The first unwritten rule of politics is that a politician does everything he or she can do to get re-elected.
Often, and too sadly, doing what is right as opposed to what is popular are often at the different ends of the spectrum. Many times our political leaders will opt for doing what is popular.
Back in March, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was running a huge budget deficit. To address this crisis, Governor Patrick made the decision to pass the buck. Namely, he cut state aid to cities and towns in the middle of the municipal budgetary year after these municipal budgets had been approved six months earlier. This action resulted in many cuts to city personnel and programs.
Boston, being the largest recipient of state aid, was obviously cut the most. However, many cities and town actually did have a rainy day fund that was used to ease the unexpected loss in state revenues. Mayor Thomas Menino speaking at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Research Bureau said that while Boston had almost $150 million in its rainy day fund, his goal was to use only a small part of the money for the then current 2009 year and use another small part — about $40M — in the 2010 fiscal year that started in July 2009 to maintain key services and stop huge layoffs. He also asked the unions representing all the city workers to amend their contracts and take certain small concessions in order to prevent massive layoffs starting in July 2009. His hope was to have more than $100M left in the account to get Boston through the next two budget cycles ending in 2012.
Menino kept his promise not to start dipping into the rainy day fund like a drunken sailor. Unlike, the Governor or State Representatives and Senators who started spending the State’s rainy day fund that went from more than $2 billion in September 2008 to now less than $200 million, Boston is in relatively as good a shape as can be expected.
Every elected official in Boston has publicly and privately said that the 2010 budget was going to be hard. But the budget in 2011 was going to be even harder to have the funds to maintain the level of services and personnel that the residents of Boston have come to expect.
In June 2009, Menino eliminated the mounted police that patrol the Common, Public Garden and Commonwealth Mall. Many neighborhood residents complained about this cut. Even City Council Mike Ross started a drive to raise the $400,000 in private donations to maintain the mounted police that ultimately he was unable to raise.
However, Menino held his ground and cut the 100-year-old program. His reasoning was that it was more important to use the $400,000 to keep an extra ten police officers on the streets than it was to keep the horses fed, shod, and stabled.
What is even more telling is that Council President Ross thought it would be easier to try to raise $400,000 from private donations rather than find the funds in the $2.4 billion dollar city budget. Ross’ action meant that the City budget has very little waste or that it is too unpopular to cut certain items.
Wouldn’t it have been easier for Menino to just take $400,000 from a $100 million savings account than to raise the ire of many residents and being taken to task for the elimination of the mounted police by the Boston Globe?
However, he chose to take the right action that was highly unpopular. He chose this during an election year. He chose making the unpopular choice regardless of what it might cost him politically.
The bottom line is who will benefit from the City still having a $100 million dollar savings account in January? Some will say Menino. However, he only benefits if he is re-elected on next Tuesday. If he is not, then Flaherty will be the beneficiary of Menino holding tough on not spending this money that would have been $400,000 in 2010 and will be another $500,000 in 2011 and another $500,000 in 2012. There will be more teachers, police and firefighters still on the job in the coming years as a result of this action.
Jim Carlin, a former Secretary of Transportation under Governor King, the first receiver for the City of Chelsea in 1991 and a business leader in the insurance industry, said that he always looked for the person who is willing to make the right decision rather than the person who looked out for his own job. According to Carlin, this is the type of person who will always makes the company stronger and viable.
Menino is this type of individual.
Will the voters agree on Election Day?
- Stephen Quigley