The following is an op-ed letter submitted by State Sen. Brian A. Joyce, D-Milton. Joyce serves the Norfolk, Bristol, and Plymouth district, consisting of Avon, Braintree, Canton, Easton, East Bridgewater, Milton, Randolph, Sharon, Stoughton, and West Bridgewater. He can be reached at 617-722-1643 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also on Facebook and Twitter at www.facebook.com/BrianAJoyceMA and @BrianAJoyce.
An important but little known committee has been meeting lately discussing a serious issue facing the residents of the Commonwealth: the extraordinary amount of debt we are carrying.
At the end of last year, Massachusetts was $21.182 billion in debt. According to the 2010 Census data, this works out to $11,309 for every man, woman, and child in the Commonwealth. This number makes Massachusetts residents number one in the country, by a long shot, when it comes to highest state debt per capita.
Some of this debt is important: it funds our schools, roads, and necessary infrastructure improvements that assist our economic recovery and create jobs. But it is time to start separating necessary investments from wasteful spending and trimming our obligations. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Bonding, I am currently working to de-authorize millions of dollars in spending and get outdated obligations off the books. As a member of the Capital Debt Affordability Committee holding these hearings, I have committed myself to developing a long-term strategy to address the issue.
A great deal of our debt comes in the form of spending authorizations, or bond bills. The administration cannot borrow money without the Legislature’s consent. The Legislature provides this consent through bond bills, which are usually focused on public works and infrastructure investments. Typically, the administration borrows far less than authorized and the majority of authorizations stall or are never pursued, leaving a significant amount of debt authorized but unissued.
In 2011, Standard and Poor’s upgraded Massachusetts’ credit rating to AA+. Businesses look to these grades when deciding whether to locate or expand in Massachusetts, or elsewhere. They also affect what interest rate the state receives when it takes on a loan, potentially saving taxpayers millions of dollars in interest. Reducing the amount of debt we are carrying is critically important to maintaining our high ratings and remaining an attractive place to start and grow a business. These ratings directly contribute to the prosperity of our future.
The most important step in reducing the significant debt burden we carry is to acknowledge its existence. By creating this awareness we can work toward a more affordable future for the Commonwealth. The Capital Debt Affordability Committee is scheduled to issue its report on September 10. If you have thoughts on this issue, I would encourage you to send them along to my office. I will make sure that the members of the committee receive your input, as it is important that the public have a greater role in this discussion.