast and prostate cancer are essential, since both initiatives were stripped of all funding.
Interestingly, our "reformer" governor sought to protect the Quinn Bill from the budget ax. The Quinn Bill gives police officers who earn associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees pay raises of 10 to 25 percent. It’s the one area in the state budget that nearly everyone from the conservative-leaning Pioneer Institute to the more moderate Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation agrees is, at minimum, an abused and therefore wasteful use of taxpayer money. Maybe Romney liked the idea of looking like he was protecting police services as opposed to actually doing so. His veto of $57 million in local aid will do just the opposite, as it will force many of the Commonwealth’s municipalities to make cuts in their police budgets to accommodate further reductions in state aid.
But budget discussions shouldn’t come down to pitting public-safety services against health care. Or pitting public education against services for the mentally retarded. Budget discussions should center around the state’s obligations to its citizens. All of them. Not just to those who scream about having to pay taxes.
And this is where Romney’s core failure as a public leader comes in. As the Phoenix warned throughout the gubernatorial campaign, government cannot be run as a business. (Even if it could, it’s not as though Romney, a venture capitalist, actually had much experience running a business anyway.) Private businesses self-select the population they interact with: they limit their services to paying customers. Government doesn’t have that option. It has to serve everyone, including, perhaps most importantly, those who are unable to help themselves. To abandon them, as Romney has done, is an abdication of government’s responsibility. If the governor wants to turn our government into one that is of the haves, by the haves, and for the haves, then let there be a debate over this. Let him be honest with the public and say his mission as governor is to protect the pocketbooks of those who rely least on government services by holding the line on income-tax increases. There are those who will say that the governor has no choice — the state is in a fiscal emergency, and we simply can’t afford services we once could. What are we to make, then, of the gushing op-ed in Tuesday’s New York Times by Robert Pozen, Romney’s secretary of economic affairs, predicting a rosy economic future just around the corner? "The rates of change in recent Labor Department surveys, reinforced by the optimism in the recent set of chief executive surveys, strongly suggest that the job market is about to turn the corner," Pozen enthuses. Well, if that’s the case, why make draconian cuts rather than carry the bills another year until the economy has turned around? And why not add a sunset clause to the many state fees the governor has raised during his brief tenure in lieu of tax increases?
Fortunately, Romney has encountered resistance in his march to crush government services. The House, to its credit, has already voted to restore some of Romney’s cuts. It has overridden Romney’s veto of $10 million in grants to municipalities to establish full-day kindergarten; his veto of $1.9 million in spending for literacy programs; and his veto of $1.72 million for the University of Massachusetts’s honors program. The Senate was set to take up the House overrides as the Phoenix went to press.
We believe that all Romney’s vetoes should be overridden. Only the House, via Speaker Tom Finneran, can initiate veto overrides. Tell him you want to see the House do just that by calling his office at (617) 727-3600. Contact Senate president Robert Travaglini’s office at (617) 722-1500 and let him know you want to see the House overrides supported. More important, call your local representative and senator; you can find a complete listing of legislators’ Web sites at www.state.ma.us/legis/legis.htm.
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