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Globe Editorial

Fix schools and budget - Legislature’s recess can wait

November 20, 2009

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WHEN THE state House of Representatives formally adjourned for the year Wednesday night, it left important public business in limbo. The chamber failed to pass a landmark education reform initiative - one that is vital to competing for $250 million in federal education money. And while the House took steps toward balancing the state budget among plunging revenue projections, the cuts weren’t aggressive enough to close an expected $600 million shortfall.

Against the needs of students, and of the state in a time of economic crisis, the Legislature’s desire to adjourn for a six-week vacation hardly seems pressing. Speaker Robert DeLeo should call his chamber back into formal session, and his Senate counterpart, President Therese Murray, should follow suit.

To its credit, the Senate passed the education bill, which would raise a cap on the number of charter schools in Massachusetts and give superintendents more power to reorganize failing schools. But DeLeo rebuffed calls to push the measure through the House. The loss of momentum is discouraging. Opponents - specifically unions representing teachers and other public employees - have launched an all-out assault, complete with blatantly misleading ads stating that the reform bill will create larger class sizes. DeLeo and his leadership team should be steeling members for a tough vote on an important piece of legislation, not giving opponents more than a month to scare legislators into voting against it.

Still more pressing is the need for further action on the state budget. The House rejected or hacked away at many of Governor Patrick’s proposed cuts, protected a legislative slush fund, and rejected the governor’s request for authority to make emergency cuts to agencies outside the executive branch. Yes, legislators are entitled to defend their own prerogatives against what they see as encroachment by the governor. But this fight has grim consequences. Granting Patrick’s request would allow him to spread cuts across a broad variety of agencies and across the seven months left in the fiscal year. Denying the request only concentrates the pain - especially for human services agencies.

In an interview, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Charles Murphy said the governor’s estimate of the revenue shortfall is on the high end of a range of forecasts, and that lawmakers have time to revisit the issue in January. But no one is expecting dramatic improvement in the state’s finances. Indeed, Murphy predicted that fiscal 2011, which begins next summer, “is going to make this year look like a walk.’’ That’s all the more reason not to punt on tough decisions now.

Vacation can wait.

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