Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Same old story out of Menino

Here is an article from 2002. Same old stories, the city employees getting huge raises that are out of line with the public sector, Menino saying that the fact that the bond rating is high shows how fiscally responsible he is, etc. The reason the bond rating is so high is because it is guaranteed by the real estate in Boston, if we defaulted we would have to sell our property to pay for it. But the press has been too timid in following up on this ridiculous line of reasoning. Our residential property taxes have doubled in the past 10 years (a 7 percent a year increase) because of his fiscal responsibility. Meanwhile the schools are still bad, management is archaic, and violence is on the rise.

Scott S. Greenberger, Globe Staff. Boston Globe. Boston, Mass.: May 20, 2002. pg. B.1

The economy was humming, property taxes and state money were pouring in, and the City of Boston was spending - a lot.

Its operating budget grew by one-quarter, or $342.7 million, between 1997 and 2002, according to a new report by the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a business-funded watchdog group. The main reason for the increase: paying the salaries and benefits of 1,114 new city workers, a thousand of them in the public schools.

Boston spent so much so quickly during the economic boom that Research Bureau chief Samuel R. Tyler said he welcomes the forced belt-tightening of 2003 as "a necessary correction."

"It took this kind of a fiscal situation to force a re- evaluation," Tyler said. "The incentive just hasn't been there to really look carefully at how we're spending money."

The report questions why city spending on overtime increased by 35 percent, even as the work force was growing. It notes that salary hikes in collective bargaining agreements came on top of automatic annual "step" increases - usually about 4 percent - for city workers who haven't already reached the top pay grade. That means, for example, that a teacher who made $45,455 in 1999 will make $60,492 in 2002. And it points out that the school work force grew by 920 as enrollment rose by 22 students - and only half of the new hires were teachers.

When Mayor Thomas M. Menino asked city department chiefs to cut their spending for fiscal 2003, many did it by eliminating vacant positions the city had been paying for, Tyler said.

"That's an indication of budgets that hadn't really been reviewed," he said. "With this budget for 2003, there's a squeezing out of some of that excess. Some of those positions were never going to be filled - they were just there to give the departments flexibility."

Menino has said that preparing the 2003 budget plan was a healthy fiscal exercise, but he rejected the idea that the city spent too much during the good times.

"Sam is a fiscal conservative. He wouldn't have wanted us to invest as much as we did in schools, and in public safety," the mayor said. Schools, police, and firefighters accounted for almost 55 percent of the increase in spending between 1997 and 2002. "Those are the things that people in our city want. Those are the things that make the city livable," Menino added.

The mayor noted that the city's bond rating has remained high - evidence, he said, that Boston is financially strong. And most of the extra school spending, he said, was part of an increase in state education spending, meant to improve the quality of schools across Massachusetts.

"We didn't spend money recklessly - we filled a need. Now it's time to do some belt-tightening," he said.

Nevertheless, what city departments did to trim their budgets suggests there was plenty of fat. The School Department, for example, plans to cut 300 nonteaching positions, according to spokesman John Dorsey.

Boston has made a habit of binging during good times. Between 1986 and 1990 - before another recession hit - city spending grew by about 30 percent, according to the Municipal Research Bureau.

"There seems to be a continuing habit in Massachusetts, both at the municipal and the state level, of overindulgence during the good times," said Lou DiNatale, a political analyst at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

DiNatale acknowledged, however, that as hard as it is to cut during tough times, it's nearly impossible when times are good.

"It would be very tough for a city like Boston, that was booming like Boston was, not to be spending," he said.

"The question becomes, did you spend in such a fashion that you can hang on to most of the gains you received, or do you lose the gains every time you lose the money?"

1 comment:

Steve Wintermeier said...

This is amazing - you could just update the dates and the numbers and you could write literally the EXACT SAME story!