House on the road to reform
IN THE few months I have been speaker, the Massachusetts House has done what many thought it was incapable of doing: Amid a global economic downturn and statewide fiscal crisis, the House has embraced change and reform.
Massachusetts is paying for the sins of the past. Some of those sins we committed ourselves - such as allowing a dysfunctional transportation system to persist long after it was known to be unsustainable. Some are the result of much larger forces that sent the global economy into a free fall. Regardless of their origin, what is critical is that we find quick and thoughtful solutions to the challenges.
Real change in the House cannot come from fiat or edict. As speaker, I must balance the concerns and interests of 158 other members - all of whom represent distinct cities and towns with their own specific interests.
Yet even with those obstacles, we have accomplished much.
In order to restore public confidence in the government, the House passed ethics, pension, rules, and transportation reform measures that change the face of state government for the better.
On ethics and campaign reform, the House took on the first comprehensive reform legislation in 15 years. The bill we passed gives strong powers to enforcement agencies, increases penalties for those who violate our lobbying laws, provides for stricter requirements on lobbyists themselves, and goes further than other proposals on the issue of campaign finance reform.
On pension reform, we passed a bill that removes the so-called "one-day, one year" rule as well as the so-called "king for a day" rule; both are perfect examples of easily correctable pension loopholes.
On rules reform, the House reinstituted an eight-year term limit for the speaker and put in place new measures to combat phantom voting.
On transportation reform, the House voted to eliminate the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and the so-called "23 and out" pension policy at the MBTA. It also voted to place MBTA employees into the GIC for health insurance purposes so that real savings can be realized.
And finally on the budget, the House passed a bill that balances the needs of the Commonwealth with the stark fiscal realities plaguing not only state coffers but the entire global economy. With $1.2 billion in cuts, there were no easy decisions in this budget. In the face of a $3.6 billion deficit, we made the politically difficult yet responsible decision to support a measured revenue package that allowed us to dedicate $275 million to address our transportation deficit and send an additional $205 million back to our cities and towns in the form of local aid.
As important as what we did in this budget is what we did not do. By choosing not to rely on stabilization funds, the House prudently set aside money that will be needed later to offset revenue gaps left when federal stimulus funds run dry.
Of course, each of these initiatives is a work in progress, and each has several steps to go before becoming law. The budget situation appears to worsen by the day, and we will react accordingly as new economic data presents itself. The Legislature has its work cut out for the next few months. One thing is certain - we are committed to finishing our work in a timely manner, but we are also committed to getting the job done right.
It will take the courage and commitment of every elected leader, and every citizen as well, to get us through these most difficult of times.
Democratic Representative Robert DeLeo of Winthrop is speaker of the Massachusetts House.