EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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July 21, 2013

Column: Hazy days on Beacon Hill: Anyone seen a budget?

If you consider summer to be the three months of June, July and August, we are smack in the middle of it. Now, with Congress and the Legislature on vacation, even political activists can relax and enjoy the season.

Wait! They haven’t left!

The fiscal year 2014 state budget, for the fiscal year that began on July 1, isn’t finalized yet.

The budget has been late before, usually when there is a fiscal crisis; in the past, late budgets have led to income tax hikes. And in fact, Gov. Patrick, along with liberal activists, wants an income tax rate increase, from the present 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent as well as gas and cigarette tax hikes and a new tax on computer services.

The Legislature, while passing the latter three, has fortunately made it clear that the income tax hike is not on the table. So the governor wants an even bigger gas tax increase; last Friday he vetoed $417 million in transportation funding from the $34 billion budget because his transportation bill doesn’t have enough new revenues to cover it.

I’ve never seen anything like this year’s process. There are two bills pending: the budget, and the transportation tax package that increases the gas tax, but not enough, according to the governor, to fund all the transportation spending in the budget. For some reason the transportation bill increases cigarette taxes and creates the new tax on computer services, neither of which has anything to do with transportation.

There was also a fiscal year 2013 supplemental budget that passed earlier this month. As the Electronic Benefits Transer (EBT) scandal unfolded, some House members tried to put language in the FY 2014 budget to reform the welfare system; instead there is language in the supplemental FY 2013 budget from the governor to study the issue. He has also stated that he’ll be looking for money in a FY 2014 supplemental budget to fund a photo ID requirement for welfare benefits. Remember that the original FY 2014 budget still hadn’t passed when he said this.

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