Senate follows through on ‘Reform Before Revenue’

June 12, 2009
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Much has been made in the daily news media about the need for Beacon Hill to clean house before asking Massachusetts residents to contribute more in taxes to help solve our state’s budget crisis. To be sure, this is exactly the right order of things. The Legislature and the Governor should do everything we can to identify efficiencies, say no to unfair benefits and rebuild trust with the voters and taxpayers before passing revenue measures. That’s our job as stewards of the public’s dollars. I want to set the record straight as to whether I’ve seen the Senate fulfill that charge during my first five months in office.

At my swearing-in on Jan. 7, the Senate articulated the commitment of “Reform Before Revenue.” Since then, the Senate has backed up the “Reform Before Revenue” mantra by passing: a massive transportation re-form bill in March; a rigorous pension reform bill in early April; and a groundbreaking ethics reform bill in May. These three pieces of legislation were passed through the Senate before it took up any revenue de-bates or votes.

The Senate’s transportation overhaul bill takes multiple transportation agencies—MassHighway, the Turn-pike Authority, the MBTA, many regional transit authorities—and combines them into a single, streamlined transportation authority called the Massachusetts Surface Transportation Authority (MassTrans), which would oversee all surface transportation functions and allow for the elimination of duplication and inefficiencies across agencies. The bill also eliminates the controversial “23 and out” pension perk for MBTA workers.

Second, the Senate pension reform bill takes a strong tack against abuses, closing seven loopholes in our pension laws that have led to egregious misuses of public funds, including the controversial “one day, one year” provision that allows elected officials to claim an entire year of credible service for working one day in a calendar year. The Senate bill applies to both current and future employees.

The Senate’s third pillar in rebuilding the public trust has been an ethics reform bill. We all know money has an undue influence in our political system. The Senate bill boldly confronts this issue where other proposals have remained silent. The bill calls for an outright ban on political contributions from lobbyists. Additionally, it puts in place heftier penalties for ethics violations and stronger transparency around campaign finance and lobbying activities. These three bills will go a long way in restoring the pub-lic trust and reforming critical areas of state government.

All of the above reform measures now sit with their respective House-Senate conference committees, and are expected to be passed to the Governor’s desk in advance of the FY2010 budget proposal. While tax votes always grab more headlines, the public deserves to know what the real record has been over the past five months. The Senate has undertaken meaningful work this spring to make “Reform Before Revenue” a reality, while also not shrinking from the responsibility to deal with our state’s budget crisis. As a first-termer, that’s a record of follow-through I’ve been pleased to see.

Sonia Chang-Díaz
Jamaica Plain

The writer is the state senator for the Second Suffolk District.

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